Making Duet Practice Work: The People (Part I)

Duet Dynamics
Photo: Bryan Nabong
Artists: GlitterGirl & The Amazing Zihni

A client I’ve known for years who has relocated from the Bay Area to a location that makes in person lessons infeasible wrote me a note for help this morning:

 We recently started learning partner poi together and actually got a spot to perform at a show! it’s not for 9 weeks… I guess what i’m asking is…. is there a way we can be really structured and organized to practice? We meet up at least 2 times a week and practice from 2 to 4 hours. Is there a link on your blog site or sound advice that could help us get more organized? We are kind of feeling lost.

This topic is something I could write about for a long while and have and could offer a lot of coaching about. In thinking about how best to guide my client, I decided to divide up my thoughts into two main elements associated with partner practice: the people and the project itself.

Here’s a few thoughts on how to create a thriving partnership. In Part I of this 2 part article, we’ll talk about the things to consider as related to the people in the project. Let’s dive in and take a look.


When you pick the person with whom you’re working, it’s important to check in on a variety of levels before you commit, during the project all the way up until completion. Here’s a brief summary of some questions and ideas to consider when working with your performance partner.

  • Goals: It can be quite difficult if artists are working together who do not have aligned goals because they may not be able to find enough common ground to inspire success. Each person in the duo should ask themselves and each other:
    • what do you hope to get out of this?
    • after completing a performance, what do you imagine you and the audience will feel in response to your show?
  • Commitment: Remember, you can only achieve what is permissable given the variable of rate of learning in the time permitted to achieve the desired quality of product. Understand what the mutually agreed to standard is so there are fewer surprises if one of you feels the piece is “done” and the other feels it needs more refinement. Each person must ask themselves two questions about their commitment:
    • First, how much time are they willing to put into the practice? this includes the amount of solo time they will work outside the group practices as well as the time they put in together. Most performances are created through a combination of practice time both with all parties meeting together as well as individual time.
    • Second, what is the quality of product each of you is looking for? that is to say, how clean and complicated expressing what elements does it need to be for you to be satisfied?
  • Rapport: consider rapport through the lens of two perspectives:
    • First, there is rapport as it relates to the whole relationship you have shared with the partner with whom you’re working — rapport through time. This is what allows you to get away with things other people can not get away with and allows you to say things other people could never say without offending the listener. Inside jokes live here and this is the place where much of your success lies.
    • Second, there is rapport as it relates to what is going on in this moment including the ease of communication and flow of energy between the partners — rapport in the moment. This the place where conflict lives and if you deal with it appropriately  as it arises, with love and respect, it remains in the moments and only helps rapport through time.
    • Rapport can be broken and it can be repaired. Sometimes we impact each other by crossing boundaries, either known or not, and in this process we break rapport, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Know that rapport will change through time and remember you can repair it when you’re in the middle of your challenges.
  • Leadership: When you are creating art and have a project in mind with a specific deadline, such as an engagement for which the performance must be ready, there is a very real need to continue to push forward and create success. The best way to do this is through strong leadership. This can be accomplished through a few different options; we recommend one of the first two options to help reduce stress.
    • one person takes charge and tells the other what to do
    • both people divide the responsiblity equally or not, as agreed
    • you fumble along barely making it work with no clear sense of who is doing what with a lot of scrambling at the end
  • Accountability: When working with a partner, especially with the element of fire, it is important to fully trust where they are coming from. To this end, being accountable for your actions — doing what you say you will do and not doing what you say you will not do — is imporant to retain the open and clear communication necessary for the often dangerous moves you will co-create in your performance. Our advice? Admit your mistakes with humility and own your victories with grace. 

6 Tips for making it work

  • remember that solving problems builds rapport as long as you work it through… so work it through
  • make agreements in times of clarity so you have them to fall back on in times of upset
  • write it down and send copies to each other
  • make a backup
  • look your partner in the eye
  • clean the glass

Part II of this article is explores various elements associated with the performance project itself.

Written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you are looking to step up your skills as a choreographer or performance on a personal or troupe level using personalized coaching with GlitterGirl, email her directly (GlitterGirl <at> TempleOfPoi <daught> com). 

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