Whether you’re jumping out of bed to get started with your day (ha!), going on a beer run, or dancing like a maniac because you passed your finals, it seems like you can always find a way to work some physical activity into your day when you’re in college.
Once you enter the working world, it can be a little harder. You drive to work, sit in front of the computer and in meetings all day, and drive back home, where you sit on your couch…
But what if your office wasn’t an office at all and instead you worked in a dance studio where you were actually getting paid to sweat? We caught up with Andreina Febres, Zumba Instructor at various studios in Oakland, to learn the ups and downs (and twists and turns—it is dance, after all) of working as a fitness instructor.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Cal State East Bay, where I majored in Business Administration and minored in Marketing. I also have a Professional Photography Degree from Laney College.
How did you decide to become a Zumba instructor?
I learned about the instructor training from my sister-in-law, who was planning to become certified. At that stage, I’d gone to a few classes. The first time, I went with a group of Venezuelan friends who were all dancing behind me, and after class, my friends said that it was hard to follow the instructor, so they followed me instead. I hadn’t been thinking of becoming an instructor; it wasn’t on my radar at all. But then the combination of my friends encouraging me and my sister-in-law going to get the certification convinced me to do it. I had always loved motivating people to dance—whenever I went to a wedding I’d be there trying to get everyone on the dance floor.
What was the certification process like?
It’s basically a full day from 9 to 5. You talk about technique, how Zumba started, and the core of Zumba so people can interpret it in their own way. They teach you the four basic Latin rhythms—merengue, salsa, etc.
They also tell you the framework, like use X number of steps per song. We had some classes where we sat and took notes and other practical parts where we tried to teach and learn others’ routines.
We also covered how to cue a class to show them the steps. Some people talk, some people use their hands, some people clap, etc.
How long does the certification last?
There are two scenarios—one is you go, get certified, and that certification is good for a year. It’s up to you or the studio where you’re teaching to pay attention to when it expires and renew your certificate. In that case, you have to go back again for the full-day training in order to get certified again.
Or, in the second scenario, you can become part of the ZIN (ZUMBA instructor network). You pay a monthly fee of $30 and you don’t need to go through the certification process again. That payment also includes ongoing training, CDs, and DVDs, and choreography for you to use in class. You don’t necessarily have to use the materials they provide, but they do prefer you to use some of it so you stay true to the Zumba core. I always use some of it because I’m not a professional choreographer and I don’t have the time or ability to create all original routines.
Do you have to do any ongoing or additional training?
Most places where you teach require you to have CPR training and insurance to cover you in case anything happens to students during your class. The CPR training is every two years and insurance needs to be renewed every year.
Are you responsible for marketing your classes and bringing students in?
When you teach at a gym, you usually get paid a flat rate and it doesn’t matter how many students show up. At other places, you get paid per head and they have a database that you have access to. Zumba gives you some marketing tools, for example you can print out business cards and flyers with the logo, so it’s not like you’re entirely on your own.
One of the great things about Zumba is that you have that brand recognition. People find you without you making an effort. Zumba’s marketing is amazing. And we can fill out our profile on the site. I also do Yelp. Without doing anything I get phone calls from people looking for classes every week.
What are your main responsibilities and activities as an instructor?
The major responsibility is to prepare classes, like any other teacher in any field. For me, this means learning the choreography and practicing. At the beginning it took me a lot of time—easily 1.5 hours to choreograph one song and to know it by heart. With experience or not being as nervous, I would say that now it takes me about half an hour. After you teach it the first time, that counts as practice, and if you teach multiple classes, by the end of the week you’ve got it down.
Another responsibility is coming with enough energy to get a class going and make sure everybody is safe and comfortable in the studio.
Another activity (which isn’t required and is more of a personal choice) is to do outside events, like flash mobs or performing. It’s always nice to expose yourself to something different and meet new students.
You’re not required to attend, but Zumba has conferences once a year for more training. Many of my friends go, and you can get certified for other, more specialized classes, like Zumba for kids.
