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Holladay Journal

Fire dancer pursues his life dream in photography after being seriously burned

Jun 30, 2023 12:28PM ● By Collette Hayes

“During the fire dance performance, the person monitoring my safety became distracted and walked away at the moment my legging brushed the fire and went up in flames. By instinct, I tried to brush the fire away with my hands.” (Photo credit Horace Langford Jr./Pahrump Valley Times)

Aerial performer and fire dancer Mark Bolyea is beginning to realize his life dream of traveling the world and capturing nature in a unique way through the lens of a camera. The last four years, Bolyea has been navigating a long road to recovery after receiving second- and third-degree burns to his hands and leg while performing a fire dance at Lakeside Casino in Pahrump, Nevada. During his recovery, Bolyea decided it was time to pursue his passion for photography. 

A former Holladay resident, Bolyea is known in the local community and across the Wasatch Front for his window cleaning business. After launching his business two decades ago, his name in the area has become synonymous with dependable, reputable and detailed perfection. 

In 2011, Bolyea became inspired by the aerial performing arts and fire dancing. Bolyea, an athlete and accomplished musician, took lessons in both artistic disciplines. Within a short period of time, he became skilled at spinning fire, choreographed to drums and music, and aerial acrobatics performed on a hanging rope and a trapeze. 

While managing his window cleaning business, Bolyea performed aerial acrobatics at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Capitol Theatre and Utah Arts Festival. He traveled to many locations outside of Salt Lake City, including Las Vegas to light up the stage fire dancing. In June of 2019, while performing a fire dance Bolyea was critically burned.   

“The night of the performance, everything went wrong,” Bolyea said. “When fire dancers perform, a safety crew stands by with fire extinguishers and towels. Also, buckets of water are set out around the dance space in the event of an emergency. I was assured my costume leggings were fire resistant. During the performance, the person monitoring my safety became distracted and walked away at the moment my legging brushed the fire and went up in flames. By instinct I brushed the fire away with my hands. Finally, I ran over, grabbed a towel and smothered the flames. I was life flighted to a hospital in Las Vegas. I ended up having second- and third-degree burns on my leg that later became infected. The joints of my hands curled from being burned so badly. For about a week, it was touch and go as to whether I was going to lose my leg. Fortunately, the infection began to clear, and the doctors were able to save my leg.”

A retired army veteran, Bolyea has been housed at the Veterans Administration dorms in Salt Lake City for the last few years while recovering.

“It has been extremely painful trying to heal from being severely burned,” Bolyea said. “My burns were scrubbed daily to promote healing and to fight infection. I had to start moving my joints immediately to ensure I would get mobility back. With extreme perseverance, I was successful and have gained back 100% mobility.”

Bolyea’s hands are sufficiently healed now, and he is once again cleaning windows. Photography remains his long-term professional goal, and he is looking to expand from freelance nature scene photography to commercial portrait and events photography. 

Bolyea’s photography awards include the coveted people’s choice award and a photography arts grant from Urban Arts Gallery. 

Inspired by the photography of Denmark’s award-winning photographer, Mads Peter Iversen, Bolyea’s photos are varied in composition and range from the peaceful and calm, to the dramatic and dreamy. Like Iversen, Bolyea tries to capture through the lens of a camera the reverence he has for the natural world.

“A couple of things that I think make my photography unique are the way I style my composition and the way I capture light and color,” Bolyea said. “I enjoy my photo originality which often edges on the surreal. My intention is to create art through the medium of my camera.” 

To learn more about Bolyea’s photography visit his website at λ