The FAQs

Brilliant answers to frequent questions

Please read through the following Frequently Asked Questions before sending us a message. If you don't see your question here, then yes please write! :)

Nick, how have you managed to be so successful? Any tips for impacting the poi community?

Interesting question!

First off, there are many ways I haven’t been successful. For instance, I haven’t been successful with performing, and in general I’ve fallen on my face financially many times.

The main way I’ve been successful is via the popularity of my poi videos and in conjunction, This has allowed me to promote my workshops and retreats.

Here are some reasons my videos and website became popular:

1) I developed a reasonably high degree of skill with poi along with a personal style that people like, so basically poi spinners like watching me play poi. This took a whole lot of practice and passion.

2) I started making artistic and instructional poi videos that were a decent combination of skill, artistic expression, and videography.

3) I put those videos on a website and followed basic Search Engine Optimization rules.

4) I was helped along by several people who took the time to share and promote my videos. Some of those people also invited me to come teach workshops etc. I am ever grateful to them!

5) I continued to be prolific in publishing videos and photos.

6) I went to a whole lot of festivals and conventions where I met lots of other poi spinners.

Note: The video that helped more than any other was Dervishly Yers, which I put up on a previous website, all before Youtube even existed. That video went viral in a big way which gave me a reputation in the poi community of the time. I’ve been riding that wave ever since.

So it would be hard to completely re-create exactly what I did because I did the things I did at a specific time in the evolution of the art form. But other people are going to follow a similar path, by putting up new videos that somehow get attention from the poi community. There are several poi artists who come to mind, and I’m sure some of them are going to go well beyond me in terms of poi skill and more. I’ll always have my own loveable way of doing things though!

So basically, follow your dream and share it! 🙂

Where are you guys based? Can I come work for Playpoi?

Playpoi is a very small company which includes me, the people I contract to help me with specific projects (usually technical stuff like video editing, graphic design, and website development), and the “friends of Playpoi” who contribute lessons and video content to the site.

There is no permanent Playpoi office or space. Everybody involved lives in different places around the world, but we see each other at events around the world.

Thus we are not currently hiring in a traditional sense.

Happy spinning!

I can't do all the basics but I can do some advanced moves, can I take Beyond the Basics workshops?

To take Beyond the Basics courses you need to be able to do all the basics. It doesn’t matter if you can do a few advanced moves. What’s important is that you can do ALL the basics.

Here’s the reason: We might start a lesson by saying, “Let’s start with a clockwise windmill…” and if some people can’t do the clockwise windmill, the lesson falls apart. That situation is hard for everybody. We can only lead a Beyond the Basics class if everybody can do all the prerequisites. Being able to do a few very advanced moves does not help the fact that you can’t do some of the prerequisites.

But fear not! You can use the free beginner videos to learn any basic moves you still need to learn.

Please note: We’re not trying to be strict! It’s just more fun for everybody when we can all start on the same moves together!

See you in a class!

Any tips on making a living with poi?

Yes! My tips are this:

1) Know what you want to do! Do you want to teach? Make gear? Perform? You probably can’t do them all at once. My advice is to follow your dreams. There is magic in that.

2) Once you’ve figured out your dreams, figure out how manifesting your dreams can benefit other people. I.e. if your dream is just to play poi for yourself then it might be tough to make money from that, so figure out how your dreams can involve helping other people, or to solving their problems, or making them happy, or helping people by solving their problems while making them happy. Nobody ever paid me for playing poi! I’ve made a living partly because I’ve figured out ways to help other people, such as helping the shops design and promote toys. This was a lot of work and I had to think of things from the point of view of the shops. If you want to be self-employed, then you have to figure out what you’re providing and for whom!

3) If you’re under 30, learn to write for people over 30. Some young people’s writing these days involves a lot of acronyms or other so-called text-speak and does not strictly follow the rules of grammar. This writing style has some benefits and is not inherently bad. However, people over 30 won’t understand you or take you seriously unless you speak their language, which involves punctuation when written.

4) Know that being money is related to your state of mind and attitude. Five years ago I decided to start living as if I had all the money I needed. Adopting this mindset wasn’t easy, but in the long run it helped. I call this approach cultivating an “abundance mentality.” If you want abundance to flow to you, then try letting it flow through you, to others. That doesn’t mean you should be reckless! Simply experiment with seeing yourself as a generous provider, somebody who can support other artists and businesses and see how that changes your approach to people and opportunities. Also, the best kind of financial freedom is generous freedom, otherwise you might get rich but you’ll be like Scrooge!

5) Take baby steps! I got myself into trouble by jumping into things too quickly when I created the Vancouver Poi Studio. I could have rented space until things were rolling and that would have been much less stressful.

6) If you succeed, be grateful to those who helped! Expressing your gratitude won’t help you make money, but it will definitely help you be happy. (I certainly have a lot of people to thank!). So take take note of your good fortunes right from the beginning. Sometimes even the things that seem like bad luck will turn out to be good fortunes later.

7) Have fun! You might as well!

How do I get work performing?

Firstly, most audiences won’t care if you can do a five-beat weave. The best way to create a show the public can appreciate is by performing simple moves with good choreography and showmanship.

