Fire dancer Liam Ocean tells us about his favorite only-in-San Francisco places.

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June 26, 2019

Meet San Francisco's Liam Ocean: Out, Proud, and Playing With Fire

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Liam Ocean remembers the day he fell in love with San Francisco.

After a job interview five years ago, the Seattle native rode a rented bike across the city, from the Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Park.

"The park was closed to cars, and I joined the mobs of people enjoying the sun and the outdoors," Liam recalls in an interview with GayCities. "I was amazed to find so many different types of people enjoying such large green spaces. At that moment, I just knew I could be free to be whoever I wanted here, and this is where I would find my queer performance community."

Liam's passion, it soon turned out, was playing with fire – safely. He quickly learned fire dancing, hula hoop dance and a host of other performance techniques that, along with his model looks, have put him in high demand for event entertainment.

Today, his incredible performances are practically synonymous with the city, from circuit party stages to dance routines in the park.

Liam generously allowed GayCities to follow him around on a Sunday afternoon to some of his favorite only-in-San Francisco places.

At first, I was intimidated by people who lived here in the city. They all seemed so cool and unique and important. But after seeing people dress how they wanted and dance in public like it was nothing special, I felt free to be whoever I want, whenever I want. People are free to express themselves here and you can just feel it. Nobody will bat an eye at you for doing something out of the norm.

My mom wants me to focus on my career in healthcare and become her idea of a mature adult. She doesn't want me to play with fire, associate with the wrong crowd, or hurt myself. Mom is Asian-American with strong Chinese values. My dad, supports everything I do, and I'm excited to tell him about most of my performances.

The Mission

This contraption is my electric unicycle, a type of scooter I recommend for everyone. Imagine a form of transportation that is fast and essentially free, with no traffic, no parking, no theft or maintenance issues. Most all, it's extremely fun and feels like you're flying. Personal electric vehicles are a green form of transportation that have the capability to change society and transform civilization.

The Presidio

Growing up, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but I had a certain kind of creativity that I needed to let out. Drawing was too hard, writing wasn't satisfying, but when I saw hula hooping a decade ago, I realized that was it. Four years in, people started asking me to do shows at small parties. That's how it started. I started getting gigs performing with LED hoops when I moved to San Francisco in 2014.

The Bay Area Hoopers, the group that started the modern hoop dance movement, is still alive and well. They were my first family when I moved here. They are a group of kind-hearted, open, welcoming, and easygoing people I connected with immediately. Our shared values of having fun, being kind to each other, and sharing tricks let everyone connect in a relaxed way. I hold them so dear.

Sutro Baths

The baths are breathtaking. These ruins on the edge of the world are at the same time desolate and beautiful and somehow reminiscent of a destroyed castle taken back by the earth to be slowly hollowed out by the sea. This is where I come to contemplate life and the future.

AIDS Memorial Grove

The Grove is a sacred place, and the feeling you get just being there is awe-inspiring. It memorializes the great tragedy of an epidemic that took so many of us and the powerful love we have for those we lost. The names of the dead etched in stone cannot be forgotten, and it’s emotional to think about what that means to so many people who’ve lived through it, right here in the heart of San Francisco, the center of it all. My favorite thing about the Grove is flagging in the park, where we come together each summer as a diverse community and spin brightly colored flags in an uplifting dance that honors the dead.

The Castro

Beaux plays great music and has some super fierce performers. I hear the gogo boys are top notch. Whether I’m on the stage or the gogo box, I enjoy being close enough to connect with guests, who are so good-natured and ready to have fun. It’s nice that there’s not only a dance floor but ample room in the front by the window to sit on couches, drink, and relax.

The guys at Knobs know we queers want to be over the top and they’re ready to help. My favorite finds have been a variety of mesh or unique cut tank tops I couldn’t find anywhere else. My wardrobe has gradually grown over my years in SF because I require a certain type of sexy clothing for a theme party or gig, so I scour the Haight and Castro to bring new looks together. My friend and fellow performer Ismael Acosta makes me custom pieces for special occasions as well.

I try to get to the gym at least three times a week. It’s a form of meditation, it’s healthy, and it gets you gigs. It’s all for art, baby. Fitness SF has a lot of amenities. My favorites are the Castro location (above), the gay gym, and SOMA, the big boy gay gym. Tip to avoid distractions: Listen to your favorite song on your earbuds and use your gym crush as inspiration, which works really well until he comes by to talk to you.

San Francisco Pride

Coming for Pride? First of all, this is San Francisco, so wear whatever you want, as long as you love it. Whether it’s rainbow regalia or nothing but a jockstrap, you’ll fit right in, and nothing is too outlandish. Before and after the parade, there’s everything from rainbow-and-feather-boa drag brunches to packed art parties, both underground and above.

See you out there.

Photos by Steven Underhill 


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