Paying for Instruction: The Flow Communities Own Double Standard

Posted on July 2, 2013 by


20130628-232712.jpgI was sitting there the other day on the Business for Flow Artists list on Facebook reading a letter that a group of instructors sent to a promoter saying something along the lines of, “We can’t accept your disrespectful offer to under-compensate us to teach at your festival.” Contextually, I gather this was not for a flow festival per say.

I then brought up what I consider to be a really logical question:

i’m curious, is it different for people reading this for festivals like fire drums or flame of pfg or ignight rather than a different festival? i mean, do you think instructors should be paid at flow festivals? or just other festivals with flow classes?

It’s clear to me from the answers on line, for some, there is a difference and I’m blown away by it.

It was suggested on the list that if everyone who taught got compensated, the festival prices would go up. To which I say that depends on the structure of the festival. I mean, if festivals continue to offer a lot of mediocre classes that are worth less versus a fewer high quality classes worth more with higher quality instructors teaching more sessions and amateur instructors not teaching sessions at all, that would be a different model altogether and wouldn’t lead to the suggested results.

What I find interesting is that we, as a community, are holding a double standard for the value of our own work when we say, “Sure, don’t pay me to come and teach at your festival — don’t pay me a cent and in fact I’ll pay to attend” and then in the next breath, get pissed off that another promoter offers us the same compensation at a different festival. In fact, better compensation — to get in free is better compensation than having to pay to go and teach which is what most instructors at Firedrums had to do.

I mean, how are festival promoters supposed to be clear on these things when we are operating from a double standard ourselves? Why is one festival “worthy” of our time for free while another is not?

Our time is not less valuable when we’re contributing it at a flow festival. In fact, it should be more valuable because the people going to the classes are actually already invested and want the education. So, in fact, I almost think the double standard is operating in the opposite direction from how it should be.

I hope this changes over the next decade as teaching finally becomes something people value. I continue to hold faith that it will. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening as long as our current industry standard for education is festival instruction because I see some fairly sizable challenges with the “festival learning model” a few of which follow:

  1. The standard of education is set up so that there is no accountability. I mean, you don’t like the class, you leave. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how effective the instruction is or how “good” (totally subjective, I know) the class is because there’s half a dozen each time slot every day.
  2. I ran into a few girls in my class, one of whom was pretty much in tears, because she couldn’t understand any of the instructors all day. I believe the festival model does nothing to really assist students who actually struggle with learning because of item 1– no accountability.
  3. Demonstrating is not distinguishing. Showing someone a move and saying, “All you do is…” and then demonstrating the move is not the same as being able to articulate with words exactly what the artist must do to recreate the move and what corrections they need to refine it. Furthermore, instruction involves understanding and articulating in a language suitable for the listener the concepts of the move as well as the kinesthetic directions needed to accomplish that pattern. Showing the move is not instructing a student and, from the reports I hear, more education at fire festivals shows up in the demonstration category than the instruction category.
  4. There is no real way to get consistent and meaningful feedback as an instructor at festivals. The relationship is in the moment rather than through time, and any serious educator would say education is a process, not a fast food meal, and therefore is ongoing, not a one stop destination. At festivals, typically instructors only receive good feedback. If a student didn’t like it, they walked away and why bother going back to say, “I didn’t like it, so much so that I walked away!” Instead, instructors only hear from the people who could understand them and those who have meaningful critical feedback that would allow the instructor to improve have no real mechanism for delivering the feedback in the moment when it is fresh in their experience.
  5. Festivals — the event itself, not necessarily the people attending — are exclusionary, weather we want to believe that or not. They inherently only cater to those people willing to go to a festival. Therefore, if the primary form of education happening in the flow community is coming from festivals, what about anyone who either can’t, won’t, or doesn’t want to come to a festival?
  6. Festivals, by their nature, are for a very short period of time and do very little to support the ongoing practice. In all the years I’ve been going to these fire festivals, there has never been an emphasis on any level that I have seen on the practice as a practice. Let’s face it, if you want to be serious about doing this well, you must take it on as a practice. (Maybe there’s someone out there that’s an exception to that definitive “must” and, let’s just say for mere mortals, you have to take it on as a practice. Most of us are mortals like me that need the flight time.) This means our current learning model is encouraging gorging at the trough of knowledge once a year, getting as much as you can, take it back home without any support for integrating the knowledge, learn it and come back for more next year. Perhaps that’s oversimplified, and, the point stands: weekend intensives don’t offer ongoing support in the practice.
  7. As a result of all of the aforementioned reasons, being a “flow arts teacher” is now something you can put on your resume simply by doing a one-off classes with people who may not have even liked what you presented and you may not even know that. Therefore, as an instructor, you can think you’re doing an awesome job and really, you might be sucking ass and have no way to know about it and in some ways, this invalidates the value of the title “flow arts instructor” which becomes a dilute term as a result.

What does the future hold?

It could be as one of the progenitors of teaching in our field I am noticing this because of my longevity here and others who are much newer to teaching are so excited to have the opportunity to teach they don’t even notice the inequity in their position from festival to festival. I remember those days and I can appreciate the awesomeness of getting to contribute and the sense of excitement it can elicit.

At the same time, I’m convinced that if we as a community of instructors continue to allow promoters to create the events where instructors are required to pay for the opportunity to teach, usually after being asked to contribute volunteer shifts that the teaching time doesn’t even count toward, then we will continue to get the same results. As they say, “If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got.”

You may be asking yourself, “How do we fix this GlitterGirl?” Here are some thoughts…

  • demand more for yourself personally
  • distinguish yourself from the crowd by being an amazing instructor year round rather than festival time only
  • step up your game as an instructor and learn how to do it better every day
  • value your time because you’ve invested in becoming a high quality instructor
  • be the change you want to see in the community

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 student, performer or instructor using personalized coaching with GlitterGirl, email her directly (GlitterGirl <at> TempleOfPoi <daught> com).

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