Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Confessions of a New Zumba Teacher

My Zumba career has been a bit of a weird one. To sum up briefly, back in 2015 I started taking a Zumba class through my work. After several months of consistently taking the class, my teacher asked if I would be interested in getting my certification so I could cover classes for her when she went on vacation. So I did.

Going through my blog, I now realize I have failed to tell you about how this all has gone off the rails. I covered my first class in April of last year and managed to survive. Between April and June, I covered a few more times, but it wasn't anything I didn't expect.

In mid-June, my teacher got a blood clot in her leg and was bed-ridden for 6-8 weeks. Two months. The class was mine for two months. I went from being the occasional sub to being the long-term sub. Although it was definitely more than I ever thought I would have to do, there was an end in sight so I managed.

Cut to the end of those two months. There was a bunch of drama behind the scenes that I was unaware of and suddenly the teacher had quit. The people who organize the class knew I wasn't ready to take over the class so I continued to cover while they found a new teacher.

It wasn't long until they did, but she was not a good fit. She screamed and shouted and pressured us into participating in ways we didn't want to and attendance dwindled. I started taking a different class on the weekends just reducing the number I took through work. Fortunately, I don't think she liked us either so she quit in October.

The coordinators tried to find us a replacement, but they didn't expect anyone before the New Year so the class was mine for almost three months. In that time, I started to improve as a teacher, but attendance never really rebounded from all the teacher-switching.

In the New Year, they did find a new teacher, but she also wasn't a good fit. She didn't really teach Zumba. It was more aerobics to pop songs, and attendance dropped even further. In April, she quit, too.

So for the last month or so, the class is officially mine. Not mine while they try to find someone else. Mine. It's been an uphill battle. Attendance has never really recovered and I have to cancel class too often due to lack of bodies. I've got ideas to increase it, but most of that stuff is out of my hands. All I can do is focus on getting people to come back once they've shown up for the first time.

I've spent a lot of time and energy working to become a better teacher and have a better class and here's what I've learned.

- Be the first person in and the last person out of the room. It comforts new people that they have the right place, it lets you get to know the people in your class, and it makes people believe that the class is a priority to you. You aren't running over late from something more important or rushing out the door to something else at the end.
- Don't choreograph to a song you enjoy. This one is really hard not to do, but don't incorporate songs into your routines because you like to listen to the song. Between choreographing, memorizing the steps, and teaching it in class, you will probably hear the song over a hundred times. According to my Itunes, I've listened to 'Cheap Thrills' by Sia 34 times and "Never Be Like You" by Flume 26 times. By that point, you can't enjoy the song anymore. So how do you find songs if you can't use songs you would listen to?
- However, Spanish covers of pop songs bring a familiarity that people enjoy without being overplayed. We dance to a cover of "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 called "Quedate Mas" and it's one of my classes favorites. They already know the tune so they are familiar with the transitions and they feel less lost.
- Over time, you'll develop a fondness for particular artists you never knew existed before. Between the songs Zumba provides, songs you hear in other people's classes, and random earwigs that you Shazam, you'll find artists you like. You may never understand a word they say, but they release songs that fit a certain style of dance and end up a staple of your routines. For me, those are Daddy Yankee and Nicky Jam.
- There are two types of students: 1) the newbies who need fun, simple songs to pick up quickly and 2) the returners who will get bored of the doing the same simple songs repeatedly, and you need to be able to cater to both. For a while, my solution for this was a mixture of simple and complicated songs. This would work in theory if you are a really good teacher. Once you start to lose the new people in a complicated song with poor cuing, it's very hard to earn their trust back. No one wants to feel lost. My favorite Zumba teacher has found a way around this. He has a library of simple, fun songs and constantly rotates between them. He'll either change their place in the song list or alternate between two salsa songs week to week. It means that the newbies get the simple songs they need while the returners are kept on their toes. I'm working to develop my own library so I can better use this strategy.

- Keep taking Zumba classes as a student. It's important to keep learning and exposing yourself to new songs, moves, and teaching styles.
- Avoid teaching a song that you dance to in another class, if possible. The common practice in Zumba is to direction students to start movements on their right side. Step with their right foot first, move to the right first, etc. This means as a teacher, facing your students, you start with your left. And while a good, experienced teacher can switch between a right-hand and left-hand routine easily, it's a veeeeeeery hard skill to develop. Muscle memory will screw you over if you are trying to teach a song you like to dance to. If you really want to teach a song you've done in another class, try to wait until the other teacher has phased it out of their routine so you can override your own muscle memory.
- Do your own math on ZIN. I've now taught both ways: before and after ZIN. My first year of teaching, I didn't have ZIN and I was fine. I was only covering other people's classes so getting paid for teaching was very inconsistent. Also, because of this, I didn't need to churn my routine very often because it was fairly fresh to people in the classes. I had time to find and learn new songs at my leisure. However, now that I'm teaching the same class twice a week, it's much harder to find or develop choreography on my own. ZIN has been very helpful in finding good songs and choreography and learning it faster.
- Develop good and consistent cueing. This is the make or break skill of a good teacher. Good cueing makes the transitions smooth, keeps people engaged and on beat, and earns you a level of trust and respect with your students. They need to trust you to feel comfortable and the easiest way to drive students away is for them to feel lost and uncomfortable.
- And lastly, make it an all-around fun experience. Make it social, not exercise.

I'm still learning. I feel like I will be learning for a long time to come, but it's getting easier and more fun and I can only hope that my students feel the same way.