It has been a few months since I taught Zumba for the first time, but the nervous excitement I felt that day never quite faded. If you’re getting ready to teach your first Zumba class, you may be wondering what to expect, what to avoid, and how to make it through without any major mishaps. Rather than ramble on about my experiences, I asked some of my favorite Zumba and Cardio Dance instructors to weigh in on their teaching experiences to give you some insight on what to expect at your first class- accompanied by some funny stories to brighten your day!
HOW DID YOU FEEL BEFORE TEACHING YOUR FIRST ZUMBA CLASS? WERE YOU NERVOUS, ANXIOUS, EXCITED…A COMBO OF EMOTIONS?
Hollis: Honestly, before my first Zumba class I was a mess. My emotions ranged from excitement to fear, and almost everything in between. I was scared that I would mess up, scared that people wouldn’t like me, and most fearful that no one would show up. I practiced each song over and over again- I am pretty sure my roommates wanted to kill me for all the repetitions of songs. I even practiced in the mirror and gave myself visual and verbal cues just to make sure I knew what I was doing. I prepped papers with all of my dance steps written out, just in case I completely blank. So, in one word, I was scared.
“So, in one word, I was scared.”
Meredith: I had so many knots in my stomach! I was worried I was gonna mess up and forget stuff. Overall I was excited, but that definitely translated into nervousness.
“Overall I was excited, but that definitely translated into nervousness.”
Kai: I was so nervous to teach my first class. It was the Saturday morning, 10am, at Bob’s Gym East. Although I was nervous, I was also super excited to finally get my first Zumba class under my belt.
“Although I was nervous, I was also super excited to finally get my first Zumba class under my belt.”
Becca: I was so nervous. Having [my mentor], Hadley, with me and beside me was always such a comfort and I definitely used her as a crutch before I was forced to be on my own. I remember wondering if I was really cut out to be a dance instructor. I was confident in my dancing abilities, but instructing is an entirely different challenge. You need to have insane cardiovascular endurance while giving 120%, have a constant smile on your face, and somehow manage to remember to pre-cue every move.
“I was confident in my dancing abilities, but instructing is an entirely different challenge.”
HOW DID YOUR FIRST CLASS GO? ANY FUN STORIES?
Hollis: My first ever Zumba class is actually a pretty hilarious story looking back at it- but at the time, not so funny. Prior to teaching my first class I taught classes under the supervision of a mentor and they had gone great! My first solo class was in a different gym so I showed up early to figure out the sound system and reorganize my Spotify list. People started to file in, and it was time to teach. So, I go in the audio closet to play my playlist and it doesn’t work. There is no internet. I did not download my Spotify playlist to be able to play without internet. Instantly, I panic. I go to my iTunes – which is very scant. I apologize to my class and tell them that I am having a few technical difficulties. I return to the closet and decide that I am just going to play my iTunes playlist and make it up as I go along. Surprisingly, this actually worked very well and as I made up dances on the fly I had my friends move the large stereo unit as far out of the closet as possible so that I could connect to the WiFi (not subtly at all). Although this class was filled with uncertainties, failures, and pure craziness, it ended up being a very fun improvised class- and we just danced.
“Although this class was filled with uncertainties, failures, and pure craziness, it ended up being a very fun improvised class- and we just danced.”
Meredith: You know, I actually don’t remember my first class so well. But what I do remember is my audition to become an instructor. I remember thinking how funny it was because my future boss had to dance to some of my dances. I remember thinking it may have been too hard (I got over that real quick though!)
“I remember thinking how funny it was because my future boss had to dance to some of my dances.”
Kai: I thought the first class that I taught went better than I had anticipated. Nothing too exciting happened haha. It went smoothly. A class participant took a little video of me teaching part of one of the routines.
“It went smoothly.”
Becca: My first class went well; I quickly realized I had to mess up pretty severely for my class to even notice. They’re following you, so if you just own your mistake, your class will never know the difference. My friend TB came in when the battle song came on halfway through the class and really lightened the mood for me with his extravagant booty poppin’!
