Step Training: Breakdown School
Layering and Visual Preview

Layering is a way to teach complex choreography starting by using very basic moves. Then we vary the moves layer by layer towards the target choreography. Good layering skills account for more than half of a good teaching progression.

The old "Visual Preview", whereas the instructor does the moves while the participants are in a kind of holding pattern and try to follow, is in my opinion the worst way to teach step aerobics. In my new comprehension of Visual Preview the instructor can just show the next layer while the participants keep doing the last layer. The layering and the visual preview become the different sides of the same coin. Layering is a breakdown approach and the visual preview is a good cueing approach for introducing the every next layer.

Starting layering from the basic sequence we assume that participants can do some moves e.g. Basic step, Knee lift and Repeater. No joke, these three moves are a good base for any advanced choreography. If your participants can't do any moves they still can do the marches. Develop other moves starting from the marches in this case!

Before you start the layering on any basic sequence be sure that your sequence contains a change of leading leg to provide the balanced training. Please read my article about balanced training for more details on this very important approach. There are also many examples for good and bad starting move sequences.

Once you have introduced the basic sequence start your layering. Good layering transitions are for example:

Basic to Over the top
Tap Up to Pony Step
Half Mambo to Half Mambo Crossover

As you can see, the source and the target move have the same counts and the same change of leading leg (or no change). Further the rhythm is similar. These transitions are bad:

Basic to Mambo chacha
Repeater 2 to Double Knee Top
Mambo chacha to Chasse Over Top

Can you imagine why? The first two moves have different change of leading leg and the last one has a wrong change of the rhythm. Much better is:

Knee lift to Mambo chacha
4 Marches up + 2 Marches down to Double Knee Top
Pony Step to Chasse Over Top

Now you will always stay balanced. If I have more difficult moves I have to combine different basic moves to create a similar pattern. For example I need to create the following sequence

Mambo Top (R5)
Mambo Top (L5)
Repeater 2 (R6)

I usually start teaching with

Double Half Mambo (RL6)
2 Marches (R2)
Repeater 3 (R8)

Then I just have to make a Stomp before each Half Mambo. That is easy to follow if you cue it with verbal advice like "Two - two".

Stomp (R2)
Half Mambo (R3)
Stomp (L2)
Half Mambo (L3)
Repeater 2 (R6)

Now you can get directly to the Mambo Top (5 cts) combining the moves. In another example I need to create this move:

Reverse Turn Knee Exit (8R)

As you can imagine I will teach this move starting with a Repeater 3 since these both moves have 8 cts and a change of leading leg. Then I "reduce" it all to only one knee at the count no. 6.

March on the top (5R) + Knee (1L) + Exit (2L)

Then I will add a push down at the count no. 3 (direction north). Then I add a reverse turn and voila. If I need some pause while developing this sequence I can insert two Basics or two alternating Kicks.

On principle any step moves can be reduced to some very easy moves which can be done by any beginner on the fly. As you can remember this is the aim of my new visual preview. I don't think I will ever teach any step move by showing it on the "half speed" and then let them to go full tempo (the hip hop teaching manner). We don't need it in the step training since we have to do in the first place our cardio training and not the dance.

If you don't know a better basic move, you can reduce any step move to Marches and/or Step Knees (2 cts) using following pattern. Take for any change of leading foot a Step Knee and fill out all other counts with Marches. More than four Marches are probably very difficult to count, so your can better take Basic Steps (4 cts.), Half Mambos (3 cts.) or Stomps (2 cts.) instead depending on when the particular foot has to appear on the bench in the target move.

It can be necessary to regroup the moves in the choreography before reducing them (especially if you make some cross phrasing using the moves on odd counts). You may also need to exchange the moves within a routine to get it to the basics. So you can easily start teaching some choreography like this:

Half Mambo (3R)
Over The Top (4L)
Half Mambo (3L)
Repeater 2 (6R)

with the following pattern:

Double Half Mambo (6RL)
Marches (2RL)
Repeater 3 (8R)

So I have often to combine layering and cutting techniques when I decompose a complex choreography. Often it is much easier to introduce some difficult move twice like in the Mambo Top (5 cts) example above even if I do really need only one and then drop another one using cutting techniques.

Sometimes when I cut my choreography in smaller blocks of 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 cts I tell the difference between pre-layering and post-layering. I talk about pre-layering when I change the moves within my small block (rotating only this small block). This can save a lot of time since you have only to rotate 8 or 16 cts and participants can concentrate on this move. After I have joined my small blocks together I still can use layering to create even more complex moves (e.g. crossing the boundaries of the small blocks, adding more direction changes etc). I call it post-layering then.

Find the best order to vary the moves within a sequence. Sometimes it's better to start varying the hardest moves. Your participants can concentrate to this move and don't worry about the other moves which are still very easy at this time. Sometimes it's better to move the hardest variations to the end of layering. In this case your participants don't have to repeat all the most difficult moves when varying other moves. And you can make a kind of option for the less experienced participants to let this variation out. This option won't work well if you start the layering with this variation.

However it's very important for your participants to be able to see all the changes. For this reason you will probably have to make any changes of the sight direction as one of the last layer.

Sometimes you'll have to vary two moves at the same time to get to your starting position after the sequence (e.g. you'll have always to vary two Basic Steps to two Over The Top). This affects almost any moves containing any direction changes (turns). If you don't do so your participants can't see the second variation after they've caught the first.

Every time you introduce the next layer make it possible for the participants to keep doing the last layer. They should always keep moving and "just look". You can accent the attention to specific move in your sequence if you say something like "watch my repeater". This is the way we are teaching via Visual Preview.

You can introduce more then one transition on every sequence repetition. But your participants must be able to "catch" all transitions simultaneously. They should not stop doing the last layer since they can't follow you.

Although it's not possible to do the entire teaching progression only using this kind of visual preview. The first time you introduce the basic sequence your participants have to do it "on the cue". Are they fast enough to get

Knee Lift (4R)
Basic Step (4L)

directly from your mouth? If not try a Knee Repeater (8R) and then layer to Knee + Basic via Visual Preview.

If I need to slow down my teaching progression I'll have also to insert a holding pattern for the pause (Marches, Alternating Kicks etc.) and remove this holding pattern later on the cue. Do you have any ideas for Visual Preview to insert and remove the holding patterns? Please let me know!

I wish you good luck with your choreographies!

Please read my main breakdown article for more ideas for a good breakdown.

Author:Alexey Contact:alexey at stepcenter dot com
Views:23438 Written on:2004-01-30