Step Training: Breakdown School
Breakdown isn’t equal breakdown

The breakdown is something where everybody has a different comprehension about. Somebody thinks breakdown is a way to simplify the complex choreography to the basic moves, another instructor calls breakdown the teaching progression. Anyway breakdown is something necessary to make the choreography and to bring it to the participants. There are no step classes without any breakdown. Even if you just show the complete choreography and let the participants to repeat it, it's your way to teach it. However for the good choreography and the good step class I have to do these three independent activities:

1. First of all I have to write a good step choreography (COMPOSITION)

2. Then I reduce the choreography to its basics (DECOMPOSITION)

3. And finally I find a way to teach the choreography from its basics (TEACHING PROGRESSION)

These three things together I'll call from now breakdown (and it's no matter if you are calling them using different terms, the contents matter).


I have a lot of new and old step ideas and now I have to join them to something that we are calling choreography. Please don't worry about teaching on this step. Just make a nice choreography. These are the questions to solve here:

1. Which music track will I use for my final product? Non-standard music requires non-standard choreographies. Look for nice pause filling and final beats accents if you plan a little show.

2. How many counts long the choreography should be? Usually I use 64, 80 or 96 counts. On principle any length divisible by 16 is applicable for standard aerobic music.

3. Do I make some routines (independent parts of the choreography which can be taught separately)? How much? Usually I make three 32 cts routines or five 16 cts routines. You can also do 64 or 96 cts en block if you have no problems on teaching it (you will need some special ideas for doing that). Anyway I recommend having a leg change within any routine and teaching them separately.

4. Which moves can be used with this participant's level? Too easy moves will be as fatal as too hard moves. Do not use only new difficult moves. Let them have a "break" on doing some known moves.

5. Combine the moves to the routines and try them. Attend to fluent moves and unbroken turns within and between the moves. Broken turns like V-Step after Reverse Turn will disturb the fluent flow especially in the advanced choreographies.

6. Does your routine have a required change of leading foot? If not try to add it by changing the moves (e.g. Basic to Knee Lift), not by adding taps.

7. Try all routines together. Attend to fluent moves and unbroken turns between the routines.

8. Do I use the different moves at the beginning of each routine? Else your participants can't distinguish between routines.

9. Do I use very similar moves in the different routines? Try to avoid this! There are too many step moves to use the same or similar moves within one choreography.


1. Write your choreography exactly move by move. Other important things you have to write for any move are the count of beats, the leading foot, the start and the end positions. If you have any turns or direction changes within this move write or draw them too. This could be a sample for a good move description:

Over The Top on 4 cts. Left leading, start from the front facing North, end at the front facing South, 2/4 turn to the Right

or in the short notation something like:

Over The Top (4L, N2S, 2/4R)

The main thing is you can anytime (even in 5 years) understand and do the choreography as primary created. If you plan to publish your pattern please read this article on some ideas for understandable step pattern description.

2. Reduce all the moves to the basic moves (e.g. Over The Top to Basic Step). Please read my article about layering and visual preview for more details about layering approach and good examples.

3. Cut any routine in the smaller parts which can be taught separately. The choreographies for beginners can probably be cut in 8 or 16 counts parts. Advanced choreographies with some cross phrasing can be often better cut in other parts like 12+12+8 or 8+10+14 cts.


This is how I plan the teaching progression. I don't worry about the book-styled breakdown methods like add-on or pyramidal reduction. On principle I'm using all them but I don't worry about using this or another method since you can't teach any good choreography using only one of them.

The main method for teaching advanced choreographies will stay the layering. Layering is the way to get to complex moves from the basic structure where the instructor vary at every time only as much of the move as the participants can follow directly on the cue or the next choreography cycle without have to stop moving this time (that is what I prefer, I call it visual preview: keep doing the same and look). Please read my article about layering and visual preview for more details about layering approach and good examples.

Other questions are how to build this basic structure and how to introduce it.

1. You have cut your reduced routine in the parts. Now look for the best order to introduce these parts. You will have sometimes to introduce them in another order as in the final routine to provide the balance training from the first move on. Look for this article for the idea of symmetrical breakdown.

2. The basic rule is to try starting any teaching with a part which has a change of leading leg inside (if you also have parts without change of leading leg). Then you can add the parts without change of leading leg always doing the entire sequence changing right and left. Look for suitable pattern for starting introducing every part of your routine. Please refer to the article about balanced training for some good suggestions and bad samples. Please note that using pyramidal reduction will mostly cause you to make disbalanced training if you don't repeat the whole progression starting left.

3. You can also extend any part of the routine to the next 16 cts boundary in the way that the part becomes a change of leading leg and teach the separately. Use something like

Repeater 3 (8R)
2x Kick (8LR)

to extend any 16 cts without leg change (like 4 Basic Steps) to full 32 cts.

4. This approach works best if you have three parts of the routine like 8+8+16 cts or 12+12+8 cts. You can teach these 3 parts separately. Then you join them together, cut in half and remove all additional moves.

You will have to add some moves to any part to extend it to the 16 cts boundary and make the required change of leading foot. So if you have 12 cts without change of leading foot add one Basic Step. If you have 16 cts with a leg change add nothing or add any Holding Pattern (just a pause) like four alternating Kicks to slow down.

Some presenters ignore the 16 cts boundary and just repeat some 20 or 24 cts. I don't appreciate this idea since the begin of choreography shifts any time off by the music phrase and can't be caught by the participants (and even the instructor).

5. Use Holding Patterns like four alternating Tap Up or four alternating Kicks (16 cts.) to slow down the teaching, to get time for some explanation and to let the participants to understand the last variation. Consider the removing point of this holding pattern very good since you will probably have to do it on the cue (and not via Visual Preview).

6. Look if you should vary some moves toward the final choreography before joining the parts of the routine (I call it pre-layering). This can save a lot of time since you will probably repeat the 16 cts and not the entire 32 cts of the routine at this time. Please refer to my article about layering and visual preview for more details on layering approach.

7. Join the parts to the routine as described before (simple add-on or join-and-cut-in-half) or use other methods. Attend to stay at balanced training all the time.

8. Now is the time for the next layering where you can create even more complex moves (post-layering). You can also exchange some moves to get more difficult cross phrasing within your choreography.

9. Now you have to notice the entire teaching progression exactly step-by-step and get to the final version via trial and error.

10. Think about the good cueing for your teaching progression. But this is another story.

I wish you good luck with your choreographies!

Author:Alexey Contact:alexey at stepcenter dot com
Views:33815 Written on:2003-07-20