Working out while instructing
It can be fun, supportive and motivating for the trainee, when their fitness coach to drops down next to them and matches them in a series of push ups or crunches…Team work! In fact, in the health club setting, cardio-dance students expect the teacher to cue the entire class by providing a continuous, visual demonstration. However, in performance training classes, where technical improvement is the aim of the class, the teacher must step aside and let the students take center stage.
When is it in the student’s best interest for the teacher to watch rather than do?
Emphasizing his role as observer means that the teacher never gets the thorough warmup that he’s provided his students; and that’s tough on the teacher’s body; for by the middle of class, the students are ready to turn and jump; but the teacher is still stiff and unprepared to demonstrate athletic movement sequences full-out. He’s spent the preceding 30-45 minutes observing and correcting others.
Next month I’m starting a new class, and changing the format of an existing one to combine the two cuing styles. I’m looking forward to the workout; but wondering when and how much to dance/demonstrate, and how much to stand aside and cheerlead from the back of the studio.
How would you implement your best teaching practice?
I have two early morning clients and three more this evening; but today my 9:00 – 5:00 is free — a life of leisure?Sometimes, but the variability can be confusing. My empty hours are often unpredictable, anxious and unwelcome. In dance, community theater, and fitness training, Saturday is a work day. Most of us movement teachers dedicate Saturdays to class and rehearsal. Except for very rare, two-day workshops, I decline to work Sundays. A full weekend however, is the exception, expensive (because it is unpaid), and demanding a surprising degree of advance planning.
Is a balanced life best achieved by small doses of time-off through the year, or by one, annual grand vacation?
Although I’d prefer to live in a more rural setting, I am locked into operating my business and living in San Francisco. This is “everyone’s favorite city” for good reason; and I am well aware of my good fortune. Still, I dream about scheduling one weekend a month to enjoy this place or to get out of town. That means saying No to money and opportunity, and risking the ire of health club directors who frown upon classes frequently substituted.
What do you do to balance your work and play?
Yesterday i removed all references of Opus II, my much hoped for amateur dance company, from my web site. “It didn’t work out. Let it go,” I told myself. At the same time, I’m preparing to teach a new class at an unfamiliar health club, where my introductory workshop will set the tone and technical level for a new troupe of performers. I wonder if I must continue to abandon my performance goals in order to avoid intimidating people who are only exploring the art as a hobby.
How much should a teacher allow their own aspirations
to determine the degree of challenge for their students?
I wonder how playful to play it, how much to cater to the Beginner crowd with accessible music and steps, and conversely, how much to crack the whip (i.e. turn off the music and demand precision practice of memorized movement). My usual motto is “Do the best that you can with what you’ve got;” but I want to convince both the participants and myself that we’ll improve over time, that the technical level WILL gradually increase, as will their confidence and pride. I want them to eventually be eager to invite their friends to our shows.
What do you recommend?
“Dance is a silent art,” one of my favorite teachers quoted to quiet his talkative dancers. That admonition also applies to instructors who talk or shout over the music, I’m guilty of it myself.
Must we remain silent and allow students to fail?
As the teacher, I want to keep the class experience vibrant, and to propel the participants to get warm and move vigorously. I also sympathize with the underdog, that poor dancer who is so eager to advance that he or she dares to take a difficult, higher level class and is attempting step sequences beyond their grasp. In order to avoid humiliating them or to prevent their stumbling from slowing the pace of the better dancers in class, I yell over the music and spoon feed them cues. Do the beginners even recognize the names of the steps that I’m shouting? I’m screaming French at them. Why?
Even if my hollered instructions work, the practice encourages a dependency that I’d prefer to eliminate. I’d rather show a greater respect for the music and for my dancers, to recognize them as fellow artists who need to hear the music in order to phrase and accent their movement.
What do you recommend?
At the end of the year, I broadcasted an email announcing my decision to stop teaching one of my classes. It was the second time that year that I initiated a class closure. Inconsistent attendance made it impossible to progress my choreography or to advance the skills of the few students that showed up. I was bored.
As soon as I hit the “send” button, I had second thoughts. What am I doing, turning down a pay check? However intermittent their attendance, a few students will be disappointed, and my boss will be unhappy with me. I tried promoting the class for months before choosing to abandon it. I worried that one week was insufficient notice; but in the end, I said ENOUGH.
How do we balance our own needs with those of the community we lead?
