Considerations On Teaching Fitness Classes Remotely Via Zoom

For the past couple of weeks I have been teaching online pole dance, twerk, floorwork and lap dance classes via Zoom. Because apart from being a pole instructor I am an Internet academic with no chill, I wanted to write about my experience with Zoom, best practices to set up and general thoughts. Consider this post a butt-naked autoethnography of remote fitness teaching.

Interesting Times…

If a few weeks ago you would have told me I’d have spent my days watching a lot of cute butts on video while teaching them how to pole, twerk or how to give a lap dance, I wouldn’t have believed you. But ‘interesting’ (read: challenging; scary; weird af) times call for interesting solutions.

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Special thanks to @aurorasparklez for agreeing to be in this post

Everyone keeps going on about how we are living in unprecedented times, that will change how we live even when this is over. And it’s true: this is an unprecedented situation for our lifetimes, and we can already feel ourselves changing. For the Internet – and our practices surrounding our interactions with it – this means that we are witnessing culture being made. From Coronavirus TikToks (been loving those) to Cardi B “CORONAVIRUS” trap mixes, from increased remote working to no-contact delivery, we are creating new cultural practices everyday.

@wobruno

I CAN’T GET THIS SHIT OUT OF MY HEAD ##coronavirus ##cardib ##virus

♬ CORONAVIRUS wobruno – wobruno

Which brings me to autoethnography. For the non-academic folks, autoethnography is the most fun research method because, for Ellis, Adams and Bochner, it “seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience,” using bits of autobiography and ethnography. If ethnography is about the study of cultural practices through participant observation, autoethnography is about you and your understanding of that culture.

And nothing represents our current culture – whether you’re a pole dance instructor or a remote worker with a team to communicate with – like video conferencing app Zoom.

How I Have Been Using Zoom

I’d like this to be clear: this is not an ad for Zoom. But Zoom is the service I’ve seen most teams – and most instructors – use so far. Wonder if this meme has already spilled the tea…

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For the uninitiated, Zoom is a video conferencing app that has been around for a while. I have been using it since last year, since the time I did a podcast interview with my friend Emma from A Girl In Progress, the savviest home-working queen based in Australia.

Looks like you can use Zoom for pretty much everything from online meetings, training sessions, webinars, events, file sharing and the like. They are probably one of the few businesses that are thriving right now. So here are my tips / consideration about the app.

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Hello MTV and welcome to my crib (yes, that is a flying penis behind me. It’s my Sexual Freedom Awards trophy. Sue me.)

Before Your Zoom Class

Be Flexible

I won’t go on about the opportunities this challenging time offers, but the fact we’re all stuck at home without access to our local gyms / studios means people from all over the world could be taking a class with you. I’ve had my first US-based class this week – well done Aurora / @aurorasparklez! – and that was only possible because my studio has some classes later in the day that can be joined from different time-zones. People might want to work out in the morning, or during their lunch break. So allow for a schedule that fits all needs.

Make Sure You Have A Cut-Off Period For Booking

Up until a few years ago, people perceived online spaces as ‘elsewhere’ from what they viewed as ‘real life’. However, as everything you would consider part of real life – paying bills, working, dating etc – has moved online, this concept of social networks or online spaces as being detached from life doesn’t hold up. This has become very apparent in my experience in teaching via Zoom.

In my pole dance studio, students can’t book a class via our website or via the Mindbody app if they try to do so just an hour before the class takes place. This is because if the instructor were to travel to the studio even for a one-person class, they’d need an hour to get there from most areas of London.

When we started teaching our online classes, the day after our schedule was published, I didn’t have anyone signed up for my first lunchtime twerk class and just assumed the cut-off period for booking was going to be the same as offline classes. But we hadn’t introduced a cut-off period, and someone was able to book five minutes before when I was already occupied doing something else – so I dropped everything and taught.

Especially if you’re working from home and doing a variety of other jobs like me, having at least a 20-minute cut-off period for booking might help prevent this. This is because if you’re on an urgent work call, or have any other sort of emergency, you are at least warned whether your class is taking place or not – which is considerate to both you and your students.

