FireDrums: What are Instructors Upset About?

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After publishing the article, “FireDrums: Disclose Your Financials?”, people have asked, “Why do people care what the instructors are being paid?”

If I could draw an analogy, I’d say I suppose I don’t need to care that there is <racism, sexism, discrimination, slave labor, homophobia, <insert some other problem here>> in the world. Of course, it’s much easier to ignore something happening to a different person or on a different continent rather than something happening to my colleagues and I in every day life.

  • As an instructor, I care because I instruct.
  • As a civic minded being, I care about what I perceive to be “just” and “fair” in the world that I might “be the change I want to see in the world.”
  • As a conscious capitalist I care because I know the only thing I can truly do is educate myself and others around me and shop from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance. Conscious buying is the gift that capitalism brings and I want to buy consciously — and I hope you do as well.
  • And as a community member and leader, witnessing other people co-creating a dynamic they later despise when they learn of it makes me feel somewhat ashamed of myself for not standing up against injustice.

Maybe you don’t care about these things and I honestly can’t speak for why other instructors care. Still, every reason I listed above, with the exception of the instructor one, I hope is something that applies to the humans with whom I share community.

And really, if i don’t speak, who will?

If you don’t care, don’t read or listen.

And, if in this exchange you considered an idea you hadn’t before, my caring was worth my time because I did what I am here to do: educate and created change, however small it is.

For me, it’s not about how much people are getting paid to teach. The issue is that every attendee attending gets more value for their money and time than an uncompensated instructor who not only loses time giving to the festival by teaching, and therefore missing out on taking classes themselves, on top of that, they STILL have to put in their volunteer shifts.

The FireDrums team has created a dynamic where an instructor is being made to pay to go and work (which is what mandatory volunteering is) and are then being asked to work even MORE than the average attendee while missing more of the event.

On top of that, unlike the other volunteers who can show up to their shift brain dead and half asleep, it actually takes something to run a class. This means even when you’re at the festival “playing” you have to ensure you stick to a schedule and remain energetic enough to run your class that you prepared prior to arriving at the festival. Yes, that’s right: you work before you get to the festival to create this gift you then (pay to) give away while missing out on having other fun because you wanted to give back to your community.

From where I sit, people are being negatively rewarded for giving of themselves.

Maybe you haven’t considered that. I have and it really sucks. Because people, in some cases, do come to a festival because of me and then they get more benefit from it than I do and I’m working while there and paying to do so.

Now I get that giving feels good. And I get if you’re new in the community and only spinning for a few years you might be shitting your pants with joy at the opportunity to teach at a FireDrums.

At the same time, I can’t help but note how many negative comments I’ve read on line about the situation and the results the festival organizers are creating. One person wrote about how their instructors didn’t show up to teach and when they ran into them later, the instructors reported that since they weren’t being compensated, they didn’t bother to teach because they didn’t feel like it. Several folks wrote about the poor quality of classes, if the instructors showed up at all. Here’s one blurb pulled from on line on the subject which sums things up well:

I have decided not to go to FireDrums this year for a few reasons, but the top one is: I pay $150 [Editor’s note: FireDrums is actually $160 this year] to go to an event that I have to work at (and when you only really get one vacation a year, this is a big deal), only to have poorly taught classes, classes that are TOO full and you can’t learn, or classes where the instructor never shows….and the fire circle is too cramped to spin. The price is no longer equal to the value of the festival IMO.

Yes, I defend FAI and their right to run FireDrums however they choose to — they can do whatever they want. At the same time, they can’t expect people to not be upset by something like this and continue to support their event when they feel lower value on the consumer end and taken advantage of as an instructor. Ironically, if the instructors were valued more, they likely would show up to more classes, create more value and the consumers wouldn’t have the complaints they do.

If you read through all of this, you’ll see an instructor is valued LESS than the average attendee. I just don’t see how that is fair or community minded, particularly from an organization that portends to be created community events.

Shop consciously and, if you’re inspired, demand more with your dollars. At the very least, if they are not already doing it, encourage your festival to count teaching shifts as a part of their “mandatory volunteer” time for attendees.

Stay tuned for more on the topic and check the articles section of this website.

Written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek professional guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly for a free consultation (GlitterGirl <that pretty little at symbol> TempleOfPoi <daaaaaaaught> com).

