StepTube: The Next Wave?

Fitness professionals are using online video-sharing to showcase ideas, refine techniques and create an expanded community.

By Biray Alsac, MS
Jun 30, 2008

Whoever says step is on its way out
apparently is not
watching YouTube. Although step has never truly
gone away, over the decades we’ve seen its momentum peak and fade and peak
again, the choreography advancing with each generation of steppers. Because
step has had such a rich history, classes continue to attract audiences from
all over the world. Thanks to the popularity of video-sharing sites like
YouTube, step is inspiring a new audience to try group exercise.

Since the launch of YouTube in 2005, a handful of fitness
professionals have been experimenting with its applications. In late 2006,
group fitness instructors from around the world started to create a presence on
YouTube. Instructors were uploading videos that showcased their step
choreographies and helped with combo breakdowns. By 2007, other formats—such as
water, high-low, muscle-conditioning, hip-hop and indoor cycling classes—were
also appearing (though step seems to be the format uploaded most often).
Although YouTube is becoming the new online repository for choreography, it is
also evolving as a community destination for group exercise instructors around
the world.

The role of YouTube within the health and fitness industry hasn’t
been thoroughly explored. However, its influence has certainly sparked new
conversations among the fitness community. To gain better insight into this
trend, we’ve enlisted the expertise of top fitness professionals and step
choreographers Fred Hoffman, MEd, Rob Glick, Gay Gasper and Christi Taylor.
Read on to discover the benefits and drawbacks of using YouTube for group
exercise. Meet the innovative instructors who have helped ignite the “StepTube”
phenomenon, and learn what it takes to effectively contribute your ideas.

What Is YouTube?

Basically,
YouTube is a video-sharing site where users upload a pre-recorded video or
create new content using a webcam. In its short 3-year history, YouTube has
significantly impacted our culture. It was named “Best Invention of the Year”
by TIME
magazine in 2006 and has become a feature of the 2008 presidential debates.
It’s no surprise that with more than 78.3 million videos stored in its servers
and an average of 150,000 uploads per day, YouTube is the second most popular
destination on the Web. According to a survey by the Pew Internet &
American Life Project in January 2008, 48% of Internet users had visited
video-sharing sites like YouTube, doubling traffic from last year.

YouTube’s primary appeal is that it’s free. The user-generated
content is compelling, and the barriers to entry are minimal. All you need is
Internet access, a YouTube account and a webcam (or a video recording device,
such as a camcorder). Uploading material is virtually effortless, taking no
more than a few minutes. And if you have a mobile phone with video-capturing
capabilities, uploading to YouTube is instantaneous. No need to be tech-savvy.
All that’s required is a passion for sharing ideas and information.

The Birth of StepTube

The idea of
sharing choreography is not a new concept to group exercise. Instructors have
relied on Web-based communities since the early 1990s. In 1996, Turnstep.com
became the go-to forum for instructors wanting to share exercise ideas, class
designs and new routines. Many other sites, such as FitMoves and Pedal-On, have
also been resourceful throughout the years. But YouTube takes this
collaborative effort to the next level and couples text-based choreography with
visual demonstrations. “[YouTube] is a good tool to actually see what the choreography is, instead of just reading it,” says
StepTuber Leslie (aka “LethalLeslie”). A certified group exercise instructor
from Ontario, Leslie has uploaded more than 140 videos and accumulated over
220,000 hits since her debut in December 2006 (www.youtube.com/LethalLeslie).
StepTubers post full combinations, adding choreography notes in the video
description panel along the sidebar. In some cases, instructors provide links
to their blogs, where breakdowns can be viewed in more detail.

Sharing choreography is the main attraction for instructors, but
others have found video a worthwhile way to refine their teaching skills. “I
started filming my own classes because I wanted to improve my form, my verbal
and nonverbal cuing abilities, and the interaction with my students,” says
Sabine Van Hoecke (www.youtube.com/koddetrien), an instructor from Maldegem,
Belgium. Van Hoecke sometimes teaches without mirrors and therefore believes
that YouTube offers instructors a great opportunity to improve their
proficiencies.