Setting Up

Find your ideal position for your laptop or phone, so that your students can see you demonstrate effectively and so that you have enough space to do what you’re meant to do. If you’re wondering about how to set up your home pole (and laptop for zoom) I’d recommend to have one meter of space in each direction to allow space for your legs and heels – more on house poles set up here.

It’s also worth choreographing things that don’t require much traveling around your room and much direction changing. Especially in London, flats aren’t always so spacious to allow you to fish flop or somersault around – and when you’re choreographing a lap dance routine going to and from the chair, you’ll have to shift your laptop in between.

Music

With Zoom, you can use either your phone or computer audio – which may be tricky if you want to put music on for the warm-up, or if you need a song for your routine.

This is easy to solve if you own both a phone and a laptop: connect your phone to your speakers and use Spotify through your phone, so that you can use your laptop to speak. You can record the chat through Zoom if you want to take screenshots or snippets to post on social media or send to your students.

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Schedule Via The Zoom App

Add your classes to your calendar so that you can prepare for them and get in the mood at least half an hour before. Get a drink of water, wear the right clothes, pee. This seems silly, but being at home can make you forget all the steps you take when teaching at your studio – and if you’re teaching three hours in a row, that can be challenging.

Unless you have Zoom for Business, meetings with more than 3 people are cut at 40 minutes – which means you’d have to call again in the middle of a class after you’re cut off. I have found so far that by scheduling the meetings through the Zoom app in advance, Zoom automatically upgrades my meetings for free, so for now I haven’t had that challenge.

Otherwise, it might be worth upgrading your Zoom studio account to business, provided you don’t have two or more classes happening at the same time.

Educate

Most of your students will be familiar with Zoom and its etiquette. If they are not, try to write a post giving them info on how to use it – e.g. that they have to download the app and that they have to be on time; that you’ll give them a meeting ID and password for them to join, and that they should mute themselves if they aren’t talking. We did something along those lines here.

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We’ve worked really hard all weekend to put together an #onlineclass schedule for you – and you can start your classes from tomorrow! 💪🏼 We’ve included classes you can do with a pole and a series of new classes to keep you fit and sexy even if you don’t have one – from twerk to #floorwork, from lap dance to anti-desk #stretching, from chair dance to handstands, from #heels dance to #conditioning, you just have to take your pick ❤ These classes are drop-in and are separate from your studio packages which we’ve frozen until all of this (hopefully) ends. 30 min classes cost £5 and 45-min, 1 hr and 1,5hr classes cost £10. The classes are non-refundable and require you to download #zoom to join – we’ll send you a Zoom link after you sign-up so you can join. At the end of classes the instructor will send you videos to work on what you learnt 📲 A little perk for those of you #selfisolating in flats with other people: we will charge by connection to Zoom, so if you live in the same flat and want to join a class together, we’ll only charge you once. Excited to see you all from our screens ❤ sign up via @mindbody or our website selecting “Exotica Pole Dance School Bermondsey” ❤

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During Your Zoom Class

Difficulty and Safety

Depending on the sport you’re teaching via Zoom, it might be worth considering whether what you are teaching is too dangerous to be taught remotely.

In classes like a pole tricks, a lap dance or a twerk class, some acrobatic moves can be dangerous if taught without the opportunity to spot the student. So I try to make sure that I’m very aware of the student’s abilities, and don’t teach them things I think it’d be safer to show them face-to-face.

I am insured even for online classes – something worth looking into – but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Plus, what I’ve found in this difficult time is that students are more interested human interaction, keeping busy and holding onto their strengths rather than in overly challenging themselves – they won’t expect you to push them too hard.

When it comes to choreography classes, too, I’d normally teach 1 minute, or 1:10 minutes of choreo face-to-face. Online though, with the need to run through movements over and over due to reduced visibility, I’d stick to choreographing routines of 45 seconds or one minute tops – or to teaching longer routines over a couple of weeks.