3 thoughts on “FireDrums: What are Instructors Upset About?

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  1. I can understand where you’re feeling let down and hurt. I would have assumed that an instructing position would be a volunteer shift, or would count towards a volunteering shift.

    This comes down to supply and demand. You feel much demand and little reward from your potential spot instructing at Fire Drums.

    I’m a small time circus festival instructor. I put together workshops, I’m new at it. They seem well received and I’m pleased with that. To me, what I do instructing is easier and more rewarding than what I do volunteering and I often do both these days.

    Instructors are the face of the festival and sadly they are sort of worth less than the average festival goer. There is a semi-finite number of people who have money who are going to shill for a ticket, you get them to shill by having the best workshops, the biggest names, or by promising the best experience.

    Instructors are part of this but we’re sort of a dime a dozen as I see it. There will always be someone willing to teach whatever they know for the prestige of being an instructor at the festival. Its a heady thing. And those of us who aren’t used to it yet get off on that alone.

    What you’re describing doesn’t sound very sustainable. And this ought to have an effect. Though instructors are a dime a dozen, you want good instructors because they shape the almost the entirety of the experience of your festival goers. If your festival only seems to have tired, worn out, upset instructors who didn’t quite realize the level of commitment they were signing on for… that will be the face the festival puts out to festival goers.

    Festival goers who might not be 24/7 spinners might not care. Maybe they’re going there for the other people there and less for the instruction because they are truly beginners. Everything seems shiny your first festival almost no matter what.

    If you’re doing anything that makes you feel like you need to be treated a certain way to be happy, you’re doing too much. The dichotomy between expecting basic respect and what the general world gives is an annoying situation.

    I don’t go places I feel treat me poorly. I tend to expect if I feel like I’m being treated poorly that others might feel the same. And if they don’t, that’s their business and their personal standards for respect.

  2. I have lost a lot of respect for those who want to continue Bash an event that has created a gathering spot for fire performers around the globe. I have heard of people flying in from Australia to volunteer there time at this event. what makes those instructors who are upset about not being compensated any better than those who volunteer. Are they licensed or hold degrees in fire spinning? if they are then they should disclose that when arguing about not getting compensated.
    Isa do you need to get paid everytime you offer someone advice or instructions on spinning? I know you have built a very useful, respected (i know that I respect it and what it has to offer) and we’ll run business around the flow arts, but I am referring to helping a random person at the fire jam (for example) who you see having a hard time completing a certain move.
    I have went back and read the fire drums website and their information about the event. nowhere on there do I see them advertising licensed or professional instructors.I for one respect these instructors who volunteer their time a helluva lot more then once bitching about not getting any special treatment. These instructors know what they’re getting into and yet they are still willing to offer their time and knowledge that they have learned by performing and practicing in the different arts.
    everybody in the fire community should be supporting this event instead of criticizing it and therefore persuading people not to go.fire drums as Been addressing these issues behind closed doors and you may possibly see changes in these policies as of next year. everybody here should have practiced A more professional approach then what was chosen. fire drums or anyone deserves a lot more respect then what you and some of the other flow artist have Chosen. if I ever had an issue with the temple of Poi I would approach you and deal with it directly before going to had and dragging them behind a horse in public. Question did you ever contact the people hosting this event and get their side of the story? Did you ever ask them what they may have or if they are going to address these issues for next year? they may be so far into planning Of this event already that they I may not be able 2 make any changes in the policy for this year.
    as I have stated in other posts you have been writing on this event, I believe that there should be some changes to their current policies on compensating volunteer instructors in some way.but I don’t necessarily expect to see them introduced this year, and I bet neither do I a lot of other attendees. ,

    1. I have actively approached the fire drums team since 2009 about these issues and have been met with no resolution that satisfies me personally. Not even an explanation on the issues I raised in this article, in fact. After 5 years of attempting to get more fair treatment privately, I feel it is appropriate to educate the community about my experience and issues.

      Also, I would add, none of the people on the current Fire Drums team even went to the first Fire Drums except for Ryan and most didn’t go for several years. So, to be clear, *I’M* one of the people who built this event — before it became a business when it was a gathering a friends having fun. The reputation that built this event was built when the event WAS friends having fun, not the event it has become which is no longer a pot luck style event.

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