“I quickly realized I had to mess up pretty severely for my class to even notice.”
HOW HAVE YOUR CLASSES CHANGED OR REMAINED THE SAME SINCE THAT FIRST CLASS?
Hollis: Since then, I have learned to let loose a little more. Not everything has to be prepared, or perfect. It is okay to improvise, to move around, to make a fool of myself. Nowadays I just have fun with my classes. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely still prepare for each class but I also listen to the vibe in the room and know when to change things up or keep them the same. Overall, teaching classes has just become more natural. I don’t stress over what to do; I just show up and I am in my natural habitat.
“Not everything has to be prepared, or perfect.”
Meredith: I have always maintained the same general structure of my classes. I have changed the intensity of my classes, however. Over time I noticed that my class added in more high intensity plyo moves, with dance as the base, rather than being 100% Latin dance. For me, that is what I liked about Zumba because your class could evolve into whatever you wanted it to be. I have kept a couple fan favorites throughout my whole time teaching too though!
“For me, that is what I liked about Zumba because your class could evolve into whatever you wanted it to be.”
Kai: Since I have that video to look at and compare myself to, I definitely think I have improved as an instructor and as a dancer. I think as the years go on, I have been able to make my classes “Kai” classes. What I mean by that is that I started by following and trying to do the exact same thing as my mentors in Zumba, but as I got more and more comfortable I was able to do little spins of my own. Just to make it more unique and more “me.” I use to teach with my back to the class and now I teach facing the class. I am more comfortable with speaking during class and hearing my own voice I am always working on ways to improve my non-verbal cues.
“What I mean by that is that I started by following and trying to do the exact same thing as my mentors in Zumba, but as I got more and more comfortable I was able to do little spins of my own.”
Becca: I have continued to grow as a dance instructor and it’s always something that I continue to put consistent work in. You can never absolutely perfect instructing dance. I’m always pushing myself to come up with new choreo to the latest songs and there will always be a lot of practice and prep before each class I teach. However, I have become significantly more confident and I no longer stress about what I look like. Instead, I try to be over the top to help make my participants comfortable in their own skin while dancing. I have also transitioned into the role of training new instructors and serving as a mentor to upcoming Cardio Dance instructors.
“I’m always pushing myself to come up with new choreo to the latest songs and there will always be a lot of practice and prep before each class I teach.”
ANY ADVICE FOR NEW INSTRUCTORS AS THEY GET READY TO TEACH THEIR FIRST CLASS?
Hollis: My advice for new instructors would be- Everything is going to be alright. Learning is messy. Don’t worry, don’t try to be perfect, just be yourself. Even if your first class is a horrible mess like mine, stick with it and it will get better. And if you’re like me, you will still be teaching classes 5 years later with participants who show up every class and you won’t be able to see yourself ever not teaching classes.
“Everything is going to be alright.”
Meredith: 1) know that everyone who teaches the first time is nervous and that there is actually an element of teaching anything new for the first time that will make you nervous. Once you recognize that it’s okay to be nervous, that will help you to perform better! 2) have a game plan. Having a plan will help you feel more comfortable. 3) practice your typical arm movements in the mirror before (although the natural moves will come when you teach) 4) practice new dances on your friends (even if it’s awkward!) 5) have a couple “go to” moves prepared for if you forget what you are teaching. It is natural to just go blank sometimes, so as long as you have a couple simple moves prepped, you’ll be good to go!
“Once you recognize that it’s okay to be nervous, that will help you to perform better!”
Kai: Smile! Be honest: if you want, let the class know ahead of time that it is your first time! Don’t let the faces (especially the ones that aren’t smiling) in front of you make you lose your smile and facial expressions. Laugh at yourself. Sometimes you have to poke fun at yourself just to get the class to crack a smile. Most of the time, the participants do not realize that they have frowns on their faces
“Be honest: if you want, let the class know ahead of time that it is your first time!”
Becca: It will only get better. You’ll continue to improve starting with your first class, but in order to do that, you need to get your first class under your belt.
“It will only get better.”