I love BodyJam. Like…a lot. It’s part of my license plate. It’s part of my email address. It corners the market on 97.5% of my Facebook posts. I just love it.
Walking in to teach class is one of my favorite things to do every week.
Wait, let me correct that:
Walking into class prepared to teach is one of my favorite things to do each week.
I add “prepared” because showing up to class unprepared might be my very LEAST favorite thing to do. It’s terrifying. It’s an hour of eyes rolled up and back into my head desperately trying to remember what comes next. No connection with people. No connection with the music. Certainly no Fitness Magic. Just. Not. Fun. So I try to never put myself in that position. Because yuck.
I’ve been at this for ten years now, and yes, it’s gotten easier since the days of being absolutely unable to dance and speak at the same time (let alone instruct!) without passing out or wanting to throw up.
That’s the stage I’m in now with RPM. #humbling
As I’m sure many other instructors do, I get asked a lot about the process behind teaching classes. I thought I’d take a post to pull back the curtain a little and write about my experience preparing for launches. I’m sure every instructor has their own way of learning the latest release; it can be a pretty personal thing. So this is just how I prepare for a BodyJam launch. My prep for BodyCombat and now RPM were/are very different and maybe I’ll tackle that in another post.
Jam’s a Little Different
Les Mills programs are pre-choreographed. We receive a video of the full class as well as music and choreography notes. This is how we learn. Watch the video, memorize the choreography, teach the class.
I am Les Mills certified in BodyJam, BodyCombat, and RPM. I also prepare 60 minute freestyle cardio classes and 30 minute freestyle core classes twice a week.
In my opinion, BodyJam is, hands down, the MOST time-intensive format to prepare.
In Combat, you learn the combo on the left side and the second half of the track is the exact same thing on the right (most of the time). Also in Combat, a jab is a jab is a jab. A hook is still a hook every quarter. The movements rarely change – just the order of the combos. Now, don’t get me wrong, this can get confusing after a few quarters. “Wait, is this track the one with the Jab Hook Upper or is it Cross Jab Cross?”
(Insert panicked call to fellow instructor while driving to class listening to your playlist)
But in Jam, the choreography varies greatly every quarter. That’s part of what I love about it, but it also makes it more challenging to learn.
Let me use the the Combat example again. Once you’ve mastered the Jab or the SideKick, they are mastered. You use them every quarter. Yes, you should spend a little time in the mirror now and again to make sure when you throw your hooks you don’t look like a kitten licking his paws. Not that I know anyone whose hooks have looked like that. Nope. No one. But generally, the basic movements are the same.
Jam is a different animal. Every combo is different and mirror work is ESSENTIAL.
I have to be able to tell the difference between what I look like and what the presenters on video look like. And then I have to be able to fix it so I look like the absolute closest approximation to the presenters possible.
That is my goal every quarter.
So how do I reach that goal? Six weeks of work on my own and with my team.
#1. Watch and Learn
I start by watching the entire class video. Start to finish. I upload the music to my phone and then it’s all I listen to in the car (other than NPR) for the next six weeks.
I used to start learning the choreography track by track next. Now, though, I dance the whole first half with the video leading me. THEN I start learning choreography track by track. Before starting on the second half, I do the same thing. Dance it all the way through. I have found this extra step immensely helpful. I realize Les Mills has been suggesting this since I got certified in 2006, but I really only started doing it about three releases ago. #slowlearner
Instructor friends: If you’re skipping this step, don’t!! It makes learning the release SO MUCH EASIER!
Break it Down
Track by track goes like this:
- Dance the track while watching the video with the presenters cuing me through the movement.
- Dance the track while watching the video, but turn the cuing off. We can do this and keep the music on. Technology.
- Keep the cuing off, turn my back to the video and try to do the track without looking at the video.
- Repeat step 3 until I am successful at least twice in a row.
- Move on to the next track.
After I’ve done this for the first half of choreography, I start stringing tracks together and running through them as a block or 2-5 tracks. Eventually, I run the entire half.
I am blessed to be on a fantastically talented team of Jammers at XSport Fitness in Northern VA. Pretty much as soon as we receive the video, we plan our first rehearsal, decide on which tracks we should focus, and we start meeting that week or the next.
This mirror time with my team is so incredibly important and helpful to all of us. We check details. We fix style differences. We work on the nuances that make Jam….Jam. The level changes, the texture changes, the mood changes, the energy changes. We work together to ensure the quality of our movement is again, as close an approximation to the video as we can get it. And we have a little fun, too.
The Dizzy Divvy
We meet anywhere from three to ten times before we launch. Usually it’s once a week, but often it’s more. With a couple weeks to go, we divvy up tracks – who’s teaching which tracks. Here is another instance where Jam is more challenging. Every other format has a set number of tracks and each track has a different focus. Take RPM.
Track 1: Warm up/Pack Ride
Track 2: Pace
Track 3: Hills
Track 4: Mixed Terrain
Track 5: Intervals
Track 6: Speed Training
Track 7: Final Climb
Track 8: Cool Down/Ride Home
If you’re launching with one other person, odds are you’re splitting the class down the middle. You take 1-4, your launch partner takes 5-8. If you have multiple microphones, you might divvy up based on strengths. I am not a natural sprinter so assigning me the climbing tracks for launch might make more sense.
