// Step complete: fully engage every participant

A staple of club timetables worldwide, step has proven itself a popular and effective group exercise format. To continue the evolution of this freestyle classic, instructors need to mentally and physically cater for every participant, says Kayla Duke.

Step has long been established as a great cardio workout with a strong focus on the lower body. The fact that what began as a freestyle workout continues to be widely offered in this format is a good indicator that instructors have been delivering enjoyable and suitably challenging choreography over the years. This exercise modality cannot rest on its laurels, however; along with the stiff competition posed by a plethora of other group exercise classes, instructors are faced with the challenge of providing participants with more than the basic tap change and occasional kick or curl offered in step’s early days. While there is certainly a place for simple, clean choreography on the timetable, we also need to keep classes for more advanced participants fresh and interesting – think, out with the tap change and in with changes to rhythm and direction, new moves and different styles.

Engage mentally and physically

To meet the needs and expectations of participants, and keep them returning to class each week, we must provide variety, with challenges and rewards for the mind as well as the body. People come to group exercise classes for a variety of reasons. Many want to be entertained, to go away feeling reinvigorated and relaxed, while also achieving fitness and body tone. Step is an ideal medium for introducing fun choreography that brings focus to the mind while giving a great body workout. Your aim should be to get participants totally absorbed in their workout, with their minds cleared of all other worries for the duration of the class. So, not only do we need to be creative and up-to-date, but we must be able to present our choreography in a manner that achieves maximum participation, both mentally and physically, from every participant.

Clear instructions and smooth flowing choreography and learning curves are essential. Participants must be able to follow instructors at their own level in order to gain a sense of achievement as well as a great workout. Many of our participants want, and may also demand, step choreography that is not easy to come up with, let alone convert into appropriate learning curves. So, do we break down fabulous moves we’ve seen on YouTube, or is it better to build up choreography by adding onto the base moves we already know well? The truth is, there is no right or wrong way – it’s a matter of instructor preference. If you’ve only ever used one of these methods, it may be worthwhile trying the other one – you never know, perhaps you’ll discover a better way of doing things!

Sample exercises

Photos 1 to 9 illustrate an example of breaking down moves that are a little bit different.

  • Knee lift, toe tap, turn over the board
  • Kick ball-change kick ball-change
  • Box step in front of the board.

We simply start with three knee repeaters and two basics. By layering more and more, one move at a time, this progresses to:

  • 3 knee repeater, 2 basics
  • Knee toe tap knee, 2 basics
  • Knee toe tap over the board, 2 basics
  • Knee toe tap over the board, march x 4 basic
  • Knee toe tap turn over the board, march x 4 box step
  • Knee toe tap turn over the board, kick ball change x 2, box step.

When stuck for ideas in step choreography, one easy way to come up with something different is to look at another style of class and see how the moves can be translated to the step platform, e.g. an aerobics class to get ideas for an athletic step group or a dance class to challenge the mind and body. A dance move that I have taken to the step is illustrated by the learning curves above, and photos 6 to 11 show a continuation as a kick ball change. From here I move into a box step and a quick chasśe over the board. These are typical jazz dance or Broadway dance-style moves.

Multi-level instruction

It may be assumed that most step classes in Australia these days are multi-level – arguably the most challenging and potentially the most rewarding type of class to teach. When we have beginners and advanced participants in the one class, options and progressions showing smooth step-by-step learning curves are the key. As instructors, we need to read our participants and know when to progress, and how many layers of learning curves are needed. The more mixed the group, the more learning curves are necessary and the clearer the instructions need to be to keep everyone working at the level that is best for them. We need to make our beginners feel comfortable and our advanced participants feel challenged. If this is achieved they will come back for more.

We also need to make sure the workout element is evident, because it should be assumed that in addition to the fun, social element, this is still the primary purpose of a step class. I often find that more advanced participants are inclined to use less energy. At the advanced level there is more choreography and faster moves, so participants often focus on the legwork to the extent that the arms are forgotten about. This decreases the workout level and is something we should actively discourage. A good way to work past this is to choreograph arm lines into your step routines and reinforce their importance throughout the class.

As new programs come and go from facility timetables, step remains – and continues to be represented at fitness conventions worldwide. I hope the ideas and suggestions above will help you keep step strong and effective in your club, and that together we can continue the evolution of this fantastic freestyle program.

Kayla Duke
Currently based in Singapore, Kayla is group exercise country manager for California Fitness. She instructs, choreographs programs, trains and assesses instructors and regularly presents nationally and internationally. Before beginning her career in the fitness industry, Kayla danced for 17 years in stage productions, giving her a truly unique presentation style. Kayla was named Network’s Author of the Year at the FILEX 2010 fitness industry convention.