Juliane Arney talks about how to keep class ideas fresh and why investing in yourself pays off.
If you think you can’t dance, try one of Juliane Arney’s classes. Even the most tone-deaf and rhythm-challenged individual can’t resist the urge to rhumba through a room with Arney at the fore. This veteran IDEA presenter has been teaching other teachers and jump-starting crowds for years—her infectious smile lighting the way. Arney’s passion for professionalism and health-centered movement helps her stay one beat ahead, but never far removed from inspiring the world to fitness.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue in group fitness today?
Our biggest and most exciting challenge is to reach out to the folks who are not in our classes. We need to create an environment where they feel comfortable giving group fitness a try. Classes specifically designed for beginners and classes at unconventional locations like parks and shopping malls are fantastic, but what about just changing the way we welcome people? Can we include a few comments that relieve newcomer anxiety? I like to open my dance fitness classes with, “I can’t promise you’ll get all the steps tonight, but I can guarantee you’ll have a fantastic time moving to the music and want to come back next week!”
What sources do you tap for new ideas?
When I’m struggling for ideas for a dance-style class, I go see a professional show or take a private lesson in a style I’m less familiar with. Watching professional dancers express their art inspires me to choreograph. Dance lessons (most recently, swing and Lindy hop) give me ideas for new rhythms and movement styles I can incorporate right away. For indoor cycling, I just get outside and bike, run or rollerblade. This gives me multiple ideas for imagery and class design. If I’ve felt something myself, I can do a much better job describing it to my classes.
How do you teach to a multilevel class?
I use cadence control, monitor intensity and practice great coaching skills. In an indoor cycling class, it’s entirely possible for the competitive athlete to train side by side with the businessman who goes to the gym twice a week. This makes indoor cycling one of the most rewarding multilevel classes to teach, because everyone gets their money’s worth!
The best modification I can make for new riders is to give them permission to do just 30 minutes of each class until they feel they want to stay for the full hour. I’d much prefer they leave early and look forward to the next ride than stick it out and find themselves too uncomfortable and sore to come back.
What was the smartest thing you did to grow your career?
Early on I got a taste of teaching in front of the camera on the ESPN2 television show Crunch Fitness. From that experience I knew I wanted to make my own video, and I waited for years for someone to offer me a project. No one did. I finally got up the guts and the money to self-produce my own video. I’m not a big risk-taker, so that was a significant stretch for me. It was also the best thing I ever did. That little video got my choreography and presentation style in front of both the fitness professional and the consumer, leading to many more media opportunities and the chance to impact fitness enthusiasts in numbers I never imagined.
What is your favorite warm-up/cool-down/abs section?
I love a super-simple warm-up that puts a smile on everyone’s face. A great song, two or three movement patterns and the chance to welcome, engage and connect with my class is all I want! My favorite cool-down happens at the end of a fitness yoga class. What could be better than total relaxation after all that powerful work and focus? For abs, it’s got to be the BOSU® Balance Trainer. In just 10 minutes, I can give my classes a well-rounded strength training routine for the abs and back, while challenging the deep stabilizers of the core and having a little fun in the process.
Who is your most inspiring class participant?
In 17 years, there have been many people who, through their newfound enthusiasm for exercise, have inspired me to keep on keeping on. Recently, it’s been a 7-year-old named Riley who dances to my DVDs at home. She even organized a slumber party themed around one of the hip-hop workouts. Riley lives in a different state, but when her family vacationed in Orange County, California, I conspired with her parents to bring her to one of my classes. Seeing what I do through the eyes of this little girl, and knowing that she may very well grow up to be an incredible fitness instructor (or at the very least have a lifelong love of movement) because she had a positive exercise experience at an early age—now that is inspiring!
What advice do you have for new instructors?
It does get easier! It pays to practice. Give your job as a fitness instructor the credit it deserves. The more you teach, the more comfortable you will become with cuing, giving corrections and your overall teaching presence. Substitute for other teachers as much as you can. Take classes from instructors you admire and treat those sessions as seminars. Immediately afterward, write down as many teaching tools as you remember. Get in front of the mirror, with microphone and music on, and practice teaching. You will be amazed at how much smoother your delivery is when the “real people” show up. This investment can save you from making some common teaching blunders.
It took me a long time to think of teaching as a “real job” and to devote the time and energy required to give every class and presentation my very best. Now, I give myself permission to let the paperwork and phone calls wait so I can prepare to teach. I even consider my own workouts part of my “real job,” because they make me better and stronger for my students.
How do you avoid injuries?
I cross-train and rest. I know this sounds like a canned answer, but it’s the truth! I love so many activities that mixing them up is easy. I try to get in a run, a bike ride and one of my own yoga practices each week in addition to teaching dance, yoga and indoor cycling. And since I teach indoors, I prefer my other activities to be outside. It would be a shame not to be outdoors when you live in Southern California! Because of the running and cycling combination, I’ve had to make friends with the foam roller in order to stay pain-free. So a few times a week you’ll find me grimacing as I roll out my iliotibial band, but it’s worth it to prevent injuries. I always take 1 day off per week to rest completely. If I wake up the next morning and still feel fatigued, I’ll take 2 days off in a row without a moment of guilt. If I’m scheduled to teach that day, I’ll modify or coach off the bike. It’s a great opportunity to focus on my students and their workout goals.
What can group fitness instructors do on a daily basis to further the positive growth of the industry?
As fitness instructors, because of our enthusiasm for exercise and a fit lifestyle, we can sometimes overwhelm friends and family who just want a few words of advice on how to get rid of their “love handles” (okay, maybe I’m really talking about myself here!). We want everyone to enjoy how wonderful it feels to breathe, stretch and shake, but not everyone is ready to make the full investment. If, through our actions each day, we can be examples of the benefits that exercise bestows, we can tempt everyone we interact with to give daily activity a try.