Marietta Mehanni and Dominic Gili discuss the benefits of combining simple choreography with popular music to entertain and challenge aqua fitness participants of all ages and abilities.

Do you ever find yourself bopping to the beat while instructing a class? News flash: Don’t hold back! What your body is craving will often also be what your participants desire.

By combining simple choreography with popular music you can entertain and challenge aqua fitness participants of all ages and abilities.

Music, music, music!

We all love music. Some love disco, others classical, pop, heavy metal or dance. Consciously or not, we use it to elicit a particular physiological response, maybe to relax our minds, boost our energy, or create a romantic atmosphere.

The benefits of listening to music are well documented. Several studies have concluded that music:

  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Improves short term memory
  • Reduces chronic pain and depression by up to 25 per cent
  • Is effective at reducing pain in high anxiety people
  • Reduces stress in heart disease patients
  • Reduces anxiety in cancer patients
  • Promotes academic success
  • Changes the way we perceive the world.

When it comes to aqua fitness classes, music can be used as an effective tool to motivate participants. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind the likes and dislikes of class members when programming your music selection.

Some instructors may choose music based on the appropriate BPM or simply to have as enjoyable background music or something that ‘goes with the flow’ of selected exercises, but there are other concepts that you may wish to consider.

Consider using music tracks with recognisable vocal lyrics

Using music that participants can clearly identify with will usually evoke an emotional response, which places the instructor in a powerful position to create an enjoyable and memorable workout.

Avoid focusing on a genre of music that is indicative of the age of the participants

In other words, using 1960s music because the participants are aged in their sixties is unimaginative and categorising. That is not to say that ‘60s music is not fun, but there are other genres of music that also motivate and excite participants, including more recent releases. Consider using music that will make every class an experience rather than just a workout.

Dance, dance, dance!

Dance is the physical interpretation of what we hear and feel from music.

Do you like to dance? Most instructors would say ‘yes’, because we often use exercise as an example of our physical interpretation of music. This is most likely why we are drawn to this form of fitness.

The current popularity of Zumba clearly demonstrates the appeal of combining energising music with movement and dance. From rock’n’roll to hip hop, and swing to belly dancing, the popularity of dance-based exercise creates a great opportunity for us to design routines that we may replicate or adapt to the water environment, e.g. the Twist or the Charleston.

A recent study examined the relationship between dancing and the risk of dementia and found that dancing offered better protection from the onset of dementia and other related conditions than most physical activities. The reason for this is that dancing and other similar choreography-based activities often require quick decision making which helps to build new neural pathways in the brain.

This is a great reminder for all instructors that working with music, dance and choreography has a multitude of physiological benefits.

Sample choreography

Of course, you have a world of music to choose from, but to get you started here is some choreography for Greased Lightning,a great example of a popular song that participants can be easily convinced to join in with, and that lends itself to easy-to-follow choreography.

Song introduction

  • Feet wide apart scooping arms across the body (photos 1, 2, 3 & 4).

Verse 1 + 2

  • Holding hands perform an alternate kick (photos 5 & 6).


  • Wide leg bounce on the spot
  • Lift left arm up and down, and then out to side and back (photos 7 & 8)
  • Lift right arm up and down and then out to side and back (photos 9 & 10)
  • Lift both arms up and to the side twice (photos 11 & 12)
  • Repeat sequence a second time
  • Jog and turn to face each other and double clap twice with music.

Instrumental 1

  • Link right elbows with your partner and jog in a circle pulling water with left arms.
  • Repeat going the opposite way with left elbows linked together (photo 13)

Clapping section

  • Face each other and clap right hands together (photo 14)
  • Clap left hands together (photo 15)
  • Clap both hands together (photo 16).

Instrumental 2

  • Link right elbows with your partner and jog in a circle, pulling water with left arms
  • Repeat going the opposite way with left elbows linked together
  • Face each other, hold hands, jump upwards and sideways to move in circle.


The only way to know if your Splash Dance moves are effective is to experiment in the water yourself. If you are an instructor who instructs from the pool deck, this will assist you in understanding how the body moves differently in the water. If you are an instructor who teaches from the pool, experimentation should happen outside class time as this is the most appropriate time to plan your class – not during it.

Consider working with moves that you are familiar with and adding a different arm line, rhythm change or combining two or more exercises to create a new move. To generate the spark of creativity, write down all of your favourite exercises on separate pieces of paper. Put the exercises into a container and, without looking, pick out two or three exercises. Your challenge is to combine these moves so that they create a new move. Arm actions can also be added to the mix: write them on separate pieces of paper and then pick one exercise and one arm action out of the containers and see if they can be combined to create a new exercise. Playing with familiar moves in this way can be an effective way of getting participants who are stuck in their ways to try new ideas.

Working with other instructors

We each have a distinctive pattern of initiating choreography, developing moves and conceiving concepts for a workout. Thinking outside the square can be challenging at times. Working with fellow instructors encourages us to consider other possibilities and gives a fresh perspective on what we are doing.

Another benefit of working with your peers is that it’s fun and provides the opportunity to ‘talk shop’! If instructing aqua fitness, or any other group exercise, has turned into a job or chore, it’s time to work with others and reinvigorate your initial enthusiasm.

Marietta Mehanni
Marietta is an award winning presenter and Australian Fitness Network Ambassador with over 20 years of teaching and presenting experience in both land- and water-based group exercise. Co-creator of ‘Tricks, tools and trades of Program Coordinating’ and mentor for over 70 instructors and presenters, Marietta is passionate about inspiring others to lead and share their skills and talents to create a better fitness experience for all. For more information visit 

Dominic Gili
Named Australian Fitness Network’s Author of the Year 2012, Dom’s passion for aqua fitness is contagious. He has delivered dynamic water workouts since 1993, and now presents training to new and existing instructors across Australia. The founder of
www.AquaFitnessOnline.com and author of numerous articles, Dom continually aspires to inspire. Visit the Facebook page ‘aquaFitnessOnline’ for more information.