Archive of ‘Direct From the Dancefloor’ category

Students’ Attitude Impacts

Every instructor likes to feel as if they make a positive impact on their students. The instructor comes to class early, stays late, is friendly and enthusiastic while energetic, no matter what else is going on in the instructor’s life.

It can be really frustrating to teach students who seem unresponsive, or worse, students who have poor attitudes. You’ve seen these students – they stand in the back and make faces during routines they dislike. They don’t follow the steps and can be a distraction because they are doing their own thing. Maybe they interrupt the class to make unreasonable requests of the instructor.

I generally put up with a lot because I enjoy teaching. But I recently ended my first experience of having a negative class. The class was frustrating and disappointing.

Of course, not every student in the class was negative. There were several students who were friendly, responsive, eager to master the routines and capable of setting their own pace without complaint when they wanted a more intense workout.  Ironically, these students made the problem students appear even more annoying. When you know you can reach some people, it makes it even more frustrating that others ignore you.

I have to wonder about what motivates a person to schedule and pay for a class in which they remain aloof.  Was it the time the class was held? Was it that their expectations were not met? Were they only seeking a place to work up a sweat instead of a movement experience?

Last month I wrote about techniques for getting motivated to teach an unfulfilling class.  Beyond professional satisfaction, typically as long as I am paid reasonably, I’ll take a teaching job because I enjoy the interactions with my students, seeing progression, making new friends – but this class this semester has changed my mind. While an instructor gets paid to teach the class, it is still necessary for the class to be worth the time and effort of the instructor.

In the future, I will not compromise my schedule, time, and effort to teach a class where I feel judged and unwanted. I have decided that teaching a class that you can’t wait to be over and wish you weren’t teaching is not only a negative experience but also one that isn’t obligatory. I am paid a small fraction of what the students are paying for the class, and the compensation just isn’t worth it to go through the aggravation of teaching a class without engaged students.

Graduate School Barbie ™

The image of an older Barbie ™ is amusing. Barbie for my generation has always represented youthful perfection.

Yet all of us – even Barbie – have to grow up and tackle new challenges. My current challenge is grad school. Apparently I am not alone in looking for humor in my situation.

I recently came across a hilarious satire of Barbie as a graduate student. It has apparently been posted all over the Internet. I wish I knew the original author, but I found it here:

This prototype lifestyle doll comes with all sorts of typical student accessories, from a computer to medicine cabinet. The stereotypes of pressure to produce, limited budgets, late nights and bad diet are so painfully true they are funny. But I think that if Barbie just had exercise accessories she could work out her stress and be able to cope with the demands of grad school.

I fondly remember the Barbie ™ workout video from my childhood. Set to catchy music, with smiling colorfully dressed dancers, the video was fun! Not that my course load and homework in grade school were anything like what I tackle now. But I loved getting to jump around and move after a day spent sitting in a classroom. It set the stage for learning about the positive effects of exercise when you are faced with daunting workloads.

When you get moving and your blood is flowing you will unclench your muscles and loosen up. This will allow you to let go and relax and enjoy the moment of movement. It gives you an escape to put your feelings aside and focus on yourself. Is it even possible to stay anxious and tense while losing yourself in dance?

I have found my workouts to be so important with dealing with the intensity of graduate school. A healthy outlook on prioritizing and what’s important is vital for sustaining yourself during long semesters of heavy workloads. Exercise is why I can handle grad school.


Janna dancing to her Barbie exercise video in 1995!

Teaching Injury

Dancers, athletes, and fitness instructors can often overdo a movement and suffer from a sprain. Being injured is an unfortunate consequence of the process of enthusiastic exercise. Yet if you’re supporting yourself through teaching movement, what happens when you are injured?

How do you teach while injured when your students are expecting you to demonstrate the movements for the class? In Zumba, all eyes are on the instructor who must be able to shake it, move it and shimmy regardless of how many classes they’ve taught that week and if they are sore or injured. So what is a girl to do when the plan doesn’t work and you find yourself in a dilemma?

First off, don’t freak out! There are always options. The worst-case scenario is you might need a sub or to team-teach but before you get to that as your last resort consider these options to get you through the class successfully without furthering your injury.

Look at your shoes: do they have support? Did you pull a foot muscle? Do your shoes have cushioning? Perhaps you might need to run to the drugstore to buy an orthotic shoe insert for the area of your foot that needs something extra. Did you hurt your knee? Buy a knee brace at the drugstore. It never hurts to ice a pulled muscle, strain, or sprain so buy an ice pack. I love the gal pal ice bags since they balance well on uneven body parts. The packs with beads inside that freeze but are still flexible are also useful. You can even use a bag of frozen peas.

Be up front in class about your injury so that your students will take seriously injury prevention. I shared with my class when I strained the side of my foot from an improper landing from a jump. I explained that they can jump or step into a side squat but I step to prevent injury. I explain how to land properly if they want to up the intensity level. Advil also never hurts for reducing inflammation and pain. Rest is overall the best cure for most injuries – try to stay off the injured area or avoid using the injured area until it heals. Teach and then go rest.