Since YouTube gives viewers the ability to publicly post their
comments under each video, this open forum can make any instructor vulnerable
to honest criticism and, possibly, unfavorable feedback. But often the response
is positive. “Getting [praised] by a fellow teacher who actually knows what a
huge job it is to [teach] makes you feel even better,” claims Van Hoecke.

Instructors interested in marketing their classes and promoting
their professional careers are also finding YouTube’s audiences helpful. Seasoned
step instructor Seasun Zieger (www.youtube.com/szrockssteady) stars in several
of her own professional step videos. She turned to YouTube during a break from
production and started recording portions of her step classes. “Posting on
YouTube was a great way for me to stay in touch with my fans,” she says. Her
participants regularly tell her how much their husbands, children and friends
enjoy watching the videos online as well.

Many are recognizing YouTube’s potential to inspire and encourage
creativity. “As I watch YouTube group fitness instructors contributing their
ideas, [it] awes and intrigues me,” reflects Gay Gasper, an international
presenter. “I appreciate the passion for step and choreography.”

Step Around the World

YouTube is known for its video-sharing
features, but at its core, it is an online social networking site. As on
MySpace or Facebook, users can connect with other friends, design their own
profile (their “channel”) and disclose some personal information. “It brings
together instructors of similar interests,” says “Stepaholic” Denise Hardy
(www.youtube.com/stepaholic), a group fitness instructor from Birmingham,
England.

With a simple keyword search for step,
aerobics, fitness
or exercise,
viewers can stumble across videos of instructors who’ve posted from France,
Spain, Belgium, China, England, Canada, Mexico, Turkey and the United States.
If not for YouTube, “I would not have seen what is going on around the world,”
claims Hardy.

Like many StepTubers, Hardy videotapes her routines directly from
her classes. Viewers get an idea of how she cues and motivates participants
throughout her combinations. The YouTube advantage is that instructors who do
not speak English can still watch and get inspired. Of course, the language
barrier can be there for English-speaking instructors, too: many videos are
taught in other languages, and viewers who can’t understand the words must rely
heavily on visual cues for ideas. Some StepTubers superimpose English subtitles
over their videos to help with choreography breakdowns.

Fred Hoffman, MEd, 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and
director of international services for The Club & Spa Synergy Group,
presents workshops around the world. “I witness firsthand what is happening
with step in other countries,” he says. Hoffman believes instructors are always
looking for more choreography ideas. “There are fewer videos on the market for
step, so of course instructors are going to see what is out there for free!”

Since YouTube is such a visual medium, it allows instructors to
learn movements without having a basic knowledge of how to teach them. Whenever
Hoffman presents a step workshop, he reviews technique, discusses Step ReebokSM guidelines and supports these
recommendations with research. In watching YouTube videos, he notes that “in
about 75% of the cases, the music is faster than industry recommended speeds.”
(To review “Revised [Step Reebok] Guidelines,” refer to step originator Gin
Miller’s website at www.ginmiller.com and click on the “information/articles”
tab.)

“The world is shrinking down to the size of our computers!”
exclaims Dana, another StepTuber, whose nom de plume is “StepJunkie”
(www.youtube.com/stepjunkie). “Suddenly, I can see what they are doing in Italy
or Germany and incorporate some of their ideas or styles into my classes.” Dana
brings an international spirit to her videos by inserting various screenshots
in the backdrop. One month you might see her in front of the Egyptian Pyramids;
the next, she might be stepping in the middle of New York’s Times Square!

For instructors who can’t attend conferences regularly, YouTube
is an innovative way to connect with international colleagues, discover global
fitness trends and recognize that our combined efforts continue to Inspire the
World to Fitness®!

YouTube’s Professional Advantage

Showcasing instructor performance on
YouTube can raise the teaching standard for group fitness; market a club’s
group programming; and even generate revenue streams for fitness professionals.
Here are just a few ideas.

Aerobic
Idol.
Like contenders on the popular reality show American Idol, instructors
who post their material on YouTube are subject to all kinds of public feedback.
Some commentators are like Paula Abdul, encouraging and supportive. Others,
like Simon Cowell, are harsh but honest. If an instructor has poor form or
sloppy breakdown, someone will likely post a comment about it. On the other
hand, an instructor whose efforts are creative and consistent will rank high
and get a lot of votes.

