Why I Stopped Teaching Group Exercise

My creative writing professor told me the best time to write creatively about something that’s happened is when you’ve gotten some distance from it. Two years and a few months after I effectively “retired” from teaching group exercise, I think it’s time to write about the end of an era especially since I’ve determined I have no interest in returning to that job.Β 

I fell into group exercise work by accident because the gym I was attending needed instructors and scouted their own members. It was a little like finding a new hobby: first I started participating in member dance competitions, then they said I could audition to be an instructor, and then I started making some money from teaching. I was undergoing some stress in my life from the day job I had at the time, so I quit to teach full-time and also to open myself up for writing and producing assignments at a TV channel.

(Yeah, that’s the sped-up, simplified version of it.)

Thrilled at first to have control of my own time and get paid for doing what I loved, I went three years apprenticing and then campaigning for my own regular classes. For someone with no dance or yoga background prior to teacher training, I think I did pretty well. But if I wanted to develop further as an instructor I would need to make large investments in training. It wasn’t something I could afford on the salary I was making, especially since we also needed to acquire new material every quarter.

When I finally sat down to compute how much I was making versus how much I was spending on materials, transport and parking to get to classes, and personal upkeep, I realized I was barely breaking even. And that’s what made me start thinking about what kind of a future I would have in that industry.

Teaching group fitness using pre-programmed materials can be an amazing sideline for someone who has a regular job. It’s a creative outlet and yes, a hobby that can pay for itself if you take on enough classes. Making it a full-time job is a different matter, especially with the low pay grade and few pathways to full employment status with the gym chain.

I’m still not sure why I quit when I did, after seven years — at the time I had no employment opportunities on the horizon, although I had a few students in running and kiddie swimming. I just felt in my gut it was time to go. I think it was God’s way of telling me I had to clear my plate to get the next course. Sure enough, the very next month I got an offer to work on a writing project. And then another one as the year progressed.

Teaching group exercise was a very enriching experience, don’t get me wrong. It completely eliminated my paralyzing stage fright and helped me learn how to perform in public. It showed me that with enough determination, hard work, and practice I could be a convincing and effective facsimile of a dance and yoga instructor. It was also just what I needed at that point.Β But it was not the endpoint of my life career path.

A year after I resigned, I signed up again for a membership back at the gym. I’ve attended some group exercise classes and it’s a different experience on the participant’s side of the studio. The programs I used to teach have kept developing and I somehow doubt I could have stayed abreast as an instructor beyond the point when I left. And while I enjoyed teaching very much, I now know it was good but not great.

And sometimes we have to let go of the good to go for the great.

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