Facing My First Class

This was it. I was teaching my first class in the big city. I felt like a small fish in lots of water. After teaching at my undergrad gym where I was challenged but had become comfortable, I was in a new space with new students.

This was the start of my drop-in classes for student activities. The classes are free to the students. I am anxious to see how many return and come regularly or who never return. I likely will never know whether they love the class, hate the class, have schedule conflicts, what their names are, what their fitness goals are or their feedback unless they come up to me after class. The dynamics of teaching a drop-in style class are more challenging than a series or block of classes that people register for where you know you see them once a week for 10 weeks. A drop-in class is always full of beginners or first-timers so it requires more breakdown, explanation and stress (will people show up even if the class is free?)

This is my second time teaching in a location without a mirror so that no monitoring is possible unless you face the students. This is my first time teaching Zumba entirely facing my students. At my Zumba Gold workshop, we discussed the importance of face-to-face interaction as a teaching method for being able to control your class in terms of intensity, incidents and interaction. It allows you to clearly make eye contact with your students, which helps them feel more involved and motivated. The most important thing however, is that it allows you to monitor their faces to make sure they are breathing normally, not too hot, not looking like they are about to pass out, so you can head off any problems hopefully before they occur.

It was an adjustment and took some getting used to knowing they could see my face (like when my sweat was running into my eyes and burning so I might have looked like I was crying before I wiped it away with my towel) but by the end of the class I enjoyed seeing their feedback and reactions to the movements. I found it was easier for me to check-in on my shy back row students by seeing them. I could tell when my steps seemed too complicated and it was necessary to break it down. I remember noticing these things when I taught to a mirror but I felt surprisingly more in control in teaching this new way.

I have my first Zumba class in a gym with a mirror this coming week and I’m not sure whether I will teach the new way or the old. I’m thinking I’ll mix it up and do half and half since we will have a mirror. But then again, maybe I will let the class dictate it. If the students aren’t seeming as motivated, then when I face the class the students will have to take more responsibility for their participation, since they can see that I can see them.

Shoe Life

Investing in good shoes is important. Despite the trends promoting barefoot running and dancing, wearing a good shoe provides protection and added support for your feet.

But did you know that your shoes wear out over time? It is necessary to replace your shoes more often if you’re doing more intensity and higher duration activities. For runners, the advice is to replace about every 300 miles.

However – if you’re a dancer or do aerobic dance classes how do you know when to replace your shoes? A quick Google search gives you various recommendations but most are tailored towards runners. Replacing shoes for dancers is not often discussed, until now.

For dancers, since your shoes are important for your movement they tend to feel best once they are broken in. Dancers will often wear shoes until the treads are coming off or they rip before considering replacing them, since the broken in shoe is easier to dance in. For dance aerobics classes like Zumba, your shoes wear out from the high impact cardio. Your treads will become worn because of the lateral and horizontal movements across the floor. It is important that your shoes have enough support to absorb the force of impact from jumping and forceful motions. Over time your shoes will loose their elasticity that can cushion your heels and feet from your exertion.

Just like a runner does, look at the soles of your shoes to monitor how they are wearing down. Run your finger across the bottom of the sole to make sure they are not worn so smooth that they are slippery. You need some traction to avoid skidding on turns. Next, put the base of your hand inside the heel of your shoe and push down. There should be some bounce back from the insole and the heel should not feel as hard as when you push against the floor.

You can extend the life of your shoes by replacing the insoles. I like the orthotic inserts but even replacement insoles sold by your shoe manufacturer will help protect your feet.

Class Motivation

Every instructor has a class that takes extra motivation to teach. Whether the class is a struggle because of the time of day, day of the week or the participants – you don’t have the choice of not teaching just because you don’t want to if you’re relying on the income for paying bills. How do you motivate yourself to make it through the class when you have no desire?

First off, figure out what the problem is. Is the class late at night? Consider taking a quick 20-minute power nap an hour before the class, to make sure you are alert. Or grab a quick protein snack and hydrate well as you digest. Is the class on a really busy day? Look at your schedule and see if you can move around other obligations so that you’ll be less tired and stressed. Are the participants in the class sluggish? Maybe ask for their input in song selection or give away some freebies that might motivate them.

Another option is to administer a survey to the participants to get their feedback if you think they are the problem. Do they seem disinterested? Bored? Tired? Unresponsive? Not friendly? Ask for their constructive feedback so that you might be able to incorporate their hopes. Maybe they seem disinterested but are really just confused at the steps and need them broken down. Do you take attendance? If so, learn their names – that will help them warm up to you and be friendly. Even if you don’t take attendance, take time to show up early and introduce yourself or even stay after and offer to break down steps and talk. Five minutes here and there can really make a difference in changing the atmosphere of your class. Do they seem unresponsive? It might be that the room is too warm and they actually are overheated and lethargic because of that.

If you are dragging through the same-old same-old routines, don’t hesitate to change around the class to give yourself some variety.  Can you switch music, or change the order of the songs or introduce a new warm-up or cool-down routine? Can you rearrange the room so the participants face in a different direction? Can you move around and check on each student during the class?

