The Life of a GFI (Group Fitness Instructor)

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

This weekend, I taught two Zumba classes back to back (Saturday for the studio and Sunday for Campus Rec), and it really got me thinking:

How did I get into this mess?

Teaching has been scary, humbling, and enlightening. Every class is a different experience, and as much as you try to plan things out… things don’t always go as planned. I’ve gained so much respect for the best instructors out there, and not just in dance! I can’t imagine how schoolteachers get up in front of a group of rowdy kids every day and instruct them. It blows my mind.

But, I understand why they do it. I understand why teaching is so rewarding, why so many individuals dedicate their lives to it. Knowledge is meant to be shared, and it’s so rewarding to see someone understand what you know and apply it to their everyday lives.

My first class was a disaster. For some reason, the studio owners allowed me to teach a class called “Isolations and Coordination.” The class itself was pretty average, maybe less than average now that I think about it, but I felt like I was going to vomit the entire time. In the minutes before the class began, I was lightheaded, nauseous, and extremely nervous. A lot of first-class stories often involve less-than-pleasurable emotions, so it was comforting to know I had joined the ranks of nervous first-time instructors. I was determined to make the next class a better experience. I was really focused on pleasing the people taking my class, so I took a lot of criticism personally.

Even though it may not be the best thing to do, taking criticism personally allowed me to grow pretty quickly as a teacher. In college, I discovered I could teach at the Recreational Center--one of my orientation leaders taught barre, and the job sounded fun and kind of easy (You’re getting paid to work out!!) I applied for the job, listing my dance and “teaching” experience, and just like that, I became a fitness instructor.

Gosh, it sounds nice when I put it like that. I went through a 12-hour Zumba training session to get my certification to teach cardio dance, and I remember feeling so empowered and intimidated after. How was I going to do this? I had to remind my students not to push too much but to push enough, I had to talk and be energetic while also keeping track of a million other things at once… I was terrified.

Luckily the Rec had me covered--I co-taught with another Cardio Dance instructor for my first semester. My Tuesday afternoons consisted of TA-ing for Ballroom I (when I say TA I’m referring to being a Teacher’s Assistant), doing Ballroom II for my art credit, and then speed walking to the Rec to teach at 4:15. Some days it was really difficult to find the energy to teach. I questioned whether I should even be “teaching” in the first place, but it was a job and it gave me some pocket money. To quit would mean I was giving up, accepting my status as a mediocre instructor. I refused.

The more classes I taught and the more fitness instructor meetings I went to, the more I felt like I belonged to this group of inspiring and intimidating girls (almost all of the group fitness instructors are girls. A lot of the personal trainers are guys… I don’t know why). I was never supposed to teach by myself this semester. I was supposed to “ease into it,” but COVID-19 had other plans.

All the Rec classes moved to Zoom, and since we hadn’t figured out how to co-teach on the platform, I decided to try teaching on my own. I was used to being in front of a camera because of my YouTube channel (shameless plug… please subscribe!), so it felt like the perfect opportunity.

Teaching online has been really good, actually. It’s not as scary as being in front of real people. Of course, I interact with patrons during the class, encourage them, etc., but it’s so much easier--at least in terms of intimidation-ness. But, there are some challenges. It’s difficult to check people’s form, so I have to emphasize modifications a lot more than I’m used to. Even then, it doesn’t always help--I received an email yesterday with great feedback about the class, but the sender said her knee was acting up so she’d, unfortunately, have to miss next week’s class.

I’ll definitely be modifying the class with more disclaimers and modifications, but in the meantime, to any aspiring fitness/dance instructors out there, here are my tips for you. Teaching is always scary the first couple of times, but I promise you…

It gets easier.


  1. Set an intention before class. It may seem silly, but before every class I say to myself “I’m going to be a positive influence on [my students’] day. I explain all the steps clearly and easily.” It might seem weird at first, but the more you can work affirmations into teaching, the more positive feedback you’ll generate!

  2. For online teaching/teaching where students are mirroring you, have a reminder. I wear a bracelet on my left wrist to remind myself that my left is their right. In another online class I took, the instructor wore a blue sock on her left foot to remind herself that was our right. Whatever works!

  3. Positive reinforcement. While you’re dancing/moving/shaking fill up time with positive affirmations! Saying things like “You all look so strong” and “Good job!” really sets the tone for the class and helps you connect with your students. Your job is to build them up, not tear them down! (unless it’s a technique class where you’re supposed to correct people… but even then, instead of critiquing, try explaining to them why your way is easier! I’ve found that the best instructors “critique” by framing their comments as advice: “You’ll put less strain on your muscles if you do it this way,” “By moving your upper body first, your lower body will follow and it will feel more natural,” etc.

  4. Take your own class! I’ve been FaceTiming my mom and teaching her before class. It’s good to do a run-through, especially the day before, and especially if you have to memorize your own choreography!

  5. Write it out. I write to plan out my classes, especially because I teach through several routines. It’s good to listen to the music and plan the steps you’d like to do… but remember: writing is one thing, dancing is another. Change your plan if you find it’s too difficult in practice! Writing is a good place to start when planning a dance or fitness class, but what you have shouldn’t necessarily be the end-all, be-all.

I hope this was informative and inspirational! I’ll be posting my Zumba choreographies on my YouTube channel, so stay tuned for those!

In the meantime, stay happy and healthy! And keep dancing!



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