Creating a good show is still only the beginning. To make a living you need to promote yourself. We know performers who perform only the basic poi moves, but since they can entertain, market themselves, and talk to potential clients, they get lots of work (way more than we ever get).

If you want to improve your performance skills, explore the worlds of dance, circus, theatre, and busking. And don’t settle for anything but the best. Track down quality! Expose yourself to world-class performances and ask questions.

Ultimately there is no clear path to follow. Poi dancing and fire spinning are niche genres that are too small to appeal to most entertainment agencies. Start brainstorming the places in your community that might want performances and contact them directly.

Also, think carefully before you quit your day job! There are very few full-time fire performers in the world, and some of them have stopped loving poi because it’s become their job. You can definitely perform full time while still loving poi, but be patient!

As for pay: the average remuneration for a cabaret-style performance varies between countries and even cities within the same country. In some places it’s typical to get $500USD for a gig, in others only $200USD or less. Find out what is typical and create performances that are worth every penny! Busking also varies hugely depending on the location, circumstances, and local culture. At the world’s best busking festivals performers sometimes make $2,000USD a night. Other performers might only make $100.

Location, location, location: It does make a difference where you are. Some cities and countries support the arts, or any particular kind of art, more than others. Sometimes they do it so well that there is too much competition! There is no perfect place to be, but there is such a thing as a place with limited opportunities. The cities most popular with artists are sadly often not the places where you can get lots of paying work.

And lastly, don’t feel like you need to fit into the normal way of doing things. The most successful people are those who create opportunities in addition to looking for them.

Enjoy and see you on stage!

How do I improve my performance?

The first tip is this: If you’re performing for the non-poi-spinning public, then you only need to be fluid with the basics. Your stage presence and showmanship are more important than advanced moves.

You yourself need to be engaging as a performer. Use dance, storytelling, and theatrical techniques. Set a context and mood.

Some of the most successful fire performers only know the basic moves, but they can do them in time with the music and while interacting with the audience!

Imagine having to entertain the audience without any props at all. How would you do that? This mental exercise will take you in the right direction.

How long does it take to get good at poi dancing?

That depends on three things: Your definition of “good,” the way you are measuring time, and your rate of progress.

It ultimately makes the most sense to think of length of time in terms of hours of regular practice. Learning to play freely with the basics usually takes about sixty hours of practice. That’s ten weeks if you practice six hours per week. Learning to perform the basics with good rhythm and expression usually takes another 150 hours, that’s another six months at the same rate of practice. To play poi at a high level like any of the playpoi teachers takes at least 2,000 hours of regular and dedicated practice. That’s two to four years!

Of course, those are very rough estimates. Your rate of progress with poi ability depends on the following factors:

Natural ability. Some people seem to learn quicker than others. We don’t think you should worry about this. Poi is fun whether you learn quickly or slowly!

Previous movement experience. It can help to have previous experience with skilled movement arts. Relevant experience could be a history in dance or martial arts, or even something as simple as whether you liked skipping rope when you were a kid.

How effectively you’re practicing. Are you practicing useful things? Are you challenging yourself enough just the right amount? You’ll only get better if you keep challenging yourself, but if you try to learn too much too fast, you’ll only get frustrated. Constant baby steps is the secret!

Whether or not you’re being patient and having fun! The most effective learners are those who enjoy simple things and the process of learning.
It all boils down to this: You can do it, and it will definitely take some time! So grab your poi and start playing!

What kind of poi should I use? How heavy and long should they be?

Great question! All of our gear recommendations are in the gear section. This includes gear reviews, tutorials on how to make your own poi, and videos of people sharing their own poi designs.

The quick answer: We recommend starting with poi that are long enough to hang a few inches off the ground when your arms are hanging at your sides. Start with the weight of a tennis ball, and go lighter or heavier if you need to. Both the tether and the weight should be soft, to avoid bruises and unnecessarily difficult tangles. We think sock-poi are a great way to start. See the gear section to buy a pair or to learn how to make your own!

Where do I get those poi/handles/pants that you use in the videos?

Trust us, any cool bit of gear you see in the videos will be in the gear section if it’s available for purchase. If you see us using something that’s not in the gear section, then it’s probably not available for purchase. For example: those sock poi with the swivels Nick uses in some videos? You simply can’t order them!

How do I start fire spinning? What fuel do I use? How does fire safety work?

To learn about fuel choices and fire safety, I recommend visiting The Flow Arts Institute’s Fire Safety Training page. It is an impressively thorough resource for learning to spin fire safely.

Note: DO NOT spin fire by yourself, ever! Sorry, it’s simply a bad idea. Always have a safety who you’ve discussed fire safety with.

I hope that helps!

Can you guys watch my poi video and give me feedback?

What makes a performance or video awesome cannot be entirely distilled into an objective system. The following is an exploration of the elements that make performances awesome:

Creativity / originality: A unique, creative, and original performance is usually more interesting than something people have seen before. But “different” doesn’t always add up to interesting. Sometimes attempts to be original can seem gimmicky, so search deep for true creative inspiration. There is inherently no formula to do this!

