Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zumba(r) Step! My DVD review.

In it's never-ending quest to dominate the world of Fitness, Zumba(r) has introduced a step format that rolls out in early February, 2014.  The consumer DVDs just came out this week and of course you know who had to buy it and pay for rush shipping so I could be the first kid on the block with the new stuff...  I know, I know, first-ness is kind of an obsessive thing with me.

I'm very excited for this format!  I'm getting my license on March 1 (driving to Canada for it) and I hope to start teaching it March 3!  I've taught step for over 20 years, so as long as they let us use our own choreography, I'll be ready.  I'm half ready now because I'm a good guesser and the format is almost exactly as I expected it would look.

Here are some basic facts based on my first run-through of the DVD.

  • It follows the Zumba format of letting the music drive the movement.  When the music changes, the movement pattern changes.  
  • It's still based on international rhythms and the typical dance steps from those rhythms, with some pop (30%) songs.
  • Not necessarily 32-beat, but the songs do feel like they have a steady beat - no dramatic pauses mid-song and not a ton of parts in any of the songs. 
  • It's not tapless.  (I know some step instructors will die inside reading that, lol, so I figured I should put that comment up near the top so I can clear that air).
  • When I started typing this, I'd only seen the first 5 songs, and my review read:  "Step tempo pretty much in a normal range for step - I didn't measure with my metronome but nothing in the first 5 songs as I type this sounds like an egregious tempo liberties.  The tango is slower than a normal step tempo, but the movements are very focused plie squats so it makes for a decent squat/toning song."   But in the sixth song, an oldies rock and roll style song, it was so fast I had to get out the mentronome and measure it for myself - 167bpm.  Yes, I'm a geek.  First of all, I have a mentronome and second, I knew exactly where it was.
  • Very simple routines.  This is not the advanced, multi-layered choreograhy that many of us used to teach.  There are almost no layers at all, perhaps one layer to add a larger limb movement, but no layers in the sense that you're "building" a routine.  This will be boring for those who are used to advanced step classes, but for new participants it will be easy to catch on, if it's cued well.  
  • The Rizer is used, sometimes to step on, sometimes as an accessory.  Sometimes when it's used as an accessory it's cute and feels like it fits into the choreo for that spot.  But sometimes, it looks like they're tapping on the Rizer because they just remembered they have a Rizer there and they should probably use it. 
  • A few of the moves that you would see in an old-school step class.  There are basic steps, and a few across the tops, and some lunges from the top, alternating knee lifts or side leg lifts, T-steps, some knee-lift + tap downs, and straddledowns.  Yes, some of them tap.
  • Not every musical segment uses the step.  There are sections of some songs that use the floor, or just tap on the step.  So IMO it's a near equal blend of dance and step.  
  • There are times where it's used very effectively like some lunge passages that are killer.  Kind of like Zumba Toning, but with a step.
  • Personally, I would not teach this without verbal cues, but there was an option on the DVD to turn the cues off.  I suppose if you're going to do the same routine week after week, after a while you could cut your cues down because you're not teaching any layers, really.  IMO, this is one of those formats where if you don't cue, you're gonna be dead in the water.  People have a hard enough time following Zumba; if you add a 4 inch Rizer(tm) that they can trip over, you've got to cue.  Visual, verbal, air traffic control signals, whatever works.  But cue.  Please, fellow instructors, I'm begging you.  CUE!
  • Three contraindicated moves, for those of us who are either certified in group exercise or step (I have held both, although Exersafety Association where I got my step cert is now defunct).  I was NOT happy to see these, especially on a DVD that will be sold to the masses and to instructors who will follow it "because Beto did it on the DVD."  But in my choreography, I simply won't do them.  (1) One minute into the warm-up, they started doing a move that was 4 jumps in a row, march march, 4 jumps in a row.  This is too early to be jumping in a fitness class (sure, it goes with the song, but so would a good fist pump without the jump. AAAAARRRRGHHHHH!).  (2) The very old recommendations for step were a maximum tempo of 128bpm.  Many instructors have exceeded that tempo, as have I, but the majority of instructors commonly accepted that 135 was about the top "safe" end of stepping.  167 is way above that, although in their defense the movements are pretty simple.  (3)  In the same song that's 167 bpm, they have multiple repeated moves on the same leg.  The industry standard number of repetitions on any one leg in a step class is 16.  They were doing 24 and I think they also snuck 32 in there once.  

Overall, this is a format with a ton of potential.  

