Teaching Zumba can be a daunting task. Even for the seasoned fitness instructor is can be a bit overwhelming. I know a few really, really, awesome fitness instructors who took the training but decided they didn’t want to teach Zumba because they found it too stressful. The nice thing about teaching a regular fitness class (kickboxing, step, aerobics, etc.) is you can totally make it up as you go along. If something isn’t working you can easily change it on the fly, you can use any fitness music (assuming it is the proper tempo for the class you are teaching) and you don’t need to have strong musicality skills. Zumba is a different type of beast, and hopefully, these tips for new Zumba instructors will be helpful when preparing to teach your first Zumba class!
#1) Know your music
I really can’t stress this enough. Know that song inside and out. Listen to it until you know every bit of it. Are there any pauses, or “quirks” within the song where you need to do something different or special? Does the song repeat predictably each time or does the sequence vary throughout the song? Do you know exactly when the song is going to end? Believe me, if you don’t know your music, your participants will know. Live, breathe and sleep your music. I listen to Zumba music constantly in the car, I’ll choose two or three songs I want to memorize and listen to them over and over until I know them. Luckily I spend a lot of time driving so I get lots of chances to do this
#2) Keep it simple
When you first start out, try to choose as many easy songs as possible. What do I mean by easy songs? They are those songs that repeat predictably and don’t have many “quirks” or pauses. Zumba Mami (Zumba Fitness), Don’t Let Me Down (Zumba Fitness), Zumba He Zumba Ha (by Dj Mam’s), Zumba Samba (by Karmin Shiff), Chori Chori (by Arash), Krazy (by Pitbull), Waka Waka (shakira), Shake it Up (by mara) and Let’s Get Loud (Jennifer Lopez) are all examples of easier songs you could use. In comparison, songs like “Bring it On (Zumba Fitness), Lo Que Paso, Paso (Daddy Yankee) and Con El Pompi Pa’rriba (Mala Fe) all have more quirks, many different song parts and are more difficult to memorize. Do yourself a favour and try to stick to the easier songs. Your brain will thank me.
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Part two of keeping it simple – your choreography. Especially if you are starting your own class and will have many participants that are new to Zumba. Keep your choreography simple to allow your participants a chance to learn the steps. More importantly keep it simple to make it easier on yourself. Even if you are team teaching and only teaching 4 songs your first class, that is still a lot to remember when you are starting out. Keep it simple. Keep it clean, don’t try to be fancy. There is a time for fancy footwork and your first few months of teaching isn’t it. If you have access to pre-choreographed routines (if you are a ZIN member) – use them. I find the live version tends to be more simplistic than the one on one, but know that even still you can simplify the choreography further. Find a song you like, watch both versions and decide which you like or which parts of each you like and develop a routine. Creating routines on your own when starting out is another stressful and aggravating task you don’t need to deal with.
#3) Find the beat
If you don’t think you have any musicality you need to study music. Learn how to find the downbeat and phrases within music. For many this comes naturally, but if it doesn’t come naturally for you it is something you need to learn. Participants instinctively want to move on the downbeat, they may not know that’s what they are doing, but they will notice it feels wrong if you aren’t on the beat. Instructors who follow phrasing and the downbeat are much easier to follow – and as a result tend to be more popular than those who don’t.
#4) Educate yourself
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue saying it until something changes. Obtaining a license to teach Zumba classes is so easy. Basically you just have to live through the training and you will get your license regardless of how terrible (or awesome) you are. Believe me, I have no ego when it comes to my abilities. I am not even close to being the best instructor out there but trust me, I’ve seen some people who still couldn’t figure out how to do a basic cumbia leaving with their license. It scares me. If you are serious about making Zumba classes a part of your job or income you owe it to yourself and your participants to become a certified fitness instructor (if you aren’t already). The Zumba licensing workshops don’t teach you how to properly warm up or cool down participants. You are not taught how to monitor a room full of people and you are really not even taught how to teach. You’re mostly just taught the basic moves, you do a master class, a few drills and have a lecture or two and that’s about it. There is no testing at all. The dangers of teaching without a working knowledge of the body are many. If nothing else get yourself into as many other types of fitness classes as you can to learn from those instructors. Watch their warm-ups and cooldowns, watch how they teach and learn from them.
#5) Keep “Sorry!” to a Minimum
The truth of the matter is – you are going to screw up. Chances are you’ll screw up the first time you teach and you’ll still screw up occasionally after 300 classes. That’s just the way it is. Try to keep the apologies to a minimum during classes, especially with new songs – the participants don’t know you’ve made a mistake, just keep going. I admit I say sorry when I screw up a song that I’ve been doing for ages and my groups know the choreography and do the right thing even though I do the wrong thing, but that’s only because I know they know I’ve made a mistake so I might as well acknowledge it. If you do say you’re sorry, don’t dwell on it, say it and move on. They probably won’t even remember by the end of class.
The best way to forget your choreography and music is by stressing too much about it. It’s okay (and good) to get a bit nervous before teaching, but don’t let that nervousness consume you. If you get in front of everyone and forget everything the world won’t end. It’s a fitness class not brain surgery. 10 years from now nobody in the class will remember you messed up, you probably won’t even remember. Relax and try to have fun.
#7) Make your first class a small one
If you have the opportunity, try to make your first class a small class (even if it’s just a “class” of 6-10 of your friends). Find a decent amount of space (maybe someone’s basement) ask some friends to come over and use them as guinea pigs. You can learn a lot from that first class, you can see what works and doesn’t work in a more relaxed setting. You’ll build confidence and as a result will feel more comfortable when you teach your first “real” class.
#8) Be you.
All of us Zumba Instructors have our favourite Zumba instructors. Whether you love Gina, Kass, Lindsey or your local ZES you have a favourite. Don’t try to be them. Be you. Anytime you try to be someone you aren’t you just come across as a watered down sad version of someone you aren’t. Be you. You are the only person you can be authentically. Find your voice, find your style, find your groove and stick to it. Those who like your style will love your classes, and those who don’t – it’s no biggie, they just prefer a different style. We all have different tastes and likes and there is a group of people out there who are looking for YOU – your style, your personality, your energy level – give it to them!
#9) Give 300%.
They say in order for your participants to give 50%, you need to give 300%. The amount of energy you expend as an instructor in unbelievable. Expect to be totally exhausted after teaching your first class. It’s a whole different experience than taking a Zumba class, so prepare yourself for that. Drink lots of water.
#10) Have Fun.
If you try teaching and it sucks all the enjoyment out of Zumba for you – don’t teach. Not everyone is meant to be an instructor. You may find out that it isn’t for you, and that is okay. Maybe you’ll find you love teaching more than participating and that’s good too! There will always be a need for instructors and participants. One can’t exist without the other. Just because you’ve obtained your license don’t mean you have to teach. Give yourself permission to quit teaching if you don’t like it because if you hate teaching your participants will know.