The problem is that, whether the choice is made by the teacher or by the program director, canceling a class is a unilateral decision, even though a class is a team effort, a collaboration. The Group Exercise Director has a vision for his program and a roster of offerings to support that vision. The other dance teachers on staff may have a sense of faculty and take pride in knowing that other instructors of high caliber teach at the same facility. Every student, however irregular their attendance, is juggling a little dream of their own as well as a schedule.
What do you think is my responsibility here?
My mother may be dying. It is a confusing time for me. I’m distracted during training sessions. Long time clients likely notice; and they would be offended if I hid such a significant personal fact from them. My calendar effects theirs and has become unreliable. Also, the students in my classes deserve an explanation for my frequent last minute employ of substitute teachers. Some of these people are beleaguered by similar sadness and panic as they care for their own parents. Many of them have recently experienced it themselves and are fonts of very helpful advice and information. I could use their help; but I am like a dam about to break. Get me started and I’ll spill grief for the entire hour.
How much is too much sharing?
I usually reveal just enough of myself in a training session to foster a sense of equity and peer to peer confidentiality. After all, it’s their time, and their dime; but when you’ve talked with a client twice a week for a decade, the line between friend and professional service provider blurs. Still, there are topics and emotions that ought to remain unspoken.
What criteria do you use to govern the depth or scope of what you reveal?
A family run club often has the difficulties of a disjointed command, as owners disagree about aspects of their operation; and this may confuse employees. There may be problems arising from nepotism or favoritism; but I prefer that to working for a corporation. When I became Coordinator of the Pilates Department at the Bay Club Marin, the chain of clubs was a privately owned business. When I started, I worked for the son of the owner. I wanted to work my way up to General Manager. However, once the Company was sold to a corporation it became a very different place to work. If you’re considering entering health club management, here are a few words of advice.
First, in terms of earning potential, the pay hierarchy is: General Manager, Sales Representative, Fitness Trainer, and lastly Department Head. Yes, a trainer can earn more than his supervisor! If you plan on moving up the ranks, know that Fitness Managers and Group Exercise Directors seldom go on to become executives. A more assured route to becoming the boss is to manage the Club’s facility/operations or to work your way up through the business office.
Middle management for a health club is thankless. One’s staff is paid as employees, but they don’t think of themselves that way. Supervising trainers or class instructors is like herding cats. As part-time personnel, they each consider themselves sole proprietors of the their own time and business; and they must conduct themselves as such in order to survive financially. Their conflict of interest with the Club’s profit goals is inherent in the system and very difficult to manage.
How do you make peace with the conflict of interests?
Above the department head, the executives have their own conflict of interest. One would think that the big bosses want to satisfy customers, the Club members; but that is secondary on their agenda. First and foremost, the corporate club executive aims to increase shareholder value. This places the department head who works for the executive in a tight squeeze, trying to please members and staff while being beholden to a budget that works in the opposite direction.
What advice can you give teachers in this environment?
I just heard that one of my colleagues had his Pilates class cancelled because he’s over weight and doesn’t well represent the Club’s brand. I remember thinking the same about a few of our bosses; but the harsh reality is that we, as front line staff, must look the part.
I remember meeting a young trainer who’d just got his first job at an economy gym. He liked playing The Stud, relishing the public adoration; and he questioned my choice of attire. I was wearing a very tailored, matching track suit. He declared that he preferred to walk the gym floor looking ruggedly athletic (i.e. cut-off sleeves, baseball cap, tattoos on display). “I can appreciate the butch fantasy,” I told him, “but I’m not dressing for me. My aim is client sales in a very upscale market. The people who dress like you are more fun; but they can’t afford my services.”
My uniform/costume is not about feeling sexually attractive or wearing the clothes that I like to wear during my own workout. For instance, when I dress to teach dance, I consider the overall environment and the tone of the day. If I feel as though the students have become too casual or unfocused and I want to crack the whip, I’ll drape myself entirely in black, wrists to ankles. If it’s a grey day outside, or if I suspect that the class needs cheering up, I’ll wear bright colors. Either way, like a stage costume, the look is calculated, never left to chance.
How do you know when your emphasis on professional presentation has slid into a sad and insecure practice of conformity or vanity?
We can adjust our body weight and sustain a muscular physique; but age will eventually win out.
What do you do to keep an eye on your own ego?
I write when I’m not dancing; but I dance all day long!