Set and setting: Where does the performance take place? Does the setting match the performance? Are there any props within the performance area? For live shows, even the most simple props can help create a sense of space. All it takes is a cue that sets off the imaginations of those watching. For videos, of course it’s well worth the time to go somewhere beautiful or dramatic. If you take the time to use or create the right setting, people are more likely to take the time to watch your performance!

Costumes: Costumes and makeup can accentuate the movements and features, and expression of the performers. It also helps set the mood and plot. The right costume will ensure that the audience is watching the performer and the storyline, not just the spinning objects.

Choice of music: This will have a huge effect on the performance. No piece of music is right for everybody, and thus no performance can please everybody. Whether you’re creating or watching a performance, it’s worth some time to ask why you like music.

Musicality: Having a meaningful piece of music is just the first step. Perhaps more important is whether the performers actually work with the music. Are their movements progressing with the music? Are they bringing the music alive? Are you and the music following a story together?

Dance and physical theatre: Poi and object manipulation is interesting, and so are people. The audience doesn’t just watch the prop, they watch the performer. So the important question is this: Is there something to watch? Are you the performer interesting? Or are you hiding behind the prop? Imagine you had to do your performance with no props and figure out how it would be interesting anyway.

Technical spinning skill: Obviously this is important for any poi or flow show, but it doesn’t mean doing all your hardest tricks. Often it’s better to stick with the movements you know the best. Simple things done well will look better than difficult moves performed awkwardly.

Storyline and artistic content: Is there any artistic content to your show? Is there a storyline? This doesn’t have to be a literal storyline (which can be didactic), it might be an emotional progression, or even just be an interesting evolution of the way you are interacting with the poi. Anything that draws the audience into the performance is better than a simple series of moves and tricks.

Choreography: If there are multiple performers, it’s obviously important how the move together and interact.

Cinematography and editing: For videos, the camera work has an important role in bringing the story to the audience. Remember though that people usually want to watch the performance, not the camera work. Sometimes people get so carried away with fancy camera angles and editing that the actual performance seems incidental to the showing off of camera and editing work.

How do I take photos like yours?

I love that question! I’m actually sharing everything I know about fire/LED photography as part of my Patreon campaign!

The quick summary: you probably need to use a long shutter speed and tripod to get clear trails, and how the performer poses for the shot, and the scene plus ambient lighting, is as important as the camera.

But seriously, if you want to get into fire and LED photography, jump into the Patreon page and we’ll all get better at this together!

Nick, I'm so jealous! How do you afford to travel the world!?

Ha ha! It’s a trick! You envy what you THINK my life is like. I make things look fun in the videos, but it hasn’t been the around-the-world poi vacation you may imagine. You don’t know about the years of debt, the homelessness, the 60-hour work weeks, the failed self-employment attempts, the knee and back and shoulder problems, the huge jumping poisonous spiders, etc. (Ok, I made up the spiders).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I don’t regret any of the difficult stuff. Hardship and failure can build inner strength better than success. If your self-confidence comes from success it’s shallow, because that confidence can be toppled any moment by failure. Confidence is much deeper when it comes from hardship and learning to keep your heart open through difficult times. It just gets weird when people keep having very unrealistic ideas of what my life is like.

I keep abundance flowing the following ways:

  • Performing
  • Teaching workshops
  • Producing and selling the online step-by-step courses
  • Producing the Playpoi pendants, hipsacks, and t-shirts.
  • Working with shops to design and promote poi-related products
  • Promoting the toys I like (and earning money from the referral programs)
  • Spending huge amounts of time working on the website and content for the website
  • Credit cards!

Note the last one! I’ve gone through periods of deep, frightening debt whilst engaging in poi-related projects (peaking at a full $25,000 in debt, which is a lot when you don’t have a job). Currently I’ve paid it all back, which is a big relief! 

Deep down I know that I’m following my heart and there is a profound satisfaction in that. It’s worth it, to follow your dreams!

Yet the best thing about my life is that I have great friends, which is way more important than other people thinking I’m good at poi! If you’re jealous of what you think my life is like, it’s because you’re taking all the good things in your own life for granted!

What's the music in... ?

Check the credits and the text that is posted with the video. We try very hard to always give credit for the music!

Nick, when can you come to teach or perform in the USA?

Thanks! I feel so wanted!

Unfortunately it may be a long time before I can enter the USA.

Years ago I taught a few poi workshops in the USA without a non-immigrant work visa (it’s not feasible for a Canadian to get a work-visa just to teach a few workshops, so I told the border guards I was visiting friends). This resulted in an unfortunate border-crossing where I got banned from entering the USA.

That ban officially expired in 2014, but I’m still “deemed inadmissible.” In theory there is a waiver I can apply for, to enter once as a tourist, but the lawyers tell me it will cost $3000-4000 and that I probably won’t get the waiver (nor my money back) if I don’t have a stable permanent job, lease in my name, and all the other things that prove I’m not the least bit an immigration risk. Some day I may have all these things. It probably won’t be any year soon.

The short story: Come to one of my poi events outside of the USA!