Saturday, 25 February 2012

Learn to workout... and speak English?

Once of the greatest pleasures of my job is that I often get to work with ESL – English as a Second Language - learners in the gym and in fitness classes.  A few years ago I took the training program for teaching ESL at St. Mary’s University.  It was a great program that I recommend to everyone.  Between that and my other life experiences I’ve learned a lot of things that are helpful, so here’s my top tips:
  1. With all ESL learners you have to be careful with colloquialisms.  As native English speakers we often don’t even realize we’re using them.  It’s especially helpful in fitness to watch our use of verbs.  I once saw a trainer instructing an ESL learner on how to use a treadmill which he started by saying “just hop on up here and press this button”.  You can imagine how confused the client was as he was trying to figure out why one would “hop” on a treadmill.  He was picturing someone hopping like a bunny while the treadmill was moving.  “Step up” would have been a much better phrase to use. 
  2.  Most ESL teachers “talk with our hands”.  That is to say we basically play charades as we are speaking to ESL learners.  Don’t be afraid to add this to your conversations in the gym.  If you have a sign-in sheet for classes, tell your new ESL learner client that they need to sign in but also mime picking up a pen and signing the sheet.
  3.  Use visual directional cues.  If you want your client to use their right leg to step forward in a lunge, actually point to the right and point forward as you speak.  Just be careful about rights and lefts because they’re the opposite if you’re facing a person directly!   Group Fitness Leaders are very skilled at this since we do it aerobics classes all the time, so check with a GFL if you need advice on how to do mirror-image teaching. 
  4. Drawings are always helpful too.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci with the drawings.  A basic stick-figure or approximate shape of muscle is perfect for getting the point across.  A note pad and a pencil during a one-on-one session can be your most useful tools of all. 
  5. Another use for note paper is to write out the words you are using.  Quite often ESL learners are better at reading English than they are speaking or hearing it.  Writing out the word so the client can see how it is spelled often works well. If you use sticky notes they can keep their new words after the session for review too.
Most importantly are the following 3 points.  These are more about your world view and attitude than actual hands-on tips.  If you take nothing else away from this article, please make sure you understand these: 
  1. I do hope I’m being overly careful by saying this, but just in case… Don’t assume your ESL Learner client is “stupid” because they don’t speak much English yet.  And also, please don’t assume he or she doesn’t already know this stuff in their native language.  It is highly likely that they already know a great deal of information, they just can’t translate it yet.   I once had an ESL client who is a doctor.  He didn’t know more than maybe a dozen words of English when he first moved here, so you can imagine how frustrating it was for him not knowing the English words for the major muscles!  Through drawings and “playing charades” we managed to get him the information he wanted and he learned some new English words along the way.  So many newcomers to Canada are very highly educated, and they are often relieved and very pleased to be recognized as such.  
  2. Your ESL Learner client really wants to learn more English!  Sometimes they are really keen learners to the point where asking you to spell or explain new words can overshadow the workout itself.  Don’t worry about that.  It’ll make for a better workout for that client in a few days or weeks and it will keep them coming back to you as well    
  3. Be patient if you have trouble understanding someones’s speech with a heavy accent, AND, make an effort to become familiar with how different accents sound.  When you’re raised in a homogenous community you generally learn to hear only your own accent.  Folks from large cities rarely have this problem.  If you find you can’t understand a word your client is saying, ask for their patience until you get used to hearing how they speak.  Accents from different languages are a lot like learning music.  After a bit of practice you will be able to recognize different notes and rhythms in music.  So too with accents.  It takes practice until you become accustomed to how certain letter, syllables and works come through.  And that doesn’t have to just be for people who are new to English, either.  There’s dozens of various English-language accents and dialects throughout the world, and a native English speaker of one might not be able to understand another.  Cockney Rhyming Slang, anyone?  Check out films with actors using accents, or check out some of the fabulous international speakers on to practice getting your ear attuned to new sounds.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Class choreo mention - Alex Skolnick Trio's "Bollywood Jam"

I'm using this song in my "returning students" dance class :) When I first heard just the song I planned to only use it for zill drills but it's become the choreo piece.  Once I saw the video, I had to have at it and do some more serious zillin'. Can ya blame me?    To be clear and fair, these ladies did a great job with the short amount of face time they had - this is after all a video to promote the music, not a showcase for the dancers.  Totally appropriate that they didn't take over the whole show in this case.  That's what good music video dancing is all about!

And speaking of the music...  I'd love to say I've paid close attention to the nothing but the dancing in this but... erm...  oh heck, with a cutie guitarist like this, I'm not watching too much of the dancing 100%, lol!!  :)

SNAP Halifax - Bellyfit Class

SNAP Halifax - Bellyfit Class

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Belly dance & Bellyfit - which one is which??

So there seems to still be a LOT of confusion out there about the Belly Dance and Bellyfit classes I offer. So here's the list:

Belly Dance:
- a dance class, not a fitness class
- focus is on learning dance moves and choreography
- students are expected to practice memorizing choreography
- moves are broken down piece-by-piece and practiced over and over again
- there is a lot of discussing the minutia of how moves are done, lots of stopping and starting as we learn
- classes are done in bare feet or soft dance slippers.  Coin belts with lots of beads and jingly coins are welcome in class
- classes are arranged according to the experience level of the students, i.e. beginner, intermediate & advanced.

- this is a standardized workout program created and licensed by Bellyfit International
- this is a workout class, not a dance class
- this is a follow-the-leader format; we don't break down the moves piece-by-piece
- there is no choreography to memorize
- we wear workout clothes and sneakers for this class; no bare feet until we get down on the floor, no jingles because a coin or bead flying off could be dangerous under foot; also, you will need a yoga mat for this class because we do a Pilates-based core routine and a yoga-based stretch at the end
- there are no beginner, intermediate or advanced levels - everyone works out together!!  Bellyfit instructors as specially trained to offer various levels of intensity and impact during the workout so everyone's abilities and tastes can be suited.

So you can see it, here's a clip of a Bellyfit class.

I hope this clears up the difference!