Guam sailor sizzles in Chamorro fire dancing
A feeling of calm washes over Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sherwin Mora as the light fades to black onstage. As the music changes to low and heavy drum beats, Mora’s calm begins to diminish, replaced by a sense of purpose. He moves to center stage, the only light comes from the torch in his right hand. The audience is quiet in anticipation. With a flourish of movement, he brings to torch over his head and unleashes a torrent of fuel from his mouth towards the fire. Light quickly fills the room then disappears as the audience gasps and cheers.
HM3 Mora joined the Navy in 2010. Before enlisting, he lived in San Diego; overweight and unhappy. It was a choice that led him to where he is now, doing something he had only dreamed of seven years ago.
“Without the Navy, I wouldn’t be doing this. It was a goal I had set out for myself when I joined.” Mora had the opportunity to make his goal a reality in 2014, when he met one of his fellow dancers after arriving on Guam. She introduced him to the traditional fire dancing of the Chamorro, the indigenous culture of Guam.
In April of 2014, just a few months after his first dance lessons, Mora made his debut at the weekly market of Chamorro Village. “I messed up so much that night, but it was one of the most fun shows I’ve done because of the adrenaline rush.”
Mora first remembers watching cultural performances while he lived in Hawaii as a kid. His parents took him to festivals regularly, and his aunt and uncle, who are Chamorro, did cultural dancing as well. He grew up watching them perform and is carrying the family tradition in an entirely new way.
Mora, who spends his days as a Pharmacy Tech at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, recollects his journey from San Diego to novice dancer and then professional Chamorro fire dancer. As Mora finishes up his weekly inspection at the Branch Medical Clinic of Naval Base Guam, he looks up. “If it wasn’t for this, for the Navy, I wouldn’t be on Guam dancing. I’d still be 260 pounds and not doing anything in San Diego. I have a balance in my life I never knew existed.”
The balance is how the two compliment each other. Mora is motivated to stay fit for both readiness and aesthetic reasons. “Fitness is a big part. It’s important to look good for dancing and to be healthy for the Navy. It’s stress relief. It puts me in contact with people I never would have met and helps me connect to the community in a much deeper way.”
“It’s everything.” He says, gesturing at his own body and then around the room. “The Navy has given me so many opportunities. Even the tattoos, the Navy has allowed me to pay for these. They’re an important part too.”
There is one part of each show that makes him happiest, one part where he does something few others do. “The firebreathing. That’s my favorite part.” And when he’s on stage, alone or with his fellow dancers, making the audience gasp or giggle, that is when Mora is feels at home.