Think of YouTube as an instructor boot camp or a global sandbox
for refining one’s teaching skills. Regardless of whether you post videos or
not, the site can be a training resource, effective for demonstrating teaching
methods, choreography breakdowns, cuing techniques, video production and
professionalism. “A group in Seattle gets together on Fridays to break down the
final product of my videos!” says Bobbie Williams (www.youtube.com/bstroud373),
a group exercise instructor from Dallas, whose experiences on YouTube have been
both humbling and motivating.

YouTube
Celebrity.
We all know superstar instructors can drive
numbers in a group exercise program. A YouTube “celebrity” can, too. StepTube
instructors promote facility programming by allowing potential participants to
preview classes online. These instructors also draw in new fitness enthusiasts
from competitors, who may seek to win the instructors for themselves. It is
important that fitness facilities recognize these video efforts and embrace the
StepTube culture from within (i.e., feature StepTube videos on the website,
schedule a class called “StepTube,” etc.).

Money,
Money, Money.
Most instructors don’t teach group exercise for
the money, but it’s nice to receive some financial return for investments of
time and effort. Generating a revenue stream through a video-sharing site is
possible, but don’t expect any significant cash flow immediately. There are two
ways to generate additional income:

 

  1. Post health- or fitness-related ads directly on
    your video and earn money anytime someone watching your video clicks on the ads
    (http://revver.com automates this process). If you have a good following, in 2–3
    months you could earn enough money to buy a new CD or outfit.
  2. Place product in videos. Your channel
    subscribers (viewership) and video “hits” are both quantifiable measurements of
    your online impact. Increase your following and you increase your revenue
    potential. Show these statistics to advertisers, marketers and brand managers,
    and suggest they pay per hit.

 

Are You Ready for YouTube?

Although YouTube has its advantages, keep
in mind its possible limitations. Because it is technically in the public
domain, it brings up concerns that you should seriously consider.

Professionalism.
Remember, what you upload to YouTube can be seen around the world. It
represents you and the
fitness industry. Future employers may look at your work and make decisions
based on your performance. Christi Taylor, international fitness conference
educator and star of 23 DVDs, advises instructors who are thinking about
posting to YouTube to “be sure what you are showcasing is of top quality—you
will be judged for years to come on what you do publically” (see the sidebar
“Steps to Creating a Successful StepTube Video”).

Production
Costs.
Equipment and production time are the two main costs
involved in making a StepTube video. Video recording devices and editing
software can range in price from $20 to $2,000, depending on the extent of your
production. These days, most cell phones and digital cameras can
cost-effectively capture and upload short bouts of video. The average YouTube
video takes a minimum of an hour (from recording to uploading) to post. But if
you consider editing footage, adding text and creating special effects, it
could take longer.

Legal
Considerations.
Before participating in the YouTube
community, read the “terms of use” carefully. Recording at a commercial
facility requires consent from management. If names and logos are visible, you
should get a written release to depict them, as they are considered intellectual
property. Entertainment lawyer David Albert Pierce Esq., managing member of
Pierce Law Group LLP in Beverly Hills, California, points out, “While some
owners might view [club names and logo] use as ‘free publicity,’ others will
view it as an infringement of their rights.”

Another concern is the issue of member privacy. Most participants
do not go to the gym expecting to be filmed for a worldwide broadcast. At
minimum, post a sign at the club stating that public filming is occurring, and
include a contact person and phone number. Note, however, that while a sign can
function as a release, actual written releases are always preferable.
Ultimately, ask yourself if you are taking away from the member experience.
Record before or after class to avoid any member concerns.

What about music? If viewers can hear music in the background of
your video, you may be infringing on copyright, regardless of whether or not
you credit the source. Without a proper music license, your video could at the
very least be removed from YouTube. At worst, you could have a copyright
infringement claim brought against you. But there are alternatives to expensive
music licenses. Sites like FreeplayMusic.com and OpSound.org allow you to
download and use their music for free—subject to their terms of use.

“The ‘free’ won’t last long,” Taylor predicts. “Clubs, members,
clothing companies and music will eventually want a piece of the action.”
YouTube has given instructors a place to be expressive without much regulation.
Laws may eventually change, but until then, Taylor encourages, “Go YouTube, and
go instructors!”

