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Real-World Step

Use these simple tips to translate advanced moves for your students at home.

It’s the first day of the convention, and you walk into the crowded ballroom excited to get some new step choreography that you can take home to your loyal students. The class begins, and after an invigorating warm-up the moves become more complex. You find yourself, along with several others around you, pausing to watch the presenter’s footwork so you can catch on before you fall hopelessly behind. The presenter even stops the music to show you his fanciest moves. After all, you’re there to see the choreography, not to get a workout, right?

You finish the class with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that it takes some serious talent to follow that kind of routine. You’re left with the lingering worry, however, that you will be unable to use this choreography at home. In the real world, students do come for the workout; and if a presenter can’t teach without stopping the music, how are you supposed to?

Bringing step moves back to the real world involves a few simple tricks. Whether you want to maximize use of convention choreography or adjust your own movements to meet the needs of students, you can easily keep your classes fresh and keep them real at the same time.

Maximizing Use of Convention Choreography

Intead of getting frustrated the next time you take a workshop that boggles your senses, think about practical ways you can extract what you need.

Prioritize. When convention choreography seems too complex to take home
to students, remember that you are not
obligated to use entire combinations.
Try picking out specific moves that fit
your style and your students’ skill level. Incorporate these moves into your existing combinations to freshen them up, or let the moves inspire you to build new combos that are easier to teach than the combinations you just learned. Sometimes all it takes is a creative new 8-count idea to spark a brand-new flow of movements, transitions and rhythm changes in your own choreography.

Pay Attention to Breakdowns. This is essential. The finished product is almost always useless at home unless you remember the breakdown. Many presenters don’t give breakdown notes, and even if they did, you probably wouldn’t understand them once you got home. Take the time to write down everything in your own words while it’s still fresh in your mind. That way you have the tools to teach the new moves without stopping to show them. It also helps to use descriptive rather than trendy terminology. For example, you are more likely to understand “V-step ball change” than “salsa,” and so are your students!

Focus on Intervals. Another idea for maximizing convention choreography is to attend sessions that involve interval training. Many of the moves in these sessions can be smoothly incorporated into choreography.

If you continue to be frustrated after you have exhausted all these tricks, don’t give up! There are still things you can do.

Use Your Voice. Convention planners want to hear your comments. They are building the schedule around what they think you want, and it makes their job easier if you tell them. Request step classes that provide practical, safe material for your students back home, and you may find a new breed of classes next year.

Be a Presenter Yourself. If you think you’ve got what it takes to spearhead the next generation of step classes, then apply to present. Convention planners are always looking for fresh faces with different approaches. You might be the one to bring step back to the real world!

Keeping It Real at Home

The intention behind “Real-World Step” is to allow both students and instructors to achieve a fun and effective workout. Succeeding at this may involve offering different step classes to accommodate different tastes, or simply choosing a breakdown style that keeps your students moving. In either case, finding ways to bring in new students and new instructors is essential to the future of the genre. Since the majority of people attend step classes for the workout, it is a good idea to offer various types of step classes (not necessarily various levels) to appeal to different types of students.

Dance-Choreography Step. There is definitely a place in the real world for advanced step choreography. Especially in the larger cities, you can find groups who want this mental challenge. However, keep in mind that extreme complexity may intimidate the average stepper. Dance-choreography classes often use the step platform as a prop for quick and intricate movements. While this can be a workout for some participants, less experienced dancers tend to struggle with the footwork, which relegates the workout to the back seat.

Interval Step. On the opposite end of the spectrum are interval step classes, in which simple, high-intensity movements alternate with brief rest periods. Interval training has recently gained media attention as a great way to effect fitness changes quickly. What a perfect time to introduce this style to your club! It also works well as a 30-minute “express”-style class or in combination with other disciplines, such as stretching, weights or yoga. This is the easiest type of step class to teach because it is linear, meaning the movements don’t repeat as they would in a combination.

Simply have students perform one simple movement pattern (4–8 counts long) at the highest intensity possible (“all-out”). The work interval should last between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, depending on the intensity; the higher it is, the shorter the interval. Follow this with a rest period lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The rest does not need to be choreographed, because your students should be eager to take a moment to catch their breath. Perform simple marches, heel digs and step-touches. Be aware of how your class is feeling, and adjust your intervals based on participants’ needs.

