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R.I.P.: Interview with Dimitris Koutras on the International Congress of aerobics in Praha – Průhonice in 9 – 10th October 1999
Dimitris Koutras is the director of the Austrian IFAA. He focuses on dance forms of aerobics such as Latin or Salsa. I spoke with him on Saturday, the first day of IFAA Congress.
• How many times have you been on this workshop?
I think four or five times in Praha. I was also once in Bratislava.
• Which was better – Praha or Bratislava?
Well, Prague’s congress is bigger with more people but in Bratislava it was I think in 96 and then everything was different. Especially it was easier to teach. Now you have to be very careful. I remember last year when I came here, at the beginning people were like: “We’ll see what you have to show us… “At the end it turned out in a very nice atmosphere but the beginning was very hard. The people here are very good, lots of good presenters who’ve also been teaching here come to these lessons and they see a lot and judge you.
• Are they strict?
I wouldn’t say strict, I’d rather say that they appreciate when you’ve done a good job and they show it to you. And this is the difference between Germans and Czechs – people really appreciate it maybe because they don’t have the chance to have so many presenters every month or so. In Germany it’s a common thing and people are used to it. If I compare the same class here and in Germany – there the people clap their hands to thank you when the lesson is over whereas here the people go “Wow, it was perfect!” This feed back is very important for presenters.
• Do you think that Czechs put more emotions into it?
Yes, they are very nice and it’s a pleasure to work with them.
• Who comes here – mostly instructors or also other people?
I see that some people understand what I am doing from the very beginning. I see who is instructor and I also see who is educated instructor, which is not the same category – there are still lots of instructors who don’t have education. They can understand the step that I’m doing but they don’t understand the way I break it down, the way that I put two things together so that everything fits together. Some people have difficulties to follow this method, as this is what you learn for your diploma. On the whole I would say that there are instructors or very good members of their studios because they do it very well. Although, I haven’t been to any studio in Prague so I cannot really say.
• Would you recommend such an event to a normal person who is a big fan of aerobics but has never done exercise with “crowds” and is a little bit scared?
Oh yes, definitely, even if it’s a little bit difficult for someone who does it for the first time. Here you get the feeling and the atmosphere, which is completely different from exercising in a small studio. If nothing else, it’s a great experience.
• Aerobic instructors come here to such workshops to pick up new ideas, to see new choreography – where do you go to get your inspiration?
• On vacation?
Yes. If I go for two weeks then ten days I do nothing…
• Nothing at all? No sport?
Sport yes, it depends on where I go. During summer I like to do some water sports and in winter I go snowboarding. In summer when I am on the beach, I rest but I also try and think about new things. When I am on such conventions, of course, I look at other instructors and I am not interested in what the choreography is like but I am interested in the way they build it up, the way they present themselves. Maybe I see one step in other variation, I take it, turn it somehow or put another with it and that’s it. Most of the choreography here are mostly basic steps but in a variation in direction, putting two elements together, playing with a music like double-tempo, etc... Sometimes I even take my old choreography and think of every step of another way it could be done.
• You probably repeat one choreography very often. What do you do to make your lessons more attractive for yourself?
I usually use one choreography in conventions for six months. It depends on where I go – if I am in different places like in Berlin, than in Budapest, Prague and Munich I use the same one. It’s nice because I know the choreography. I know where the difficult part is and every time it’s a little bit different as the energy that comes from the people is different. When I teach in my studios in Germany, I do every week different choreography. So I am OK, I cannot get bored.
• I have heard very good things about your teaching skills. What would you advice to instructors on how to teach people?
First of all I would advice people to get education because the education is the base.
• Someone might think that he or she has lots of experience, he’s done lots of exercise and this is something he can build on. But this is obviously not your opinion.
You are right, there are some people like this but for me the education is the most important thing. But if you have been in a lot of seminars and have the skills – you can work with the music, work with teaching, with your cueing verbal and non-verbal then maybe you don’t have to do the basic education and maybe you can do the advanced level. But education is a must, because then you can go up. If you don’t have the education, you stay as you always miss at least one part. I could compare it to building of a pyramid. If the base is big then you will build a big pyramid and vice versa. This is what I teach in my classes for instructors. There are some things that cannot be left out; for example I myself work a lot to build up my choreography. When I do my choreography, I spend exactly the same time to create it and the same time build it up, how to put steps together. It’s important to teach just one thing at a time and when they can do it you go further.
• How can one recognize a good instructor?