Some will love it.  Others will hate it, especially advanced steppers.  I'm planning to rock the hell out of it.

Existing step instructors will catch on quick, if they can get over the idea that step must be tapless, layered, and 32-beat.  Step didn't start tapless, nor did it start 32-beat.  Everything old is new again.  As an instructor who is a stronger "educator" than "performer," I think I'll fit right into and enjoy the format a lot as it resonates with my stepping roots.  

Existing Zumba instructors who have never taught step aren't going to have as hard of a time as I think some people are predicting.  But I think the "performers" are going to have to put on their "educator" hats because there are some safety issues inherent with a four inch high obstacle that can't be ignored.  Cue.  Cue.  And then cue a little more.

Here is the playlist.  Some of the songs are ZIN(tm) songs that instructors will recognize.  I wasn't thrilled with about half of the songs, but that's the beauty of Zumba over pre-choreographed formats.  We have the freedom to choroegraphy our own works, and for those of us who enjoy that freedom, it allows us the ability to really show our uniqueness and personality.

Bem Vindos (ZIN 41)

I Came to Party (ZIN 45)
Boogaloo de Paris (salsa)
Love on Me (pop)
Chande Papa Dio (bollywood?)
Tanguajira (Tango)
La Aguafiesta (I know I've heard this song, but I can't find it on my iTunes)
Pam Param Pam Pam (reggaeton)
I Want Your Love (old time rock and roll)
Tempo (bachata)
Zumba Viento (cooldown) - very pretty song and I liked the stretch patterning.


Bethany said...

What does "tapless" (or not "tapless") mean?

Nancy said...

Tapless is a common method used when stepping. It refers to whether you're putting your whole body weight on a foot or whether you're just barely touching it down (the "tap").

In the olden days of step, we used to tap in order to change our lead leg. The lead leg is the leg that steps up on the "1" beat or downbeat. So we used to go:

up right, up left, down right, down left
up R, up L, down R, down L
up R, up L, down R, down L,
up R, up L, down R, TAP CHANGE L

Up left, up right, down left, down right
Up L, up R, down L, down R.

Every time we wanted to change our leading foot, we tapped and then put weight on it.

A few years into step, someone invented "tapless" stepping, meaning that you are always stepping down on your foot. Theoretically, it "flows" better and is "less confusing" for the beginning stepper. Whether that's actually true (personally, I think an instructor good at CUING will be able to overcome any "confusion" created by tapping), tapless stepping is now industry standard, especially for more intermediate and advanced classes where they have layers of complexity and create routines.

Zumba step routines are so simple that it's kind of irrelevant that there are taps. However, there are people in the industry that thing tapping is a dated and improper method of stepping.

Bethany said...

Interesting. Thank you for the explanation. :) I just recently started teaching a pre-choreographed Step format (Group Step from BTS). From your explanation, I can see that it is tapless (for the most part)--they have all sorts of clever ways of getting the lead foot to switch without a "tap." The distinction is not something that was highlighted in our training though--since of course we're not creating the choreo. Thank you!

What do you think of the round step? They look so small to me, it seems like it would put one in danger of not getting the full foot on the step, which I hear repeatedly emphasized as a major safety concern.

Bethany said...


Nancy said...

Sorry, Bethany, I didn't see your question earlier about the size of the Rizer. The Rizer is as deep as a step is deep. So, there isn't really any problem getting one's full foot on top of the step, or even both feet at once. And the format can be taught with a regular step. The Rizer is a cute and brilliant marketing vehicle, but not totally necessary.

As to tapless, there is some debate on this issue. Some people will say that if you do a ball-change, a knee lift, a kick, or anything else to switch feet instead of a tap (so you replaced the tap with something else), it's still not tapless. A "tapless purist" will want your full bodyweight on the ground. I, however, am NOT a purist when it comes to teaching with and without taps. My big thing is, "If you can CUE it, your participants can DO it." :D

Nancy said...

My biggest concern about this format is how well it will be cued. Personally, since I have a much more lengthy background in step than any other format, I know how to cue safety, choreography, and intensity. And I know how to do it verbally as well as visually. I don't EVER let peoples' feet hang off the back of a step. EVER. Whether it's a step or a Rizer. Won't be happening in my class. But, your results will vary based on your instructor's teaching technique.

Bethany said...

Thank you, Nancy! I'm intrigued to see some official Zumba Step choreo. :)

Damon said...

Great summary. Thank you