Why Outdoor Classes Are Less Than Ideal

People have been suggesting for months that we run classes outdoors at Temple of Poi. After answering this questions many times over, it occurred to me it might save some time to create a blog post explaining the foibles of such an effort, having built my business in the beginning starting with outdoor sessions.

The problems with outdoor sessions focus on a few things. First, there’s the issue of controlling the space. If one does sessions outside and in public, something like poi is bound to draw a crowd. Unlike traditional aerobics classes, poi is rather unique and in that it is unusual, people tend to gather and watch. This presents a problem from the perspective of them both interrupting the class to ask what is happening and also by creating what one can consider a fishbowl effect for the students — that is to say, have students feel like they are on display and being watched while they are in the learning process. For something like an aerobics class, if you step the wrong way, it’s not that big a deal. In contrast, when you make a mistake with poi it can be something far more impactful, literally, like bashing yourself in the face or nuts. This sort of thing is a bit more obvious than stepping left when you should step right and as a result, can both hamper the learning of the students by having them hold back and try less for fear of another embarrassing and painful moment while also having them feel self conscious in the class generally speaking which itself tends to negatively impact learning.

Beyond these issues, controlling the space also means being able to control the sound in the space. This is an issue both in terms of outside noise as well as voice projection such that students can hear the instructor. Unlike a classroom which contains the sound of the instructor, in open air space, the instructions can float off unheard and leave students without any clarity about what’s been said. The solution to that could be amplified sound, but the requires a permit which adds to the cost of running the class as well as the overhead to acquire a permit, and it still doesn’t solve the problem of people coming up and bothering both participants and the instructor during the session.

Add to that the reality that there are no mirrors in the space. This requires the instructor has to face off with students to check their progress rather than using the mirrors to see what they are doing. This can be confusing for many students as most students learn most moves more effectively when they are looking at the instructor from behind rather than face to face teaching since they can do what they see rather than reverse it.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, students are paying for a curated experience with instructors who can guarantee a particular quality of experience. This includes managing all the aforementioned factors as well as promising results, something that seems at risk in an environment where the instructor ultimately doesn’t have control of the space or experience. As such, it doesn’t feel good to charge money for an outdoor class which is the fraction of the quality of an indoor class where the experience is managed and curated to garner results. Sure, charging less could offset that, but then as a business owner I am still required to pay for my studio as well as the additional expenses associated with an outdoor class (sound permits and permits to gather as well) which hardly makes sense as a business move for lower tuition.

Because we had planning to move to a digital format in 2020 prior to covid, we were prepared to pivot to digital classes before the lockdown started and have been offering digital sessions with great success since the lockdown started. We hope you’ll consider our Zoom sessions in the meantime, especially considering there’s no current plan to ever be able to open our doors in San Francisco again based on the limitations imposed by the city.

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