Being a Professional: Relative & Contextual

Professional PerformersSomeone posted this article titled, I’ve had two months of lessons — Am I ready to Perform Professionally? on Facebook recently and the article offers an emphatic “no” in answer to the question posed. While the article is about aerials, I had a few thoughts on the subject I thought I’d share.

At best, ‘professional’ is a relative term and incredibly contextual. NYC and Hutchinson, Kansas will likely never boast the same quality of expertise in various industries. And it’s especially relative and contextual in burgeoning disciplines where artists are involved since an element of ‘being professional’ is about quality of the art which is subjective.

I dare say in a city where no one has seen what you do, you could barely know anything and because of your relative expertness, easily be paid as a professional — it’s the whole “big fish in a little pond” thing. In a pond where you’re the only fish, you can call yourself a professional and who can or will stop you?

I don’t think this is inherently ‘bad’ though it obviously poses challenges to all the members of the community. Yet, I think it benefits us all in the end in that the more experienced community members show their wisdom in their feedback and conversations like the one the arose on Facebook which leads to education, growth and a raised standard for the “lowest bar of entry for a pro performer.”

When an art form is younger, there is less understanding of the risks because there is less experience and therefore fewer learning opportunities (read as: mistakes that have been made from which we have learned both individually and collectively). Even if there is an understanding of the risk in some parts of the community, that doesn’t mean that people are present to it.

You could look at my long standing conversation with Arashi about white gas vs lamp oil as an example. I believe he’s right — lamp oil is less dangerous and a safer fuel in so many ways. I still opt for the more dangerous fuel, though I do that knowingly. That doesn’t mean that other people who see what I do and model me know why I’m making the choices I am. I still don’t spin indoors though. It’s all about your own risk assessment.

To that end, I don’t think anyone can tell another person when they will be ready to be a professional. 2 months seems like an extreme example of eagerness and personally I’ve never met a fire dancer who thought they could pull that off. 6 months though? I’ve heard of it and seen it. And, with the quality of some so called professionals out there today in our incredibly young industry, I wouldn’t want to discount someone who trained 40-60 hours a week for 6 months from being able to put on a solid and entertaining show, at least as a fire dancer. It’s ambitious… though I think it’s possible with the right training and discipline.

And let’s not forget that it really depends on what kind of show you’re putting on. Big fire shows that are more about waving fire in synchronicity are a lot easier to do than shows with a lot of technical innovation. As business people, we (hopefully) know that what sells is what audiences like and sometimes, big fire will sell better than quality technical skills. As much as anything, it’s about finding the right market for what you offer.

I submit that in the early stages of an industry when there is little choice and little need for differentiation, people can get away with things they can’t get away with as the industry matures.

As for the comments made about “worse is when they begin teaching…”, I have a different view on this. I think even someone who is new knows more than someone who knows nothing and as such, they have something to teach. In the process of teaching, I believe, undeniably, they will learn more about what they are doing if they are to be effective as instructors. So while they may not be able to teach with a lot of distinctions, they will be able to teach some people some things. Like any business, it’s about finding the right market for your offering.

I knew very little when I started relative to what I know today. But I knew a lot relative to everyone around me. Sometimes relative knowledge is the difference between professional or not. And the standards, which always remain relative, are constantly evolving as the community matures.

Check back here or our articles archive for other helpful information for performers.

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).

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