Clarity

While teaching from home, you’ll have to be even clearer in your explanations. Explain each movement thoroughly, compare it to what you’d do in an offline class or use funny comparisons so that the students can easily pick it up – e.g., in teaching twerk, I’d accentuate the wrong movements even more to show the students what they shouldn’t be doing, etc.

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Had my first classes yesterday and now I’m all excited to get your booties in gear! For girls that have never twerked before – don’t worry! This is the perfect time to start 🙂 our first classes will be all about absolute beginner technique, and after a couple of weeks we’ll be dancing to this. 🎶: “Work From Home” by @fifthharmony directly from @spotify’s #covid19 #selfisolation / #coronavirus party playlists 😂😂😂 it was bound to happen so now you can (t)werk from home 😅 sorry 😅 💻📲 Also, if you check the link in my bio I’ve just written a blog post about finding #motivation for your #homeworkout – as a #poledancer or just in general – written from the perspective of someone who has always been #poledancing or #training at home. Hope it helps!

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An element of clarity is, unfortunately, shouting at your laptop. You will do a lot of this, you’ll feel crazy, you will feel even crazier while doing it upside down, and you’ll be even more cooked at the end of a Zoom class than you were when teaching offline. I’m trying to limit this as much as possible by explaining the movement while demonstrating it and shouting first, and then by going in front of the laptop, without demonstrating it or shouting, the second time.

Grid Mode

To prevent yourself from going nuts, please, for the love of God, switch from Speaker Mode to Grid Mode. That way, if someone sneezes or breathes really loudly, the screen won’t automatically switch to them, blowing their face up in a giant window in that super disorienting video conferencing way.

Through Grid mode, you will see all your students and go slightly less nuts. It also helps with the next point…

Allow Time For Questions

I try to teach small bits and then ask each student if they have a question – which is more effective while done in Grid mode, because if the students don’t have any, you will see most of them shaking their head. I also allow for questions at the end of each class, and I try to recap what happened and what’s gonna happen next time.

After Your Zoom Class

Videos

I try to send a video of my choreography or of the tricks learnt – filmed as clearly as possible – to my students after the class. That way, they can replicate what we’ve done and they can refer to it. For speed, you can also post it on your IG or YouTube and share the link.

Ask Your Students To Share / Post Their Videos

If the students consent to do so, having them post footage of either their experience of your Zoom class, or of them doing what they’ve learnt, can help you 1) see if they actually got the moves 2) promote your own class 3) get extra content for the studio Instagram. It’s a win-win.

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Considerations

As a massive introvert masking as an extrovert, I actually really enjoy teaching online because I feel like I can do so from my safe space – my home. However, as someone who works with and researchers on the Internet and social media for a living, I also feel like I’m in this connection loop that never ends. So it’s very important that I – and therefore you – allow time for breaks and bits of the day when you’re disconnected.

On Tuesday last week, I taught a lap dance class with 8 people. It was really fun – but I was cooked after. My brain was not working. So bear in mind that, because of the shouting and because you’re going to be staring at a screen for a long time, your head is going to hurt.

In between private classes and group classes through my studio, I’m finding that I am teaching more through Zoom than I used to teach offline. This is partly due to the fact I don’t need to allow for travel time to the studio, and to the fact that demand is high at the moment. But that is a lot of training time, so remember to avoid overbooking yourself – you need to enjoy training, and you need to look after your muscles and take breaks.

Overall however, I am very happy I can still do what I love – pole and related stuff – and teach it remotely in this very difficult time.

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Given that we’re all trying to limit our time outside while also not going completely nuts, I am going to take up a few requests I got in the past and start to offer 1-1 classes via #Skype, #Facetime or #Zoom. Please be aware that this is SEPARATE from my home studio – so if the government orders studios and gyms to shut, you CAN’T convert your Exotica package into a private with me. You can look at the studio IG for updates on freezing your membership and to see we’re still open, but this is something I am doing separately to support myself. Things I can offer: 1️⃣ Lap dance 1-1 2️⃣ Floorwork 1-1 3️⃣ Conditioning 1-1s for pole 4️⃣ 1-1s For My Style of Twerk If you have a #homepole, I can also help with pole combos and small #exotic routines. Pick a song – this was chosen by my first Skype private student and it’s @theweeknd’s Call Out My Name – and I’ll do a choreo to it. If you’re not based in #London / #Hackney and you’ve ever wanted to learn from me, this is your chance – DM for rates! 📩 I will also be doing some short, free videos to keep yourself active in a sexy and fun way even if you’re self-isolating. This is to keep myself and all of you sane 💕 thank you to my lovely student @shaye.lo for filming 🥰 🇮🇹 Se siete italiane/i e vi state annoiando in quarantena inizieró ad offrire lezioni private su Skype, mandatemi un messaggio per i costi e info 😘