Cardio-Choreography Step. Between the two extremes of dance-choreography and interval-style step lies cardio-choreography step. This is the heart of “Real-World Step,” because in this style you get the best of both worlds. Choreographed combinations keep the class interesting, but the focus remains on the workout (steady-state, not interval). Therefore, the breakdown does not require stopping. To achieve this balance, choose movements in which large muscle groups are required to get up onto, down from and across the step platform. For example, good old repeater knees and lunges require more work than mambos and pivots. Power moves (leaps, hops and jumps) add intensity and interest, but remember to keep the music under 130 bpm.

The main ingredient in “Real-World Step” is the breakdown. If you can find a way to get from move A to move B without stopping to demonstrate, then the breakdown becomes a journey (the ability to cue here is essential!). This journey is what keeps the workout as the focus, whether students realize it or not. Putting together the final combination at the end is the reward.

Back to Reality

Imagine striking a happy medium with choreography that is fun, interesting and easy to teach without having to stop. A bonus: your students “get it” on the first attempt. Renew this kind of choreography on a weekly, biweekly or monthly
basis and you keep the class fresh for members—making it unnecessary to
increase the complexity of moves and to interrupt the workout to teach them. Gone are the days of repeating the same old combination for months at a time. With a few simple choreography tricks you can create a new 32-count combo in as little as 10 minutes!

You know those combos you create in the car while driving to the gym? They
often don’t work out quite the way you’d like them to, do they? So plan ahead. If you have no step platform to work with at home, improvise by laying out a towel in front of you to simulate one. It is important to work with a tangible prop to set up realistic expectations for how far you can travel in a certain number of counts. It also makes it easier to create combos that turn you to the back or side of the room and allow you to be generally more creative in the way you use the step.

A good way to start creating a 32-count combo is to have a couple of moves that you definitely want to incorporate into this week’s choreography; for example, a basic off the narrow end of the step (#1), and a turn step facing the back (#2).
This is where those new convention moves really come in handy! Next, decide what position you want to start in: facing front or side, step platform horizontal or vertical, stepping on the platform or on the floor. Give yourself about 8–12 counts to get to move #1. After you’ve performed move #1, you have 8–12 counts to get to where you need to be to perform move #2. Before you know it, you have just enough counts to get you back to where you need to be to repeat the whole thing from the left side.

Be sure to take a journey around the platform, and even to use the floor. Spice things up by adding rhythm changes or unexpected direction changes, but don’t go overboard, and don’t shy away from more intense moves. Your students will be interested in seeing where the journey takes them, because they’ll never have experienced it before—and they’ll be getting a great workout along the way. In the next class you just might have a completely new journey for them!

In the real world, step is a way to have fun while burning calories. While this may mean different things to different people, there are always ways to take the excitement of a convention home with you and to jump-start your own step program.

Sidebar: Other Ways To Keep It Real

Remember what it was like the first time you took a step class? It was much more simple back then, but it was still like learning a new language. When was the last time you had new people in your step class who were successful? Maybe it’s time to offer an entry-level class to ease new students into the program. These classes should be taught by high-level instructors, not beginners! The seasoned steppers can follow someone who is learning to teach, but a beginner needs an experienced teacher.

To keep step real as we move into the next generation of fitness, we need to keep training new instructors. The skills of cuing and breakdown are essential to successful choreography classes and need to be taught. If there are no formal training programs in your area, maybe it’s time to get one started at your gym.

Siebar: Choreography Tricks

  • Use a platform or a simulated platform for reference.
  • Choose two moves for your combo that use different parts of the step.
  • Choose a beginning approach (forward, side, etc.).
  • Use 8-12 counts to get to move #1.
  • Use 8-12 counts to get to where you need to be for move #2.
  • Use the remaining counts to return to the starting point, to repeat on the left.
Eve Fleck, MS

Eve Fleck, MS, has a master's degree in exercise physiology and is the owner of Gym Without Walls in the Los Angeles area. She teaches exercise physiology at California State University, Northridge, and is a co-author of Growth and Development Across the Lifespan. Eve was a finalist for the 2018 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year.

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