Note: For
more information on legal issues, consult with an intellectual property
attorney in the state or country in which you reside. The information presented
here is merely for educational purposes and general discussion, and is not
intended to be used as legal advice for any specific situation. Each case may
present unique facts and legal issues. For more inquiries, contact David Albert
Pierce directly at [email protected]

The Future of YouTube

YouTube is a
trend that allows everyone a voice and an opportunity to contribute to a larger
community. Its value lies less in the content
itself, and more in the networks of learners that form around the
content (EduCause 2006). Right now, fitness professionals are experimenting
with video-sharing platforms, and the efforts of group exercise instructors
seem to be working well (refer to the sidebar “Comparison of YouTube Uses
Between Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers”). “I think as an
industry, we can embrace this technology and learn how to use it to improve the
professionalism within our industry globally,” says Rob Glick, co-founder of
Global Fitness Solutions and a presenter at international fitness conferences.

Regardless of how you use YouTube, it isn’t going away anytime
soon. Some may argue that it could be a stepping stone to the next era in the
fitness industry. Could this mean a future in group exercise in the form of
live classes streaming over the Web? “I think the social and motivational
experience is what drives our group fitness programming and what our members
come for,” says Carol Espel, national director for group fitness programming at
Equinox Fitness. “But if at some point it makes sense to Web-stream our
classes, then I’d definitely explore the options. Anything is possible!”

SIDEBAR: Steps to Creating a Successful StepTube Video

Below are a few tips that will help instructors share
their choreography effectively on YouTube.

 

  1. Capture your choreography in a well-lit environment.
    Record the routine from several different angles and run through combos two or
    three times.
  2. Keep your routine reasonably brief. Although YouTube
    accepts videos up to 10 minutes long, those under 5 minutes tend to be viewed
    more often.
  3. Title your video to reflect the exercise format and
    intensity; e.g., “Brenda’s Double Trouble (Step, Advanced).” Always tag with
    key words like exercise,
    aerobics, step
    or fitness,
    to make your videos easier to find.
  4. Include choreography notes in the description panel
    on the sidebar. Instructors generally like to see each 8-count phrase in text.
    (Including choreography notes as subtitles within your video could make for
    international success.)
  5. Engage with the YouTube audience by posting videos
    regularly and making comments on other StepTube videos. Read and respond to
    your video comments and answer in-coming messages in a timely fashion; otherwise
    you might lose your fans.
  6. Give a “shout-out” within your post to any fellow
    StepTuber or fitness professional who inspired you. Include a “Thank you to . .
    . ” in the description panel, or embed it within the video.

 

SIDEBAR: StepTube in Motion

While researching for this article, the author went on a
business trip to Dallas, where she met Bobbie Williams, aka “BStroud373,” a
group fitness instructor with a strong YouTube presence. Together they created
two unique combos on the spot. View their creations, “Surfer Dude” and “Skip to
My Lou,” at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=x5umuxvr5ik.

SIDEBAR: Comparison of YouTube Uses Between Group Exercise
Instructors and Personal Trainers

Fitness professionals are using YouTube in distinctive
ways. The videos uploaded by group fitness instructors and personal trainers
target unique audiences, diverge in content and fulfill different objectives:

Biray
Alsac, MS, owns FITTmaxx Institute, a consulting company for fitness/wellness
professionals interested in Web-based tools and interactive technologies. She
is an adjunct faculty member in exercise science at Mesa Community College in
Arizona. Visit www.befitwithbiray.com for tips on “exercising the Web.”

Reference

EduCauseCONNECT.
2006. 7 things you should know about YouTube.
http://connect.educause.edu/Library/ELI/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbout/39395;
retrieved Mar. 2008.

Avatar

Biray Alsac, MS

Biray Alsac, MS, is the owner of FITTmaxx Institute, a consulting company for health organizations and fitness/wellness professionals interested in learning how to integrate Web-based tools and interactive technologies (exergames) into their programming. She holds a masterÔÇÖs degree in exercise and wellness.
Certification: ACE
Education provider for: ACE

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