A good instructor is like a puzzle created from pieces represented by technique, verbal and non-verbal cueing, music, choreography that has to fit together and to be fluent, the breakdown from choreography and then on the other side you have motivation and animation. I compare it to decathlets. Do you know who are decathlets? They run, jump – like Dvorak – he is the best decathlet. He is not the best in running, or in jumping but he is very good in everything and that’s why he is the best. If he was good only in one thing than he couldn’t win. And that’s the same with instructors. You have to be good in everything. It doesn’t matter that your technique is the best if other points are very weak. The presenters I’ve seen here are very good in everything and some are excellent in some parts. For example there maybe some people who are be better in technique than I am and I am maybe better in motivating people or teaching my choreography.
• That sounds quite difficult…
No and this what an education does.
• What if I come to a gym and notice that my instructor is not very good that he is doing something what might be even dangerous?
It depends on whether you are a beginner or an experienced member. If you are a beginner than it’s just the first impression that you have from your instructor, it’s the energy between your and the instructor. You don’t know about the steps, you don’t know how he is going to build up. But what you want to do is to get good exercise for your cardiovascular training and you want to have some fun.
• And what if I know something about it?
If you know something about it then shouldn’t do the things you think are not correct or talk to your instructor and ask him or her why he or she is doing it this way. Maybe he has a reason for it and can explain it to you.
So you think I don’t have to worry about offending him or her…
No, no… just ask him/her, maybe he/she knows more about it and can explain it to you. Just tell him/her that you don’t feel good if you do this exercise and he/she should be able to give you a satisfactory answer.
• There has been a discussion whether it’s better to do exercise in the morning or in the evening (people who work usually don’t have other choice) – what do you think about it? Which is more efficient?
I prefer doing the exercise in the evening because I like sleeping in the morning. This is very individual. I haven’t read anything about different impact on your body in mornings or in evenings. Compared to other sports aerobic is not a competitive sport, it’s more like a training so you can do it anytime. I wouldn’t recommend either way. But there might be some latest tests that I haven’t read and I might be wrong. If it was competitive and your competition is in the evening than your training should also be in the evening because your body gets used to it and will be ready at the right moment. For example before I got to the University I had to go through a competition in a long jump and I trained it in the evening but the competition was in the morning. Then my professor came and gave me this advice.
• What would you recommend to those who’ve been doing exercise for a long time, are in a good shape, are fit and well but don’t have a specific goal? For example improvements in fitness are visible but how can one measure improvements in aerobics?
This is the difference between aerobics and other sports. Because in aerobics you don’t have the clock to say: “OK you run 100 meters in 10 seconds and your goal is to run in 9.8 seconds”. And you don’t have a meter to measure your jumps. It’s not a competitive sport. What you do is you can improve yourself in different way, especially your technique. Try to do the movements and steps with strength and accurately. You can improve your understanding of more things about aerobics. I think that the best goal that you should have is to have fun. If there is someone who wants the competition, then he usually picks up a new sport at the same time. Because the people in aerobics don’t compete – we work together, we have a cardiovascular training, but we don’t compete.
• Don’t you feel even inside yourself that you could be better than say your colleague?
It’s difficult to say who is better. I could apply the same with the puzzle I said before. Someone is better in technique, someone in something else… it’s not a competition.
• At the end of the day it’s actually the audience, the people who say who is better if they come back for his lesson.
Yes and someone could say that this presenter is better… That’s maybe because he has more experience, or maybe he does something better than I do… I just don’t compete against other presenters, I compete with myself. If I see someone doing something better I try to improve it as well.
• My experience says that besides other criteria I can divide instructors according to how they are demanding in lesson: some prefer having smiling and joking people in the gym and let them no to do as many push ups as they should. The other pushes people hard to make even another set of 8 in working out because they know it’s “good for them”. I myself prefer the second one – I like felling even the day after that I’ve done something for my body. What do you think about it?
I think ideal is the combination. You say that you like to work hard. But there are also some people who don’t want to work so hard. They just want to take part in the exercise, have fun and you should let them be. Also you should feel the energy and feel where the boarders are. You have to ask yourself: can they do one more time? A good instructor should be able to combine both methods according to his trainees.
• Should the instructor follow the trainee who has come to his lesson for the first time and is slow? What about the rest of people – what if he puts them off?
The problem is that aerobic is a group exercise. This is a question of cooperation of the instructor with the reception. If you have a beginner in an advance class, then you cannot help him because it would be unfair to other people. To avoid this happen you really need to work with the reception. If I have a beginners’ class and I see someone new I go to him and tell him what is going to be about, I tell him that he should just do marching if there are some parts that he cannot do. Just don’t leave him alone. But I try to do this at the beginning.
