Zumba in Melbourne

I was in Melbourne for almost 2 months, so this is a long one…

The main reasons why I post these Zumba recaps are:

  1. to help other travellers find great classes.
  2. to help other instructors become better. When a class is bad, most often the students think it’s their own fault… that they aren’t good at Zumba, or that they are terrible dancers.  The main point of Zumba is for everyone to have fun, so no one should leave feeling frustrated, insecure or awkward. I’m not trying to publicly shame anyone – just offering some constructive critique which I hope will be helpful to others. It certainly has helped me be more aware of the areas where I need the most improvement.

And of course, I hope it’s fun for you all to share in the comedy of these adventures, especially when they take me out of my comfort zone.


Hunting for Classes

Because we had been moving around Vietnam & Thailand, it had been several weeks since I had been to a Zumba class.  Even though I had done some practicing on my own, I know I don’t push myself as hard as when I am in a room full of people.  Also, it’s really nice to have mirrors so I can check my form – in my mind I always look amazing but in reality there is room for improvement. 🙂

I encountered my usual struggle of trying to find out about classes (where do you look if not zumba.com?), not having a gym membership, plus many places were on hiatus due to Christmas & New Year’s. (It’s summer in Australia, so this is peak holiday time.) Another challenge was that we were staying in 3 very different parts of the city and reliant on public transit.

My lesson learned is that even if a dance studio or gym doesn’t advertise a “pay-as-you-go” option, it’s worth inquiring… At a minimum, you can usually get a free trial class out of it, but most of the time I have found there are unpublished options for short-term visitors.


Zumba, Latin, and Bubbles…

I was really pleased to discover Dance Dynamics.  They have a few different studios throughout Melbourne (I was closest to their Malvern location) and offer a variety of dance and fitness classes. They had an unadvertised “casual membership” for people who are not residents. The catch is that classes are only 30 minutes long… this is probably great for people who are busy or too intimidated to try a full hour, but that’s far too short for me. I wound up doing several classes back to back (as did many other attendees).

I loved Tara’s Zumba classes.  She was super-friendly, easy to follow, and had some very fun routines.  (Some of them involved “spanking it”, and there was even some quick dabbing at one point.). She had 3 of the same songs that I do (Booty, Talk Dirty, and Shaki Riddim) with completely different choreo, so it was an extra challenge to try and follow along even though my muscles wanted to do something else entirely.

As a bonus, there was champagne after class to celebrate the holidays!

Post-Zumba Bubbles
For some weird reason, only a handful of us stayed for the bubbles…

I also went to a class called “Dance & Tone”, which was basically a more fitnessy version of Zumba.  The first time I went, the instructor was not that great – she used vocal cues (without a mic, over loud music) which were impossible to hear, so I found myself getting frustrated. However the second time was a different instructor and much better. As with most dance classes, the quality of the experience often depends on the instructor.

Carla was another favourite of mine. She taught two classes – “Latin” and “Street Latin”. The Latin class was basically like Zumba but with only Latin rhythms.  Street Latin was more of a choreography class – we learned a very easy bachata sequence and she gave us a few notes about technique along the way. This made it feel more like a “dance”class, but it was still accessible to any skill level.

After she broke down the sequence, we danced it over and over to all kinds of bachata covers of pop tunes like Roxanne and Careless Whisper (which was extra dramatic given George Michael’s recent death – we all let out a mournful sigh when it came on). Carla was super-enthusiastic throughout all of her classes – I would happily take from her again given the chance.


Gym Fail

Goodlife Health Clubs have a number of locations around Australia. There was a free 5 day trial option on their website, and I was pleased to learn they have a 4 week (unpublished) membership option. They have many different classes – from Zumba to Yoga to Boxing to Pilates Reformer. It sounded promising.

I went on Sat, Dec 24 to try out a Zumba class at the Glen Iris location.  The normal instructor was away and the substitute was terrible. She started off by being late to class and literally half the people (wisely) left when they saw her walk up. (Apparantly she substituted a few days earlier so those folks knew what was coming.)