In Jam, there are no set number of tracks. Sometimes a release is 12 tracks. Sometimes its 23. There is always a distinct first half, one recovery track in the middle, a distinct second half and then groove down. (We don’t cool down in Jam. We groove down. Duh.) But sometimes you have three tracks before the first half block starts and sometime you have two. Or four.
This makes dividing up the tracks among our team a little more difficult. Add to that, we are VERY careful to play to people’s strengths for a Jam launch. We want our members to have the ABSOLUTE BEST FREAKING TIME at launch. How do we do that? We match our instructors with tracks that play to their strengths.
Dating back to BodyJam 35, Kate and I have played very different roles on our launch teams. We still, 10 years later, basically default to those roles for launches.
Anything that we think the members might have a tough time getting like this…
Kate teaches it. Notice who’s already cuing in the video. She is a MASTER at breaking down the hard stuff – not only at finding a way to explain it in “text message cues,” but at finding multiple ways to explain it for people. She’s one of very few instructors I know who can change how she is teaching DURING THE LAUNCH to accommodate what she is seeing people struggle with at that very moment. She might be one of only a few who ever do that, actually, but that’s a topic for another post.
I am blessed with an INCREDIBLE Jam team, and part of what makes it awesome is that each of us has different strengths and weaknesses.
Alyssa: Plays off super cool better than most and is amazing at recruiting new Jammers.
Stephanie: Energizer Bunny meets Latin Diva (in ALL the good ways) meets Bad Ass Freestyler. Also our go-to for the newest dance fashions.
Liz: The rock. Probably the most total of Jam packages I’ve ever seen. Ever.
EB: Crowd hyper and provider of all the feels.
Kate: Clearly our best cuer, but also our best connector, our best attention to detail, and our best mentor.
I want Alyssa teaching the chill stuff. I want Steph teaching the sassy stuff. I want Liz teaching the technical stuff. I want Kate teaching the hard stuff and I want me teaching the journey stuff. My main concerns at launch in no real order: Make people feel as confident, elated, and taken care of as possible.
Launches are overwhelming for everyone. If by choosing the right person for each track, we make people feel successful and happy, then that’s what I want to do.
#2. Script, script, script
Once tracks are assigned, I start scripting. Seriously. Les Mills instructors are taught from day one of training: WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU WANT TO/NEED TO SAY.
Since I’m a planner, this works out nicely for me. However, I’ve found if I get too word-for-word, I end up more focused on remembering my script than on the class itself, so lately, I’ve reverted to more of an outline. I identify a few different particulars within my tracks:
- Tricky steps: Come up with a few different ways to cue them.
- Feel of the music from track to track: Note voice and feeling changes.
- The journey: Unfortunately (IMHO), Jam has moved away from creating a journey within blocks, but sometimes we still get to – like the Summons Sway from 74 – God if that didn’t transport you somewhere dark…MAN I love that block…
- Performance opportunities: Anywhere we can do something fun to highlight a move or part of the music.
Once I’ve done that, scripting is fairly easy for me most of the time. It wasn’t always that way, but I’ve got a pretty good take on it now. Also, we’re literally supposed to “Shut up and dance” per Les Mills so, I try to let the music to the heavy lifting. (Pumpers, that one’s for you!)
#3. Well that was ugly…
I know my team is in the minority when it comes to this topic. At least at my current gym, I don’t know many other formats that run full-on dress rehearsals. That being said, I’m not sure it’s as necessary as I think it is for Jam. If your BodyPump team gets together to practice a few times, maybe that’s enough to be fully prepared for a launch. I don’t know, I don’t teach Pump. But I do teach RPM where I literally don’t have to move through space while delivering choreography cues and I STILL prefer a run through where I get to actually deliver my cues out loud at least once before launch.
Colleen Barry of BodyPump, BodyCombat, and GRIT fame coined this final rehearsal, “Getting the uglies out.”
The first time I cue something – even if I’ve scripted the hell out of it – is usually garbage. Or at least, not great. I stumble over words, I realize my “brilliant” storyline setting up the journey is flawed, I forget choreography trying to remember a correction to my style, and I am certainly NOT connecting with anyone in front of me.
Remember how I said teaching unprepared is my least favorite thing?
So yes. We, the Jam team at XSport Fitness in Northern VA, dress rehearse every launch.
We invite a few people to come, we even wear our launch outfits if we think there could be malfunctions. Not Janet Jackson malfunctions, but occasionally Steph likes to sport a hat or, Liz a boa and things can go wrong. Even a hood on a shirt can become a problem and if we catch in dress rehearsal, we can fix it so it won’t distract us at launch.
We give/take feedback from each other and the participants and then we do our damnedest to incorporate it for launch.
I’ve never actually added up the hours I spend prepping for launch. I probably don’t want to either because from a monetary compensation standpoint, oof. Just….oof. But that is also for another post – in fact, Kate talks about it briefly here and I’m sure she’ll be touching on it again. Team rehearsal time is probably anywhere between six and fifteen hours together at the gym in front of the mirror and dress rehearsals. Add to that the time we prep on our own? Yeah…oof.
I love it though. I wouldn’t still be doing it after ten years, knee surgery, and not-so-hot wages if I didn’t.
Why do I love it? I love the way Jam makes me feel. I love being transported for an hour. I love taking everyone there with me. But mostly, I love it because we have the best Jam members on Earth at XSport. Seriously. They make every launch ridiculously fun! They get into the theme, they dress up, they show up in droves, they bring friends, they welcome newbies.
So all that work? WORTH EVERY MINUTE.
So that’s how I do it. Any questions?