• What would be your message to those who are afraid to come to the gym because of their big size of leotard? They might be afraid to do the exercise in public?
I would tell them to give it a try. Go and try it. Even if it might not be a good experience for the first time it will always be better for the next time. They should also get advice from the instructor what to do and what class to join. If the aerobics is not the right thing then try some fitness training at least to get the atmosphere so that they can say whether they like it or not.
• Some people might think that not slim enough instructor equals not good enough instructor. What do you think?
The problem is that the instructor is like the picture. He should be the goal of their exercise. But I think that some people don’t have the best figure but they are very good instructors. If someone is good I don’t care if he has a little bit more weight.
• Don’t you think that having done lots of exercise and being good brings along a good figure?
Let me answer with a question: What about a woman who used to be a slim instructor but has a baby and after that she puts on some kilos?
• OK. Fair enough. It happened to me a couple of times that I judged the instructor just according to his or her look but at the end of the lesson I had to admit myself that the exercise with her was very good.
Yes, that is the problem of the first impression. It’s normal but I try not to judge people by the way they look and try to let them show what they can do.
• That was funny, as first I thought it would be a boring lesson but at the end of it I was sweated as never before.
And do you know why? Because they know about this weak point of theirs so they work even harder and put a lot of energy into the exercise. It’s a psychological aspect that plays a big role.
• What will the future of aerobic be like? Judging by fast changes in our life that for example Internet has brought I sometimes fear that people will soon stop going to gym and will prefer doing exercise at home in from of their computers connected to exercise programs of their favorite instructors…
I don’t have anything against computer of Internet, I myself work with it but there is a big difference. Why do you think that people come to a gym? They can stay at home, they can buy a machine, they can buy a videotape instead of having to pay for every lesson in the gym. But they still keep coming to the gym. The problem is that at home you have no motivation, or much smaller motivation than you have among other people. When I have to do training with weights at home I just don’t do it because I have no motivation. I am definitely not afraid of empty gyms.
• And what do you think about the future of aerobic? Will it get faster or more complicated?
It think that it will not get more complicated, I would rather say that it will slightly go back to the roots. You can do lots of variation and turns but only a few people can follow you. And my goal is to bring more people to the gym. This is also what I see in the inventions. The presenters don’t do too difficult lessons – I see lots of choreographies nicely put together, nicely built up and this is the right direction for aerobic for the future.
• What about new styles?
Every year comes something new… We have to wait and see what will establish. There’ve been some things that have established very well like step but also styles that have not established like slide. It’s always about the way you provide things, about the marketing and how the product sells.
• What is your favourite new style?
New style… I actually don’t have a new favourite style… I’m doing my aerobics, step, Latin…
• You are not preparing something else?
There is some new thing, they call it Toe Bo – it’s a new style from America. It’s aerobic combined with boxing and some kicks and karate – this is something new for the moment. But we have to wait and see. I am not always excited about every new style and I don’t want to do a new style just because is new. I stay with the things that I can do best.
• What have you prepared for tomorrow?
The Latin class is like an aerobics class with some Latin elements – some mambos, chachas and things like this and at the end I have one song and the exercise fits together exactly with the music. It was difficult for me to create this lesson because last year it was my best Latin class I’ve ever made in my whole life. It was last year in Prague… After the exercise the people were applauding so long and for me it was a great feeling. Even now when I talk about it I feel the atmosphere… So it was very hard to create something at least as good as last year. But I hope it will be good.
• So thank you very much for your answers and good luck for tomorrow. I look forward to it!
The following day, a couple of minutes before the above mentioned Latin class…
• What are your feelings just before the exercise? What is going in your mind?
I am looking forward to it and getting ready…
• Are you nervous?
I am trying to be a little bit nervous, because if you do it very often, then it can become a bit of a routine although it’s always a little bit different. But I am very happy to be here again, I want to have some fun and this is what I also want for the people.
• I’m sure we will have lots of fun.
So we did. The lesson was just excellent. Dimitris did what he promised – he taught several hundreds of people many steps that looked dangerous at first but turned into a very elegant dance. Believe it or not the exercise started exactly with the first tone of Mambo no. 5 and ended with the last one. Surprisingly enough, for cool down he chose a Czech song by Marta Kubišová and sang along…in Czech of course. As far as I can tell, I think I met a great instructor with even a greater personality. Let’s hope he has lots of students as he has a lot he can teach…
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text: archiv Aerobic.cz – 06. 11. 2012, 16.20:57