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Privacy and Consent: Worth Noting When Teaching Remotely

While I have been enjoying my experience with Zoom and while my work on it has been relatively harmless/ outside traditional office structures, the company has come under fire for privacy issues in the past few years and also very recently, so here are a few things you need to be aware of before you use it – as written by ProtonMail:

  • Zoom’s privacy policy states it collects data on you, including your name, physical address, email address, phone number, job title, employer. This isn’t new though – so many social media platforms / apps already do and sadly, staying connected is always a trade-off;
  • If you are on a Zoom call and you click away from Zoom, the host of the call will be notified after 30 seconds;
  • Zoom became involved in a camera hacking bug last year, which has since been removed.
  • There are growing concerns about “Zoombombing”, i.e. others infiltrating your Zoom call to share inappropriate content or even shout abuse.

With the culture of screenshotting your Zoom class to promote yourself, don’t forget to ask for consent, as written in this post by @polegrrl that Lauren Elise brought to my attention:

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Having worked in digital marketing and advertising for well over 15 years now, I want to call out a couple of privacy concerns I’m seeing with the shift to online classes. I, like many want to support and promote small businesses to maintain revenue, but we need to be careful about how we do so. A rule of thumb I would suggest is ‘Has the user explicitly consented for me to use their data and private information in the way that I plan to?’ . . 1. Violation of user data and privacy (PII data breach – Any data that can be used to identify a specific individual) Main issue in short – as the user is in their PRIVATE home and NOT your premises, you CANNOT screenshot, take a picture or video without their EXPLICIT consent of that content before posting online. The PII data breach is worse again if the captured image has data about that person – name, what their house looks like (hello break in) or their sociodemographic status (ie are they wealthy or low income) – info about that user that no one would have been privy to without your post. This is literally putting business at risk – legal might not come looking for you but if you have a user where the above has happened and they are uncomfortable, they WILL report you. If you have done this, STOP. You are also putting your business at risk when paying users simply stop using your services because they are extremely uncomfortable with the public posting of their class participation, but are too nervous to tell the business owner. I would also suggest that businesses draft a consent form for all participants to explicitly state what they intend to do with the data from classes and also what the participant is not allowed to do – ie pin anyone apart from the instructor, not actively participate (ie they can’t just sit there and watch, hello creepy), and they definitely, definitely cannot take any recodings or screenshots for their own personal use (or put online, like geez). (Continued in comments)

A post shared by polegrrrrl (@polegrrrrl) on

In short, Zoom isn’t always GDPR compliant – but unfortunately, if your students when being informed about the app still accept the terms and conditions, there’s not much more you can do. At the moment, Zoom IS the app I am seeing most people use for video classes / video conferencing, both my academic and pole network have taken it up. So here’s how you can protect your data:

  • Use two devices during Zoom calls – e.g if you are on a Zoom call on your laptop, use your phone to check emails / chat in order not to trigger the attention tracking alert;
  • Do not use Facebook to sign in, as it increases the amount of personal data Zoom has access to;
  • Keep your Zoom app updated. This way, any bugs or controversial issues will be removed.
  • Prevent intruders and Zoombombing on your calls. You can do so by going to Settings and turning Screen Sharing to “Host only,” before a public call. It’s also recommended that you disable “Join Before Host,” and “Allow Removed Participants to Rejoin,” and that you disable “File Transfers.” If you can – and I have been doing this – you should also protect your conference call with a password.

[Advice Source: ProtonMail].

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