This weekend I attended my first Advanced Instructor Module (AIM) for a Les Mills program; this module focused on BODYJAM. This post is about my experience.
The facilitator was Josh Keenum, who is a bit of an all-star for Les Mills USA. He’s presented on the masterclass for BODYJAM 55 and often does presentations for quarterlies both in the US and abroad. Here’s a video of him presenting BODYJAM 62 in Sweden. He has a very engaging personality and has an infectious energy and social aura — I’m glad to have finally met the person everyone keeps raving about.
The other participants varied in the number of programs they teach, how long they’ve been teaching BODYJAM, and to what degree fitness is part of their lifestyle.
- Liz — we went through initial training together 2 1/2 years ago; she’s on staff at Virginia Tech in the Recreational Sports department
- Stephen — I don’t recall his official title, but I believe it’s a management role in the VT Rec Sports department; he also teaches BODYPUMP and BODYCOMBAT
- Shelli — she teaches other formats and was apparently the only BODYJAM instructor in Ohio for several years
- Blair — I don’t remember where she’s from; she teaches BODYFLOW and BODYJAM
- Jess — all the way from Florida, she’d actually gone through AIM 2 and wanted to do AIM 1 and the part of the initial training this weekend to get better at technique; she also teaches SH’BAM (and maybe BODYFLOW)
- Abby — she manages a gym in West Virginia and teaches at least 5 Les Mills formats and Piloxing
- Hannah — one of Shelli’s former BODYJAM participants, who then got into teaching
With some of the ground rules set (e.g., be prompt, turn your phone off) we were told that the module was about…
- Positive change
- Not saying “I can’t”
- Realizing that every instructor has a different learning curve (and that’s okay)
- Telling yourself: “I am the sh**!” We’re all dancers — embrace that.
We got into a circle and introduced ourselves:
- Name/home town
- What got you into dancing?
- What’s your signature/go-to dance move?
Each of us got assigned a track once we got started. (I got the recovery track.) We each did about 1-2 minutes of our track and then jumped right to the next person. Feedback for each individual was shared with the group after everyone had presented.
Some of you may say, “Man, you got the easy track!” Physically it’s less demanding, but the objective was to coach at the right level and to focus on the feel of the moves which are more fluid and small.
Josh said my coaching was good and that my voice modulation was excellent for the track (whispering at times). What I need work on was the texture of the moves. (Essentially everyone needed work on texture of the moves in their tracks.)
BODYJAM as a brand
We huddled around a projector and our AIM manuals to learn more about how BODYJAM fits with the other programs in Les Mills, and how each level of instruction (initial, AIM 1, advanced, elite) addresses what members come for.
Initial instructors are trained mainly on level-1 cues, which means that you can tell people what to do so they can be successful in the class (i.e., how to execute the moves and in what order). This module was about changing our mindset so that members keep coming back: It’s not about teaching choreography, it’s about helping people dance better (technique) so they enjoy it more.
The instructors are the face of Les Mills, and help represent the essence of the program to build what Kevin Roberts calls a lovemark: something that people both love and respect (and would be sorely disappointed if it went away).
Les Mills worked with Nielsen to survey what people get out of group fitness. Each of the programs sits in a different intersection of one of the following six areas:
- Sociability/fun — attractive, popular to others
- High energy/challenge — strong, energetic, independent
- Power — dominant, superior
- Perfection — discipline, order
- Renewal — feeling good, working through problems
- Conformity/affiliation — fitting in, being accepted by others
BODYJAM is in the sociability/fun category. It’s the workout that moves to the latest trends where participants get high on the feeling of dance. The emotional outcome is self-expression and escapism. We offer consistency between classes, keeping things trendy, aspirational, never boring, challenging but doable.
Josh asked us how we’d rate ourselves in various areas:
- Movement control (base, flava, breakout)
- Contrast in texture
- Connecting with participants
- Magical moments
The aim is to be around the 70% mark, so that there’s just enough of each of these areas to supply the sociability/fun aspect, and the remaining 30% coming from our individual personalities. For example, if you coach at 95%, maybe you’re explaining/talking too much and not trusting your participants to understand what to do. Likewise, if you are at 55% on texture, members won’t really see the nuances of the moves.
5 Mimic Tools
To help us focus on analyzing our moves for the track we presented, there are five tools/areas that we should aim to mimic with our own movement.