She spent some time fumbling around trying to get the CD player to work. (The stereo is clearly optimized for digital input.)  She was wearing a mic, but even so it was impossible to hear her over the music (and I was standing very close to her). She rarely cued and her movements were tough to follow.

People were trickling out, one by one, stopping to complain at the front the desk.  I tried to make the best of it, but after 45 minutes I was too frustrated by her muddy movements and inaudible mumbling so I also bailed.  On my way out, I let them know I would be happy to substitute, as they clearly seemed desparate. The staff was super-apologetic and acknowledged I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated by the class.

I didn’t go back, mainly because we moved across the city at that point. The normal instructor is actually a Zumba Jammer with a huge following, so it was probably just bad luck on the holiday timing.


Zumba at Fitness First

Fitness First is another gym with multiple locations throughout Australia with tons of classes, including: Zumba, Les Milles programs, Yoga, Boxing, Pilates, etc. I got such an amazing deal on a one-month membership it seemed suspicious… I figured the manager must have had some end-of-year quota to hit.

The catch was that I had to buy the membership that day – having never set foot in the gym. This was a little worrisome given my last experience, but they had so many dance fitness classes on the schedule,  I decided to go for it.

On my first day, I first spent 15 minutes trying to find the door to the gym, which was in a massive mall. I could see it was on the top floor, but no matter which escalator, staircase, or elevator I tried, none of them went high enough.  I felt ridiculous, but I eventually had to call them and get directions to the right bank of elevators. (So embarassing – I was basically lost in the mall.)

My first class was a 45 minute Friday lunchtime Zumba session with Nelly. Typically, short daytime classes are low impact (ie. tailored for an older audience) and aren’t enough for me… but that was absolutely not the case with this one!  Nelly was high energy, high impact, and left us all happy and sweaty. She was very easy to follow, friendly and up-beat.

I really appreciated that Nelly gave me some really thoughtful feedback on one of my songs about how to breakdown a movement so students would be able to pick it up easily. It was a small adjustment that made a huge difference. I have often wished there was a forum for soliciting feedback from other instructors  for the sake of improvement –  I really need to be better about requesting it when I do a song in someone else’s class. (When I was bellydancing, I thought of organizing an event where dancers could perform for each other and then get constructive critique from other dancers – perhaps an idea for a Zumba workshop when I’m back in SF.)

Julia was another instructor with fantastic energy and flawless cueing. One of her routines included a move I named “angry muppet” and she also used Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” which I loved.

Carmen was over-flowing with enthusiasm – you could really feel her love for teaching Zumba. She is so full of joy it was impossible not to have fun and work yourself into a sweat. She was especially good at creating a “party” atmosphere, and also briefing new students on what to expect (which removes any pressure on them to feel like experts after only one class).

Towards the end of my stay, Carmen pulled together a special class which included me, Nelly and Carol & Leora from Sydney.  Because it was at the gym, we had to use official Zumba songs (due to licensing rules), which meant I had to pull out some pretty old routines. It was a ton of fun to have so many different instructors in one place and I was impressed at how many students stayed through the whole class, which went for almost 2 hours!

img_0872
Obligatory sweaty photo of Carmen, me, Nelly, Leora & Carol

Carol & Leora always teach together, and they are a super-fun pair! They have incredible energy and play off of each other so well… you can tell they are great friends as well as great dance partners (and it made me miss my girls even more!)  If you are ever in Sydney, definitely check them out!

Fitness First
This photo doesn’t do them justice… best to see them in action!

In 4 weeks, I only had one bad Zumba class at the gym, which was bizarre in a unique way… First, the instructor stopped before every song to explain something, or tell us how great we were, or to pass out props (ugh). It’s impossible to keep your heart rate up if there are long gaps between each routine…. I really don’t need to high-five my neighbour constantly, or be told to pretend I’m a butterfly emerging from a coccoon, or have very basic chorography explained.

Her songs were all very slow (most of them were designed to be Cool Down numbers) which could be fine if the intention was a lower-impact class, but the choreography was also far too repetitive.  While you don’t want movements changing too often, having only 2 moves throughout an entire song gets boring quickly.

