A step back in time
By ditching overly complex choreography and focusing instead on skill, thought and practice, you can deliver intensely pleasurable movement experiences that recapture the magical essence of step, says Greg Sellar.
It had been almost 10 years since I last presented at an Australian Fitness Network event, so I was very glad to have the opportunity to deliver a step session at the 2011 FILEX convention, held in April.
If I'm honest, for me step has taken a back seat to other types of class I instruct, and I believe this to be the case with many other instructors. With the numerous training formats popular on group exercise timetables, it's easy to see why getting members to participate in regular choreographed step classes might be a challenge.
However, if I am going to continue in this vein of honesty, delivering my step session at the convention was a welcome throwback to days gone by. It reminded me of what I loved so much about the workout: the art of construction; the flowing movement quality; and the thrill of the final run-through! To present to a room full of step enthusiasts and to share the stage with Steve Boedt and Geoff Bagshaw – two step legends with very different and unique styles – was pure pleasure.
It also reminded me of what a great workout step can provide. Continually moving for an hour was both physically and mentally challenging: it wasn't 'heart in the mouth'-type stuff, but an enjoyable feeling of being constantly 'on the go'. This was paired with the constant onslaught of the senses from experiencing new choreography for the first time. Complemented by the different ways of teaching to arrive at a final destination, and different cues and rhythms, the workout was incredibly pleasurable. And above all this, there was a feeling that it was unique for every person in the class – something that's often missing in group exercise. 'Magic moments' are not as special if everyone is doing them.
So, if it's such a good way to work out, and it's both physically and mentally stimulating, where has step gone? As I see it, there are a couple of reasons for its scarcity on group exercise timetables. Firstly, it's difficult to get new entry-level participants hooked on freestyle step classes. Unless they have the patience of a saint and the will to keep going, their foray into freestyle will be over sooner than you can say 'step ball change'. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who have been doing step for the past 20 years and now want something new. Inevitably, step comes to be viewed as a specialty class, and fewer people instruct it, prompting clubs to throw it into the 'too hard' basket and remove it from the timetable.
Making it your own
It should be noted that the solution to step's fortunes isn't necessarily in the choreography. We've spent so long making ourselves technically great at step, that we've tortured both ourselves and our participants – and made it daunting for potential newcomers. Consider the popular programs in the group exercise arena at the moment. They are all about how the experience makes participants 'feel' rather than delivering a perfectly-taught learning curve. While not advocating poor teaching skills, I do believe that step would get its groove back if everyone – both instructors and participants – had more fun doing it.
Steve Boedt, who I consider a 'master of mileage', is a great case in point. Teaching with him provided me with the opportunity to witness first-hand his ability to add flawless layering into choreography – yet his participants remember the session for the joy he brings to his instruction, and not so much for the choreography, despite how accomplished it may be.
More than ever, I'm convinced that it's not 'what' you do, it's 'how' you do it that counts. If you like the instructor's style, you'll enjoy their step class. Steve's larger than life personality and motivational techniques left me in awe of his ability to create atmosphere and extraordinary energy while instructing simple alternating up taps.
The message is: don't over-complicate things to the point of becoming a cueing machine, falling into the monotony of rhythmic cues that are nothing other than a long list of next steps. It's not enjoyable or memorable, and it's too much hard work for you as an instructor! Concentrate instead on finding balance in complexity via your music selection, your flair for movement and your class connection. You and your participants will achieve so much more when you can make the class distinctly your own.
Despite falling out of vogue in some quarters, the fact remains that nothing lasts in the fitness industry for 20 years without being valid. If you were to put it to an amazing presenter like Rebecca Small, who has built a successful career teaching step across the globe, that step is a redundant group exercise format, she'd likely say that you were blinkered, too insular and also too quick to put it in the 'too hard' basket.
The truth is, step is only 'too hard' if you make it too hard by overly complicating the choreography. Yes, the step class format does require skill, thought and practice to master, but once it is mastered, it's an intensely pleasurable movement experience – and the better you are at delivering it, the easier and more enjoyable your participants will find it.
Your job as an instructor is to invest in those elements – skill, thought and practice – in order to develop your teaching style. Mimicking someone else won't help you be remembered as 'you', an instructor with a unique step experience to offer. A good mental attitude towards learning, patience with developing the choreography, and a great work ethic towards perfecting your delivery through practice is vital.
I delivered the following 32-count block of step choreography at FILEX 2011. It is not overly complex but it is fun to deliver when you have practiced it and gained the confidence to add you own unique flair. I hope this will serve as a starting point for more of your own unique, but not 'too hard' step choreography.
Greg is an Australian-born presenter now living in the UK. He is a Nike Master Trainer with presenting experience in over 33 countries worldwide. As a recipient of the IFS International Presenter of the Year 2010, he currently works with top brands including Total Gym, BOSU®, fitness fx and LIVESTRONG Indoor Cycling. He runs his own fitness-based consultancy and can be contacted via www.gregsellar.com