- Footwork — position of the feet (toe, heel, width, etc.)
- Lower body posture — from feet to hips (knees, ankles, hips)
- Upper body posture — from hips to head (torso, chest, shoulders, back)
- Placement — arm positions (arm line, elbows, hands)
- Texture — feel and style of the move (smooth, sharp, strong, soft, fast, flowing, etc.)
We spent about 10 minutes (individually) looking at the masterclass writing out a description of each of the five areas for the moves introduced in our track. This involved muting the audio and just focusing on each area.
For about 15-20 minutes we did floor drills (something very similar to this video) where Josh would pick movements that focused on footwork, posture, arm movements, and rhythms. We paired off and went across the floor every 4 measures.
Because we rely on our participants being visual learners, one exercise we did involved one partner using only words (hands behind the back) to describe how to execute a move. This was quite a challenge to explain footwork, posture, timing, arm movements, and texture using only words. There was a point where Josh (my victim) added a lower body lean (which was in the move I was describing), to which I said, “Hey, you did something I didn’t ask you to do.” I love this as a communication tool.
Another drill involved being blindfolded while wearing 1-lb wrist weights; my partner called out different arm lines (diagonal, inward, extended) to see if I could sense where my arms should be without visual feedback. This one I did pretty well on.
A similar drill involved footwork, where one jumps the feet to either hip, shoulder, or wide distance while being blindfolded. My partner and I both did so-so on this (usually off by an inch or so). Something I learned is that hip distance is underneath your hip bones, not the fleshy outside of the hips.
The next drill works on spotting technique; one travels along a line while slowly turning around (the goal being to travel along the line). Some BODYJAM releases involve turns and it’s easy to get disoriented and not end up where you intend. This exercise lets you practice finding a focus spot while turning.
Up next was an isolation drill where the partner holds a hula hoop around the other person’s head, chest, or hips. The partner inside the hula hoop only moves the desired body part in a circle while keeping the other areas still. I had the most problems with my head (my shoulders wanted to move as well).
The last drill focused on posture. One partner folds the arms and balances a weight-lifting bar on top of them while performing a mambo forward and back (the goal being to keep the bar horizontal). The other variant is to place the bar behind mid-back and perform a sideways grapevine step. I had the most trouble with the latter; it involves turning the hips but keeping the chest forward. My partner suggested I slow the step down, which helped me think about my torso alignment.
Josh put some music on for about 10 minutes and he chose routines from the last four releases and we just danced. (This made me regret not learning BODYJAM 68 or 70 because those came up, and they looked really fun.)
Now that we were warm, we went right into working our way through BODYJAM 71. Josh walked around and gave us feedback where needed. This portion of the class also had us wearing our 1-lb wrist weights for about 80% of the release. Having the extra weight makes you have to expend extra effort to make sure that your arms lines are precise and that they land exactly where they should when they should. (I’ll definitely be using this technique in future practices.) I was pleased that there were only two moves where I needed improvement.
The final physical part involved each of us presenting our same track, applying what we had learned during the day about level-two coaching and texture. Each of us encouraged whoever was presenting, and I saw each person teach their track a little differently. (We each got to teach a little longer than the first time.)
The main takeaway from AIM-1 is that I’m being hard on myself with my technique. However, this means I’m in the right place — my attention to detail keeps me from being sloppy and settling for just adequate presentation during classes. Using the mimic tools, I can ensure that my technique is spot-on; the next level of teaching comes from helping my members achieve that through more effective coaching and precise execution on the stage.
The second takeaway is that I affirmed that I’m in love with this program. The education I received aligned with what I wanted to achieve, and being around other JAMmers to build me up and challenge me was exactly what I needed. As my wife (fellow JAMmer) has said before: “There are people that get BODYJAM, and those that don’t understand it yet.” BODYJAM has taken me to another place — musically, physically, and spiritually; it is truly a lovemark for me.
My action plan
- Master the layer-two coaching, helped by scripting out the cues
- Film myself teaching/practicing at least monthly, watching the video side-by-side with the masterclass (no audio) to see if my technique is correct
- Using the 5 mimic tools to tune my focus on technique
I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned for the upcoming launch of BODYJAM 72 and in preparation for to attend the next level module. After about the next two releases, I’ll be ready for my AIM-2.