I’m also currently planning a Zumba retreat in Tulum, Mexico.
How did you come up with that idea and organize the trip?
Many times when I’d talk to friends from class, they’d say it’d be great to take a vacation together, so the idea was always in the back of my mind. I thought I could combine a family vacation with a retreat. I also have a friend who used to be my Samba instructor and I know she had taken people on retreats in the past. I reached out to her to see if we could join forces. It works out well because all her classes are in the city so she has a different group of students.
We started by picking a date (which I’ve now I realized is not the best for mothers with children in school, but hey, you learn!) and then we picked a location. I reached out to a lot of hotels. There was a lot of communication back and forth to find the right location.
We weren’t setting out to make a ton of money; I just wanted to be able to pay for my family to come with me. I did the math and figured out how much I’d need to pay for my family (a good use of my business background!). We started making flyers, getting the word out there, and now I have 20 students and she has about the same.
What is your favorite part about this job?
Getting to dance and seeing other people dancing and socializing. It’s a very different environment compared to working in an office. The social aspect of walking into a class and the relationships I’ve been able to create through Zumba are unbelievable. I have kids and have limited free time outside my house, so going to class is such a treat. I’m making people dance and feel better about themselves.
What is the most challenging part of this job?
Any time you are sick or can’t show up for any reason, that commitment that you have maybe 30 people waiting for you. It’s a big difference just taking a class compared to teaching it. You’ve made a commitment to being there for a big group.
If you’re not feeling well, you kind of have to put on a show and not say that in front of the class as you might to a friend. Going on vacation and trying to schedule subs that people like. It takes a lot of time and effort to find a sub that you think is good, and even so a lot of people don’t want to show up when you have a sub.
Would you say that you use your degree in your current job?
There is some of it that I use. It helps me to market myself whether it’s on paper or trying to communicate to my audience, being up-to-date on things like social media, knowing how to relate to people and understand cultural differences—that helps with any relationship in the business world or personal world. And I always bring ideas to the studios where I teach on how they can improve as a business.
What do you think are the most important skills/characteristics of a successful fitness instructor?
You have to like people and feel comfortable with people. You also have to be comfortable with yourself, so it takes self-acceptance, confidence, and feeling comfortable with your body because you’re in front of a lot of people and that could be intimidating.
Being aware of others and giving personal attention to people as much as you can and making sure that you’re connecting with them. When I can see someone’s face and smile with them, I feel like that’s a key. I want to make sure that students know I see them and am aware of them. I think people come back because they feel welcome or maybe I introduced them to someone else in class, I think social skills play a huge part in being able to motivate others. You want to motivate them to feel like they can do it themselves.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in pursuing a career in this field?
You have to really enjoy exercising and sweating as many times as you commit to. You have to have passion to dance—you’re a not a doctor or nurse but you’re helping others to get out of their insecurities, body concerns, lack of fitness. Being able to motivate others is one of the most rewarding things I can do. It makes it all worth it. It gives me the chance to socialize as a working mom.
You’re a Zumba instructor part-time. Do you know if many people make a full-time career out of it?
I think 99% of people do it as a side job, unless they get a job training instructors. I have a friend who teaches up to 60 classes a month (13 a week). I think at this point she’s doing it full-time. She came up with a business idea and she brings Zumba and other classes to offices so companies can offer them to their employees during the day.
I think only teaching would be too hard on my body. I see people who teach a variety of classes (Zumba, yoga, etc.) and they can teach a few classes a day. In Zumba, you have to do all the moves because any time you stop, the students stop, too.
If you really wanted to be in fitness full-time, one path would be managing a studio or working as a group director at a gym. You are managing people but also teaching classes. I think it’d be exhausting to teach all day, so it’d have to be something less strenuous. For me, the max is two classes a day.
Homework time! Agree that you don’t want to work in an office and think you might like a fitness instructor gig, too? Andreina mentions that she has to have CPR training and insurance to cover liability. Some gyms or studios might also require you to have first aid training. Do a little research about what you might need to get started.