Zumba class members

What do Tech Leads and Zumba instructors have in common?

September 23rd, 2018

I’ve been a part-time Zumba instructor since 2011 and I was a certified Les Mills BodyJam instructor for a few years before that. I recently looked back at my past year being a Tech Lead at Datacom and I can see many similarities with the necessary qualities of being either. I am in a very unique position since I have inhabited both roles, hence I wrote this post to illuminate some of the non-obvious ways a group fitness instructor creates an effective workout session, and how that ties in to be a great Tech Lead.

Let the music move you

Music is the key differentiator in most group fitness classes. Music is used to guide the movements in a class, but the influence they have varies on the class format. They range from highly-choreographed affairs for classes like Zumba and BodyPump, then to loosely-guided classes like RPM and Les Mills GRIT, and finally to mood-setting background music for yoga classes.

Zumba instructors are allowed to choreograph their own dance tracks and inject them into their class. I take advantage of this by putting in popular songs and other cool dance tracks that I come across on Apple Music. I pick songs that I know will guide and lift the mood of the class.

A good Tech Lead interacts with his or her team members on a regular basis. My experience with choreographing dance tracks taught me that a person’s emotional state can be influenced from external sources like music. Tech Leads must recognize that they are their team’s external force – they have the power to set the mood if they choose to. This is illustrated clearly in the next section.

Tell me you enjoyed my class

My Zumba classes are 55 minutes long and I have a standard routine after the final cooldown song: I clap my hands to congratulate the class for finishing, say thank you, and ask them to come forward with feedback or questions. I usually get some applause back and a few “Thank you!” from the crowd.

Something special does happen once in a while. I sometimes get first-timers come up to me and say how much they enjoyed the class and how it’s unlike any other Zumba classes they have been to. I also get regulars asking if I teach anywhere else, and that they wished I did more classes at their gym.

I will admit that it makes me feel good about myself. We are taught to be humble and not sing our own praises, but I allow myself some satisfaction that my efforts to lead an enjoyable class were recognized.

This is something that good Tech Leads do as well. They are always on the lookout for the great stuff that their team does, and actively compliment the person or the deed. This does not have to be a loud sing-and-dance in front of everyone else. It can be as simple as a passing comment at the coffee station, or a written note. I would encourage writing it down for future reference if your company does 360° reviews, which Datacom does.

5, 6, 7, 8!

The main job of a Zumba instructor is to lead the class with pre-choreographed moves to music in order to elevate their heart rate for an effective workout. We give minimal breaks because it is important to maintain that elevated heart rate. Therefore, the instructions need to happen during the track and we don’t have the luxury of going through all the moves before a song.

Group fitness instructors use a combination of visual and audio cueing, with visual cues being the preferred option for Zumba classes so as not to interrupt the music. Common visual cues include counting down the repetitions required, direction to travel, and getting the class’ attention when a new move is coming up. This is usually done with my hands, but the facial muscles get a workout too especially when I remind my class to smile and enjoy themselves.

I sometimes put on a microphone if there are more technical moves involved such as when they are facing away from me. This is required if I’m instructing another class like BodyJam where we slowly build up a 30 second routine since there are not enough hand signals in the world to represent all the moves!

The point that Tech Leads should take away is that communication happens via different channels. There are the obvious, conscious ones like e-mails and face-to-face, but there are also unconscious ways like body language and putting on headphones to say that you don’t want to be interrupted. Tech Leads need to be comfortable using multiple communication channels and understand what is being said (or not said!)

Next week

I will finish this post by covering other common things that Zumba instructors do that have helped me become a better Tech Lead.

Photo credit: Lifeline Australia on Visual hunt / CC BY

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