|You're On! by Judy Davenport|
In the last couple of weeks, I have been reminded of something very basic, yet something that we as group exercise instructors can sometimes forget. And it can be summed up in just two words.
Yep, it's that simple.
Never forget that as an instructor, you are "on" the minute you hit the "Play" button on the stereo.
In fact, you're "on" the second you walk into the room or venue where you teach.
Whether you like it or not, participants will judge you by your manner, your personality, your grooming, your clothes, whether or not you remember to introduce yourself before the class starts (something that was drilled into us in our Group Exercise Instructor course and that I still remember to this day) and most importantly, how easily they can follow your 3 Cs: Cueing, Choreography and (in general) the Class.
When you've been leading group fitness classes for a while (even for just a few months), you might find that you've built up a group of "regulars" who, for whatever reason, like your style and come along to your class pretty much every week.
Kudos to you!
Things are going well; the participants are familiar with the format and don't need to be cued as intensively, or perhaps don't need the choreography explained in as much detail any more because they now know what "3-tap grapevine" means.
And before you know it, you've been lulled into a sense of security and familiarity. Maybe you even relax a bit and, dare I say it, let the standards slip ever so slightly (is "lazy" the word I'm looking for here?).
But then one day, into your little group of regulars comes someone trying out your class for the first time – and you think to yourself, "Holy cr*p! I've actually got to pay attention to what I'm doing this time!"
The centre where I teach Zumba and Aerodance (a mix of an aerobics-type warm up followed by learning a dance routine – disco, jazz, funk, Broadway ... it varies each week) recently did a letterbox drop. All residents in the neighboring suburbs received a flyer containing free passes to the pool, to the gym and to a group fitness class.
The marketing strategy worked a treat. All of a sudden there were a lot of new faces in our classes.
The Tuesday Aerodance session was fine. Where I'm normally lucky to have 6 or 7 devoted regulars, I suddenly found myself facing 12 participants – the first time my class attendance had ever hit double figures. And half of them were new.
I was slightly nervous. I broke into a sweat a little more easily and my mouth went dry – something that hasn't happened since my Group Ex practical exam.
However, I knew I was on the right track when I could see that everyone was able to keep up with the warm up – including the participants who had never set foot in my class before.
"Hooray," I thought. "My cueing is obviously clear enough for everyone to follow without causing total confusion. Well done me."
For the first time, I had so many people in the class that I had to rotate the rows ("Ok, front row to the back; back row to the front") so that everyone could see the choreography when it came time to learning the dance routine.
They all picked it up beautifully and I sailed home on a cloud.
The Saturday Zumba class, sadly, was not so great.
By this stage the realization had truly sunk in: Somebody using their free pass in MY class would be basing their entire impression on what sort of club we were running SOLELY on the hour they were about to spend with me.
So how did I react? I panicked – and taught what I consider to be the worst class I've done to date.
I managed to scrape through the warm up, but when it came to doing the different rhythms (merengue, salsa, cumbia, samba, cha cha), everything went pear-shaped.
I forgot choreography that I had been doing for months. I forgot steps that I had been practising all week and had been doing perfectly - even up to an hour before the class when I was going over them in the kitchen at home. I didn't properly explain the steps of a new routine that I introduced that week, so the whole thing was a bit of a botch.
And it was all my fault.
The only thing I managed to get right was the stretch track at the end – and that's only because I generally make that up as I go along, depending on the song I've chosen.
I know what many of you are saying now, "Oh, that happens to all of us, don't beat yourself up over it". And you're right.
However, that didn't stop me from thinking, "Well, all you people who used your free voucher for this class, I reckon you got your money's worth, because that was woeful. And as for those of you that actually paid – I think you deserve a refund".
Of course, the participants were probably none the wiser, but I still felt I had let them down.
The next week at my Aerodance class I thought, "I reckon maybe one or two of the newies from last week might come back, so if I have half a dozen in the class, that will be great."
How many did I have in class after my record-breaking number of 12?
I was ready to give up there and then, but then I thought, "No, these people have paid for a class, so make sure you give them one. It doesn't matter what the size of the audience is, you're ON, so give them what they came for."
And I did. And we had a great time.
Admittedly, I was disappointed that I had put all my time and effort into choreographing a fun new routine to a great song for just two participants (there, I said it, how selfish), but that's just the way it goes in this business.
At my most mercenary, I could say, "So what? I get paid the same amount anyway", but it's more than that. It's about having pride and professionalism in what you do – and it shouldn't matter how many people are in the room.
I approached my Zumba class a few days later with a feeling of dread. The "disaster" class had had 8 participants in it. Could I have killed off my own class and sent potential new members running straight to our main competition, literally across the road?
It appears not.
There were 14 beaming faces looking at me – including one participant who had used her voucher last week and was back for more.
You'll be pleased to know that this class was a success. I remembered all the choreography (no blank moments!), the routine I introduced the previous week was re-taught and everybody got it this time, and everyone picked up a new routine with no problem at all.
After the class, one fellow (a regular) came rushing up to me and said, "Thanks, Judy! That was great! Best class ever!"
Another lady complimented me on my Spanish and asked if I had a Spanish-speaking partner because my pronunciation of the song titles and key lyrics was so good.
Now, I've never had a Spanish lesson in my life, but I was even more chuffed when she said, "I'm originally from Mexico and I have to tell you your accent is excellent!"
So I guess there are TWO messages in this article:
1) You need to have the occasional bad class to remind you how good the good ones are.
2) There will always be first-timers in your class, so make sure they can easily follow what you're doing – otherwise their first class with you will also be their last.
In other words, don't forget ... "You're on"!
* * * * *