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Brand-new or laden with experience, group fitness instructors all around the globe face a common challenge: creating fresh choreography. This need may be fueled by our personal expectations and preferences or the sense that our participants are ready to move on. Regardless, we strive for something exciting that will inspire us, motivate them and add another dimension to our classes. But let’s face it—there aren’t that many new moves out there. So the real challenge lies in rearranging and restructuring the moves we know. Reorganizing those moves easily and without much rehearsing is an additional challenge.

Several choreography methods exist, including a simple, easy-to-use one I devised during a research study at the U.S. Military Academy (Tendy 1998). The Tendy Dial-A-Combo©, or wheel, can serve both novice and seasoned instructors. Even those who prefer freestyle improvisation will find this device useful, because it provides necessary safe transitions. No matter what level you have reached or what degree of structure you prefer, the Dial-A-Combo can help you create groundwork for patterns that fit into an 8-, a 16- or a 32-count format. The wheel is applicable to all types of group fitness classes, from step to high or low impact. You can even use it to plan your resistance training classes.

What Is the Wheel?

Basically the Tendy Dial-A-Combo method involves creating two concentric circles—one large, one small—that are both partitioned into pie-shaped segments (see page 8). These are labeled with random movements or elements that create sequences for a particular type of group fitness class (e.g., step vs. low impact). (For some classes, such as resistance training, you can have one circle represent lower-body exercises or agonist muscles, while the other circle represents upper-body exercises or antagonist muscles.)

To create a specific choreography combination, you randomly rotate either circle until the sections in both circles align. Regardless of how the inner and outer segments match up, you will have created a viable combination. Each combination can then be sequenced with the other combinations on the aligned circles. When you are ready for a different order or a different count pattern, simply spin the wheel again.

The beauty of this system is its flexibility. You choose whether to work from the outside in or the inside out. Plus, you determine the number of blank segments to fill in on each circle (and the number of subsequent combinations). The wheel is also effective because resources you can touch, handle and move have a game-like quality that increases motivation (Dunn & Dunn 1993). Innovation helps motivation; creative application of information helps retention.

Applying the Wheel

Another virtue of the wheel is that you can easily apply it to several types of workouts. The key is to first consider the particular organizing principle for each class type. For example, when designing a wheel for step classes, make sure the moves or minicombos you choose are oriented from the same directional approach to allow for safe transitions. To accomplish this you need to create separate step wheels for front and side approach combinations. (See illustrations above for an example.)

If you teach high- or low-impact classes, you can design several different wheels. One might list 8-count high- or low-impact moves on the inner and outer circles; another might alternate between foot and arm work; yet another might describe high-impact moves on the outer circle, low-impact on the inner. (See illustrations on page 9 for an example.)

Another option is to create a wheel that combines moves with choreographic elements. This method allows you to make effortless transitions from move to move, with each spin of the dial bringing a new arrangement. The inner circle of this kind of wheel would be segmented into the base moves recommended by Copeland-Brooks (1991)—for example, marches, taps, step-touches and lunges. The outer circle would include choreographic elements, such as rhythmic changes (half time, double time); lever (limb) variations; directional changes (forward, back, diagonal, circular); and changes of plane (frontal, sagittal, horizontal). Spin the dial to build on the inner circle’s base moves by changing elements as you encounter them on the outer circle.

Lastly, you can devise a wheel to structure your strength training classes. First establish the organizing theory or principle you’d like to use; then decide on the area of concentration for the day’s class. For example, you might select opposing muscle groups as the theoretical framework for your wheel. You would then list exercises for the agonist muscle (e.g., biceps) on the outer circle and exercises for the antagonist muscle (e.g., triceps) on the inner circle. Other opposing muscle groups to use as the basis for additional wheels would include chest and back; quadriceps and hamstrings; and deltoids and lats, to name a few. If your organizing principle for a group strength training class is upper body vs. lower body, create one circle that focuses on lower-body exercises, another that concentrates on upper-body moves. Maybe you prefer to train a prime mover, then a stabilizer. Whatever the principle, you establish the corresponding inner and outer circles to create a usable wheel.

Spin the Interactive Wheel

If you are the type of instructor who is comfortable with last-minute decisions, you can take the Tendy Dial-A-Combo one step further. Construct a big wheel on poster board and place the wheel in the front of the room for your class participants to see. Let them spin the completed dial to determine the day’s surprise exercise combinations. Talk about total class involvement, spontaneity and freshness! (I suggest trying this first with a strength training class before attempting it during a fast-paced, high-impact workout.)

The bottom line is that the Dial-A-Combo concept is simple; the possibilities are limited only by the moves you put on each wheel and the number of wheels you construct. Once you’ve created several wheels, you can pretend you are in Las Vegas and spin away whenever you feel the urge. You can even take the “Big Chance Spin” and swap wheels with other instructors once you’ve exhausted your own. Regardless, you gain the fun of easily arranged combinations every time. No Las Vegas wheel offers such great odds!

constructing your wheel

1. Using a small saucer as a template, draw a circle on a heavy piece of paper. Cut out the circle; this becomes the inner circle of your wheel.

2. Using a larger dinner plate, draw a larger circle on a separate heavy piece of paper. Cut out the circle; this becomes the outer circle of your wheel.

3. Divide both circles into the same number of equal sections by drawing lines as if you were slicing a pie.

4. Label each segment of both circles with either a movement, minicombination or type of exercise.

5. Poke a hole in the center of both circles and superimpose the smaller circle on top of the larger one.

6. Attach the two circles through the center hole using a paper clip, earring post or your favorite fastening device (be creative!).


Copeland-Brooks, C. 1991. Smooth moves. IDEA Today, 9 (6), 34-8.
Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. 1993. Teaching Secondary Students Through Their Individual Learning Styles. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Francis, L. 1993. Teaching an aerobics class. In R. T. Cotton & R. L. Goldstein (Eds.), Aerobics Instructor Manual (pp. 242-65). San Diego: American Council on Exercise.
Tendy, S. 1998. Effects of matching and mismatching perceptual and sociological learning-style preferences on achievement and attitude of individuals in a group exercise leadership instructor training program. Doctoral dissertation, St. John’s University.

Susan M. Tendy, EdD

Susan M. Tendy, EdD, is an assistant professor of physical education at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, where she directs the group exercise leadership, gymnastics and fiure skating instructional programs. She holds a doctoral degree in instrucitonal leadership and several fitness certifications. She would love to hear from you via e-mail ([email protected])

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