Several students had never done a Zumba class before and left feeling like it was weird and they didn’t get a good workout.  I encouraged them to try again with Nelly or Carmen.

So the gym wasn’t perfect, but overall really great and I definitely got my money’s worth on classes!


BodyJam

One of the other classes offered at Fitness First was LesMilles BodyJam, which the gym described as “the cardio workout where you are free to enjoy the sensation of dance“. (What?)

Instructions came via a mic (which isn’t my preference, but at least the levels were adjusted properly so I could hear them) as well as some non-verbal cues.  The class was spent learning long combinations of moves which worked with a number of different electronic songs.  We started with one or two combinations at a time, and then gradually added on until there was a long sequence that I (almost) remembered. They repeated the same choreo for about 3-4 weeks, so it’s not surprising that the first couple classes were challenging.

Learning and dancing one combo lasted for about 20 minutes, accompanied by one long megamix of mostly techno with some trance and hip hop mixed in.  There was always one or two warm-up songs, and then one “recovery song” between the two halves of class. The cool down was almost non-existant and there was no stretching. There was definitely a lot more potential to hurt yourself (especially your knees and back), so you had to be disciplined about taking care of your own body.

I was surprised to see that the class was consistently about one-third men! I’m not sure why it has a stronger appeal to them over Zumba…  Perhaps it was the electronic playlist? Or that the movements weren’t as girlie as Zumba? Or that the class repeats for several weeks (so you have time to master the combinations)?

David MC was my favourite instructor – instead of using the names of the movements, he would describe what was happening, like “now you’re going to use your arms to clear people off the dance floor, and then you’re going to dance in that space”.  Visuals like that make it so much easier to remember the moves. And it was also hilarious to have someone yelling things like “spank it like you mean it!”. He was incredibly sassy and I loved him.

There were usually other classes like “Body Attack” that followed, with the next group peering through the glass doors (impatiently) waiting for us to get out.  One day class ended with what I can only describe as a “big gay dance party” –  everyone was free-style dancing with each other to Diana Ross. I can only image that the hardcore circuit trainers were outside rolling their eyes as we were all prancing around the studio for the last few minutes of class.

It was fun and I grew to love this class, sometimes doing Zumba in the morning and then Body Jam in the evening.


Jammin with Tam!

I was super-excited for a Jam Session with Tamara Pitts during my stay. The goal of these sessions is for instructors to learn 5 new routines well enough that you can start leading them in classes right away.  It’s basically 3 hours of non-stop Zumba: dancing the rountines, breaking down the steps, going over cueing, and then dancing them some more.  It is as exhausting as it sounds.

Tamara was a ton of fun! The routines we learned were great, but I think the highlight was actually her warm-up… it was a rock mashup of songs like “I Love Rock n Roll“, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and even “Enter Sandman“.

Typically, these sessions are 30-35 people but in this case, less than 20 attended.  I’m not sure if it was the holiday timing or because it was literally 100 degrees outside, but this meant everyone had a great vantage point in the huge studio and plenty of room to move. It was a luxury to have a small class with such a fantastic instructor.

In these sessions, instructors take turns leading each other as practice.  At one point, there were more people teaching than there were followers – ha!

Melbourne Jam
There were about 7 people leading and 5 following at this point…

Tamara really pushed us to keep our energy up for the entire 3 hours. (There was only a 10 minute break.)  I was definitely ready to spend the evening on the couch with a big glass of wine when it was all over!

Tam's Jam
Tam’s in pink in the middle, lookin fierce!

You Get What You Pay For

MeetUp.com advertised a free Zumba class that was very near one of our petsitting gigs. The organizer seemed to be really active in fitness so I thought maybe he had city sponsorship or something.  The event was billed as a class followed by social time, so I thought it might be a good way to meet some people.

Unfortunately, the class was really, really terrible in almost every way.  It was in a small, carpeted room with no mirrors and poor ventillation. The instructor was far too green. We chatted briefly before class and when she learned I was an instructor, she starting offering up excuses – that she was used to using a mic, and having mirrors, etc.  (Neither of these should be necessary for a great class.)

