Original article written in 2004 – edited in 2015
We have all experienced that perfect hour when the cosmic forces of fitness unite to electrify the music, the mood and the moves. The feeling is unmistakable and the experience leaves you exhilarated. You have just taught the perfect class. Sadly, the satisfaction is fleeting and before long we find ourselves back in the lab – constructing and concocting, hoping for that elusive bolt of lighting to strike again. Why do some classes feel perfect and others far from perfect? What makes a class perfect?
The easiest way to deliver up more exciting classes is to incorporate multi-level formatting for intensity and intricacy. The perfect class provides options and entrusts students to choose the appropriate level to get the workout that they need. Avoid prejudging students and making assumptions that they won’t or can’t do something because of their age, size, or perceived coordination level. Rather than teach down to students – teach up. Encourage them to work to their abilities and they will do just that.
When a new student comes to class and can’t see the exercises, it is likely they will never show up again. A class is made more perfect when the student can see the instructor and the instructor can see the student from the vantage point of the deck. A class is less than perfect whenever a new person leaves frustrated because they felt excluded by a group of regular students circling and socializing around the instructor in the water.
There is more than one way to frustrate and exclude a new student. I have done it time and time again. My name is Mark and I am a choreography addict. The perfect class is about encouraging students to improve their fitness level by fully participating in the moves that we create. If our moves are so amazing and intricate that only half the students can fully participate, then they aren’t so amazing after all. When we come to the realization that our class is more about moving people, than it is about the moves, then we will experience more perfect classes.
A class is made more perfect by the smiles we give. For many, attending a class may be less about fitness and more about socializing. No doubt, many of my students get more out of my smiles, my enthusiasm and my energy, than they do from the workout. Students are more likely to adhere to an exercise program if they find joy in the activity. Smiling and acting enthusiastic is the easiest way to light up a class.
A class quickly veers from perfect when we feel the need to announce beforehand that we have a headache, or that our foot hurts, or that we have a personal situation going on. These announcements only serve as a ‘buzz-kill’ for the students. They come to class ready for a good work out and quite frankly they don’t want to hear about the instructor’s woes. On my journey, I have learned to just shut up, put out and do the best I can. Instructors are not bound to any performance standards. We are simply required to perform the best we can under the given circumstances. Making excuses and apologizing to your students only detracts from your professionalism.
Give to Receive
The perfect class does not have to be validated with praise from students. Expecting or fishing around for compliments only makes you appear needy and lacking in confidence. Yes, it is nice to have our efforts rewarded, but I have learned that you get back what you give. Without a doubt, I am by no means a “butterflies & rainbows” type instructor. Loud and sarcastic, I am more likely to bust on one of my students than I am to praise them. The moral of the story here is that for all those times I felt unappreciated because no one clapped, praised or thanked me, I have no one to blame but myself. Did I praise or thank my students? Nope. And so on my journey I have learned that you cannot expect what you do not give, whether that is smiles, praise, or excitement.
Gallina was hard to miss. She always had a terrible expression on her face and I assumed she hated both my class and me. I never met her because she always left class early. One of the lifeguards, a Russian immigrant, eventually explained to me that the awful expression on Gallina’s face was due to the fact that she couldn’t understand English. It turned out that Gallina was on an extended trip from Russia. Before she left, Gallina told the lifeguard she was happy to return home but very sad because she wouldn’t be able to come to my class anymore. She said she wanted to adopt me and bring me back to Russia with her. Go figure, Gallina thought my class was perfect. Huh? For me, it was a lesson in silent appreciation from a woman who never smiled, never clapped and never said thank you. Memo to self: students pay their respects by showing up each week.
And so on my journey I have learned that the perfect class is neither myth nor reality, but rather a manifestation of my own thoughts and perceptions. If I focus more on moving people, rather than focusing on the moves, my classes can be made more perfect.
Embracing this ideal will ultimately do far more to inspire, motivate, and educate my students, than any sheet of fancy moves could possibly do.
Wishing you a perfect class.