Think back to when you first learned how to teach step. It was exciting and there were so many different moves. Then the novelty wore off, and you started searching for the latest choreography. Unless you were diligent about keeping up with your continuing education and spent a lot of time learning new moves on websites like and YouTube, you may have added plyometrics or propulsion moves to ramp up the intensity of your step class. This is, of course, far from ideal since the recommended step cadence is 118–128 beats per minute (bpm) (Olson & Miller 1997). Proper form and technique are hard to maintain at faster tempos.

Many step instructors have moved away from the basics in order to accommodate the front-row die-hards. But what happens when a novice attends your class? Does she trip over the step while trying to keep up with you? Just because you teach an intermediate or advanced class, it doesn’t mean beginners won’t attend. Increasing the pitch or adding impact may not be appropriate for all participants. Rather than putting people at risk for injury, bring your choreography to a level that meets everyone’s needs.

“In my experience the more complex choreography gets, the lower the intensity,” says Juli Presley, group exercise coordinator for Fitness First in Northern Virginia. “Small moves, quick syncopations, intricate footwork that keeps the student in one place, lack of attention to posture and use of the upper body—all contribute to a lack of intensity.”

There are ways to increase intensity without adding complexity or impact. This article reviews some tap-free techniques you may have forgotten about.


First, think footwork. Your choreography will increase or decrease the intensity. Design your class with tap-free combinations to improve both flow and energy. A tap occurs when you complete a move and start the next move using the same foot. For example, if you do two repeater knees to the same corner of the step, you must tap down in between the first and second move. Another example is alternating basic—there’s a tap to change from leading with the right foot to leading with the left.

When there are no taps in your step choreography, movement is smoother. Your feet spend less time on the ground and more time moving. Common moves that traditionally include taps are the grapevine, step-touch, turn-step, over-the-top, across-the-top, A-step and hop-turn. These moves will need to be modified or eliminated from your choreography in order to teach a tap-free class.


Following are some suggestions for transforming tap-based step choreography to tap-free, and other ideas for integrating tap-free moves.

Turn-Step to Shuffle-Turn. Change the turn-step to a shuffle-turn to make it tap-free. A shuffle-turn is a 4-count move that scoots twice across the step with the same leg and then turns the body while exiting the step to face slightly sideways.

Over-the-Top to Scissor. Transform a classic with another fun exercise. A scissor is a 4-count move that begins by facing the side of the room. Step onto the step; cross the other leg behind the starting leg while keeping the starting leg on the step; step down with the crossing leg; and step down with the starting leg.

Revolving Door. This is another tap-free option for over-the-top. It combines two over-the-tops into one 8-count move. Instead of exiting the step facing the side wall, continue turning your body so your outside shoulder turns to face the step. You’ll very briefly face the back of the room before doing another over-the-top.

Hop-Turn. The hop-turn can be made tap-free by changing your approach. Similar to the revolving door, if you keep turning your body around to face the step, you can begin the move following the hop-turn without a tap-down.

Holding Patterns. Moves like corner knees and corner hamstring curls are good ways to keep the class moving without taps while demonstrating moves or if you need to leave your step.

Putting It Together

When you go tap-free, you’ll likely need to rework your old choreography. It takes some practice, but it’s a great way to freshen up your old step combinations. Once you become accustomed to tap-free choreography, it will feel natural for your feet to move right, left, right, left. Participants won’t have to learn too many new moves and will get to experience new choreography. It may take some time for them to adjust, especially if you normally teach with a lot of taps. Your visual and directional cuing will become even more important.

Because teaching tap-free keeps you moving, even basic combinations feel harder. Start thinking about how you link moves and manage transitions. Following are three tap-free choreography blocks, ranging from basic to advanced.

Block 1: Basic

Use during the warm-up or the body of class:

  • corner hamstring curl (8 counts)
  • basic step (8 counts)
  • repeater knee (8 counts)
  • shuffle-turn (8 counts)

Block 2: Intermediate

This combination utilizes the short end of the step. Participants need to be comfortable with not directly facing you before teaching this combo.

  • L-step (8 counts)
  • V-step (4 counts)
  • corner hamstring curl (4 counts)
  • scissor (4 counts)
  • knee straddle (4 counts)
  • repeater knee (8 counts)

Block 3: Advanced

This block moves around the step, has faster footwork and includes a blind entry to the step.

  • L-stomp: step onto step, lift knee, stomp floor and side of step twice, stomp back and exit (8 counts).
  • Reverse turn: step one foot onto step with leg crossing center, step other foot onto step while turning to face back wall, continue turning and exit facing front (4 counts).
  • Skate on top: perform three alternating hamstring curls on top of step and exit (8 counts).
  • Corner knees: do one corner knee (4 counts).
  • Corner knee: do one corner knee and exit (don’t travel) (4 counts).
  • Rock-step cha-cha: take one step back on floor, transfer weight to forward foot, cha-cha-cha forward (4 counts).

Miscellaneous Reminders

In addition to teaching tap-free choreography, remind participants about proper posture and stepping with control. “Stepping with strong posture will increase the intensity of even the most basic choreography,” states Presley. “I often feel that freestyle step instructors do not coach the importance of posture during the workout. It is often quite challenging for members to work with proper posture.”

One easy way for participants to control their intensity is to increase step height. The recommended step height for novice participants is 4–6 inches. Intermediate-to-advanced steppers may use a step height up to 10 inches (Olson & Miller 1997). For more intensity ideas, see the sidebar “Tips for Enhancing Your Choreography.”

No matter what level step class you teach, your participants want to feel successful. It’s your job as the instructor to deliver a safe, effective, fun workout for everyone.

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

Tips for Enhancing Your Choreography

Stumped for new ways to shake up your step class? Use your brain—literally. When you get students’ brains involved, the perceived intensity of the class will increase. When you make them think, they have to work harder to stay focused. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Teach 16-count combinations. Short blocks of choreography require mental concentration.
  • Use single moves rather than doing two moves back to back.
  • Present 3-, 5- and 6-count moves. Challenge participants’ rhythm with atypical beats.
  • Utilize all four sides of the step. Give participants a new perspective on how they approach the step by entering and exiting from the short ends and the back.
  • Incorporate the floor. Mixing in floor choreography adds spice and a fresh take on a step class.
  • Visit a colleague’s class. It’s often helpful to see another instructor’s teaching style.
Remember the Arms

When was the last time you taught specific choreography for arms? “Adding simple, strong arm movements is frequently the forgotten ingredient in most instructors’ choreography,” says Juli Presley, group exercise coordinator for Fitness First in Northern Virginia. “Arm movements, especially those raising the arms overhead, will increase the heart rate considerably.”

For example, during the shuffle turn, try, “Raise the roof”; palms press up toward the ceiling with each shuffle. Or try a move called “pony up”— a cha-cha-cha on top of the step. The arm cue is “Lasso your pony,” which is a one-arm circle overhead. Also, try a bilateral raise when performing a mambo. Weaving creative arm movements into your routine will add another dimension.


Olson, M., & Miller, G. 1997. Stepping to a new beat: The latest on music cadence for Step Reebok. Reebok Alliance Newsletter, June/July.; retrieved Mar. 30, 2011.

Sara Lewis

Sara has more than a decade of experience in the fitness industry. She is the owner /operator of Mix Fitness, an AFAA Certification Specialist, and is a BOSU Master Trainer/Presenter. Sara mentors aspiring group fitness instructors via webinars and holds ACE, ACSM ÔÇô HFS, and AFAA certifications.

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