Another way to make sure to stay motivated is to take a class by another instructor and incorporate some of their techniques into your class – or even just decide that your own class really rocks in comparison so you’ll be more likely to relax and get back into teaching.

With these tips you can go into every class excited and ready to shake it!

The New Shoe in My Life

Most people find that they have a preference or habit in terms of what they buy. You may be an Apple or a PC computer person. Or you are designer or vintage clothes. Same thing when it comes to shoes for dance fitness classes.

I used to be an Asics girl. Asics was all I wore for running. My new Zumba shoe brand is Reebok. The Reebok Zig-tech line is incredible. When I was at a Zumba workshop this past July my ZES mentioned the brand. She swore by the fact that these shoes support her and get her through multiple classes a week and weekend long intensive workshops. Being a skeptic, I wondered if the shoes were all that they were cracked up to be. My Asics had never given me problems. In fact, I bought them after my knee injury and hadn’t had any problems since then.

However, my well-loved Asics were over 2 years old. I knew I needed to replace them – they had lost some of the shock absorption. So when the opportunity presented itself and I saw Foot Locker had a sale on shoes I knew going to at least try on the Zigs was worth it.  I saw the ZigSonic’s by Reebok with a silver shoe and a pink zig sole. The proceeds went towards Breast Cancer Research and they were my favorite shade of pink. Luck would have it that they had 1 pair left and it was my size – a 7.

I instantly was a believer and converted immediately. The sole was so cushioning that it felt like I was walking on air. The Sonics were special because they were crosstrainers so they would work from running to Zumba to just walking around the city. I’ve had them now for about 3 months and I couldn’t be happier. My feet do not ache after teaching a high impact class. They offer the support my feet were craving, in a style that my love of fashion welcomed.

So don’t be afraid to try out a new shoe and find the technology that works best for you.

Technological Dance

The latest collaboration between dance and technology is evolving through the work of innovative dance troupe Pilobolus. Collaborating with OK Go and Trish Sie in a piece entitled “All is Not Lost” (2011), Pilobolus has merged choreography and videography. This piece is now viewable through the Google Chrome web browser. It takes the viewer into the dance as if watching through a kaleidoscope, ending with a personalized message that the viewer can dictate.

Pilobolus, a dance troupe I have had seen perform since my childhood at the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham, NC, has always been eccentric at the forefront of cutting edge and experimental dances. This is their first piece that I thoroughly enjoyed because it combines the athleticism of the dancers with the inventive imagination of the choreographers, and remains aesthetic. This year is their 40th anniversary and they say that, “In keeping with the energy and spirit of our biological namesake, a fungus, the company has continued to grow toward the light, expanding and refining its unique methods of collective creative production.” If you missed the July performances at ADF, you are able through the internet to join in on the process of producing art with Pilobolus.

I created a personalized message for e.K. Clothing. What will you write to share with your friends and family? Here is the link: At the end of the dance, your message is spelled out by the dancers through an algorithm. Then you have the ability to save your message and share it with others.

This is such a cool experience to virtually experience dance. It is reminiscent of playing with kaleidoscopes when I was a child, fascinated by the different shapes, sizes and colors. The choreography is extremely realistic and entertaining. The dance grasps your attention and leaves you captivated as you watch the dance play out in a mesmerizing way.

Feel the Pulse When You Dance

Pulso Latino is a tri-college (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, & Swarthmore) Latin dance troupe dedicated to the exuberance and passion of Latin culture. Incorporating a wide range of music, style, and influence, the group aims to attract a multitude of dancers, regardless of ethnicity. Members are given the opportunity to both audition for and choreograph individual pieces, which are performed once each semester.

Bringing a bit of Latin warmth to the greater Philadelphia area, Pulso Latino dancers create modern pieces built on Latin rhythms and dance steps. The mood for the pieces comes from the costumes as well as the choreography.

Being students with a limited budget, we needed a source for dancewear that was flirty, sophisticated and still affordable. My freshman year I had discovered e.k. Clothing for our first performance. Now, 4 years later, e.k. Clothing remains the go-to for our costumes. We maintain a costume inventory, too, and the dresses we bought in 2007 are still put into use.

Flower Hair ClipHere are some snapshots from the final Pulso showcase of my collegiate career.  We    added to our visual repertoire with some great accessories. Check out the realistic      rose hair clips that we used to hold back our hair. We were excited to find the          beautiful ruffled flamenco dresses – the colorful trim creates a flattering line and  looks very authentic. The asymmetrical dance skirt and the basic black v-neck dress  look professional on stage and are versatile for numerous dance styles. The dance  skirt can look completely different just by switching out a color for the tank top. That  black dress was in our first purchase 4 years ago – and its been washed and worn  every showcase since.  Orange Fower Hair Clip

Investing in quality dancewear pays off in our confidence on stage and our ability to get into the vibe of the dances. There’s something almost magical about the swirl of a flowing skirt that shows off a graceful turn. And knowing that straps aren’t going to rip or seams pop makes it easier to put complete energy into a performance.

It’s also nice that our performance wear does double-duty as glamorous outfits for the after-party. When the showcase ends and we’ve taken our curtain calls, we still get to dance – this time joined by our audience.

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