She spent the next 45 minutes shouting unintelligble things at a wall while we watched her back and tried to figure out what was going on.  The routines were far too complex and inconsistent, there was no cueing, and I have no idea why she wouldn’t face the room (even if this meant starting on the wrong foot). She often fell off  the beat – even clapping in time to the music was challenging.  The fastest songs she did were the 3 she described as “cool down”.

She was not ready to be teaching a class on her own – she should either be doing a song or two in someone else’s class, or holding practice classes with friends until she’s more comfortable.

When that was done, they invited everyone to stick around, socialize, and buy Herbalife shakes from them.


Keeley’s Zumba Class

I made contact with Keeley over email, who offered to have me teach a few songs so I could get into the gym for free.  It was a weekday morning class at Collingwood Leisure Center. They do offer the ability to buy one-off classes, but they are not cheap ($17 AUD per class) so I appreciated the hook-up!

It was mostly a (much) older crowd, which isn’t surprising given the timing. There were a couple younger women, and I could tell from eavesdropping that they would appreciate some higher impact songs.

Keeley has great form.  Her songs had more complex choreography, which I think was a struggle for some but I really liked them.  The routines were lower impact, which made sense given the audience.  I enjoyed getting on stage for a couple songs and giving them a taste of some higher energy numbers.

The group was really friendly and clearly a lot of regulars.  Many of them go out for coffee all the time and invited everyone to join them. It was nice to see such a close-knit group, which reminded me of my own class (except we always opted for tacos & margaritas instead of coffee – ha!).


Kpop, Waacking, and Other Dances I Can’t Do

Passion Dance Studio offers various street-style dance classes 6 days a week. They have 2 small studios with great floors and huge mirrors, plus they don’t do advance registration so you can just show up! The class styles are pretty specific: KPop, Waacking, Popping, Locking, and Krumpography (along with some general Hip Hop).  Most classes are for beginners, so I thought I would try some out.

My first class was Kpop. (Kpop classes usually teach you the choreography from a Korean Pop Music video.) It was marked as “Beginniner/Intermediate”ont he schedule, but I knew I was in trouble when I watched the Beginner Hip Hop class that was wrapping up ahead of us. As it turned out, I probably needed something more along the lines of “Remedial/Pre-Pre-Beginner”.

The teacher demonstrated the choreography once, talked through 4 phrases of movement without counts, and then had us run it at full tempo just once before moving on. I managed to catch about 6 of the first 32 moves, but they didn’t look pretty.  It continued like this for most of the class.

He gave us a few notes on nuances of movement, while a third of the class (including me) was struggling to just remember what we were supposed to be doing.  Clearly, I needed something that covered the basics before I jumped into memorizing a music video’s worth of chorography in 1 hour!

The waacking class, however, was so much fun! (Waacking is a form of dancing with really expressive, fast arm movements – it’s reminicient of vogueing.  Some of you might recognize this clip from Princess Lockaroo’s audition for So You Think You Can Dance.)

The instructor, Marnie, took us through strengthening drills and a technique breakdown for the first half of class.  The movements are all very fast and mostly near your face.  (I won’t lie – I did smack myself a number of times but managed to avoid giving myself a black eye.)

After we were done with self-flagellation, we either learned short combos or practiced the basics while walking across the floor. Waacking is as much about attitude as it is technique, so each time she challenged us to bring more – I did my best to channel my inner gay man and werk it!

Class ended with an (optional) dance circle – people could take turns moving into the middle to freestyle.  Marnie would start and end it for us, and it was fabulous to watch her dance! Almost everyone else was too intimidated but I forced myself to give it a shot at the last class before leaving Melbourne. (There’s no need to be embarassed when you’re about to flee the country, right?) Suffice to say I am not in danger of being recruited by a Waacking crew, but it felt good to challenge myself. I would love to learn more!

Despite the how many great dancers were taking classes there, I found everyone to be friendly and supportive.  And the studio’s website and Facebook page is always up to date with the latest info (a rarity!), so all in all, two thumbs up!

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