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Keys for Smooth Transitions

Carol A. Kennedy-Armbruster & Mary M. Yoke

When skilled instructors teach, their moves flow seamlessly from one to the other, making the choreography easier to cue and easier for participants to follow, thus enhancing participant success. Spend some time on the drills in this section to build your skill at connecting moves. For the smoothest transitions, keep it simple. It’s best if you change only one thing at a time-change only the arms or only the legs or only the lead foot.


Connecting End Points

Some moves just naturally transition into other moves. Most of the elements of variation provide for smooth transitions: Executing a plane change from a front kick to a side kick is an example of a smooth lower-body transition. The subtle change from a front kick with a front raise to a side kick with a lateral raise is easy for almost every participant to grasp and requires a minimum of cueing. Notice that each move has a starting point and an end point. The smoothest transitions connect moves that have one of these points in common. For example, a bilateral front raise (a 2-count move) starts with the arms down and ends with the arms up at shoulder height in the sagittal plane. A lateral raise (another 2-count move) also starts with the arms down but ends with the arms up at shoulder height in the frontal plane. These two moves flow together well because they share a common starting point: arms down. It’s easy and natural to go back and forth between these two moves; in fact, you could even create a combination 4-count upper-body move by putting these two moves together. You could then repeat the 4 counts over and over.

See the DVD for a drill demonstrating smooth transitions.

Leading Foot

Another factor in creating smooth transitions and easy-to-follow choreography is to maintain an awareness of which foot is leading at all times (this is important!). In other words, you’ll enhance your participants’ success if you always lead with the same foot in each move throughout a combination. So, if you start with a step touch to the right (right foot leads off on the 1st count, or downbeat), then you should also start your grapevine to the right, if that’s your next move. Starting a grapevine to the left after leading right in a step touch will confuse your participants and make the combination harder to follow. In addition to constantly hearing the downbeat in the back of your mind, stay aware of your lead foot and make sure it contacts the floor on the downbeats of the music. After performing a combination all the way through with the right foot leading, balance your body’s neuromuscular and biomechanical systems by performing the entire combo with the left foot leading.

Connector Moves

You may have noticed that in some lower-body moves, both feet do the same thing at the same time; examples include pliés, jumping jacks, and double-time bouncy heel lifts (see figure 4.4). These symmetrical moves are valuable as filler moves and can help you switch your leading foot if you haven’t built a lead change into your combination. Because both feet are doing the same thing at the same time, it’s easy to start the next move on either the right foot or the left foot.

Other types of moves are so basic that they can be used over and over as fillers to ease transitions between other moves and to create participant security. A walk, march, or jog is a good filler. A good beginner combo might be walk 8 counts, perform four knee lifts (8 counts), walk 8 counts, step touch four times (8 counts), walk 8 counts, perform four hamstring curls (8 counts), walk 8 counts, perform four kicks (8 counts). This adds up to two 32-count phrases, or 64 counts. The 8-count walk interspersed between all the other moves can enhance participant confidence and provide a psychological break from complex choreography. (Incidentally, these 8-count walks could be made more interesting by traveling, adding impact, changing the style, or adding arm variations.) Once participants become comfortable with the combination, try removing all the filler moves (the walks). What you’ll have left is a 32-count combination that is more complex: four knee lifts, four step touches, four hamstring curls, and four kicks.

Every instructor needs filler moves as reliable standbys for those times when the brain seems to stop working and you simply can’t remember what’s supposed to come next! If this happens, you can always return to the safety of a walk, march, or jog.

Moves That Don’t Fit Easily

Some moves simply don’t fit well together. When designing a combination, you may have to incorporate one or two transition moves to make the choreography smoother and easier to follow. For example, moving from a plié to a front kick is awkward; transition moves are needed for a more natural flow. A possible solution could be plié (8 counts), step toe touch side (8 counts), step toe touch front (8 counts), and then step kick front (8 counts).


This is an excerpt from Methods of Group Exercise Instruction, Second Edition.

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