Two tips to succeed as a new Zumba instructor

Happy Mother’s Day blog friends!  I hope you all had a wonderful day and honored your moms and were honored by your kids.  Our moms are both out of the area so we had a pretty low key day.  We were so low key we just had veggie omelettes for dinner.  Fast, delicious, lean protein and an excuse to eat buttered toast at dinner.  Winning!

Is that phrase old yet? Can I still say winning?

I subbed a class this morning at one of my local clubs.  I’ve learned a lot about human nature from working at this particular club.  Generally, people don’t like change.  This is tricky because every instructor is different — especially if the teachers are certified by different companies.  A Joseph Pilates certification will produce a different instructor than a Stott Pilates certification.  A Zumba instructor with a dance background will be different than a Zumba instructor with a strictly aerobics background. If you pinch hit for an instructor who’s out of town or ill, your class will be different than their usual workout and you stand a good chance of not being welcome.

That’s tough to deal with.  No matter how many times great people like Chalene Johnson or Beto Perez remind me to leave my ego at the door when it comes to teaching, I really believe that any instructor who truly loves his or her job cannot completely do that.  Your class is a manifestation of your talent, time, energy, passion and personality.  So if people don’t like it… guess what?  It STINGS.  It’s hard not to take it personally.

For those of you who, like me, had absolutely no background in teaching fitness but got into group exercise instruction because you happened to fall in love with Zumba or Body Pump or Body Combat or Turbo Kick… it’s a different world to adjust to.  You assume if you’re prepared, nice, energetic and friendly people will love the format you offer as much as you do.  Usually, that’s exactly what happens.  But not always.

So here’s what I’ve learned as an instructor about subbing and die hard allegiance to group ex formats.

1.  Get on clubs’ sub list. 

If you want a Zumba instructor job (or any group ex job) and no one is giving you a shot, you need to pay your dues by subbing. It’s an important way to gain experience and prove trustworthiness. Email the group ex director of every club within a close radius and ask if they need another sub on their list.  The answer is YES. They ALWAYS need another sub.  However, you may be able to get a job just by being on the sub list.  My first real instructor job came to me because I asked to be on a sub list and a month after I auditioned and filled out my paperwork, one of their instructors quit.  They put me on the regular schedule immediately — and I’d never subbed a single class there.  Getting on the list is the first step.

Then, obviously, sub, sub, sub!  You will get tons of opportunities around holidays and school events.  Sometimes an instructor will call you directly to sub, other times you’ll just get an email sent to the group.  It helps if you’re an obsessive email checker like me (thank you smart phones!) so you can pounce on the email right away.  First come, first served when it comes to subbing.

Here’s the catch, so listen up:

2. When in Rome, teach like a Roman.

Sometimes, a club will do anything possible to avoid canceling a class. Maybe they’ll substitute a PiYo class in for a yoga or pilates class.  However, PiYo is not like either of those formats.  If you have a class full of die-hard yoginis and you show up with PiYo, you are likely to have very disappointed students.  And if they’re vocal, you will feel awful when they rip you and your format apart.  I confess, I assumed that because I like PiYo better than plain pilates or yoga, everyone else would too.  That’s not the case.  So my choice was to insist on teaching my beloved format that people didn’t like or adjust to their tastes and teach what they enjoyed.  In order to be successful, I decided to honor the “when in Rome” principle.  When subbing, I try to make my class as similar to the regular instructor’s as I can.  In my class, I get to do what I want.

Now, before I sub, I try to find out as much as possible about the class.  What is their fitness level? Are they an easy-going group willing to try new things or do they resist change to the usual class?  What are some of the things they’re working on in class?What kind of music do they like? This is especially important in Zumba — my playlist is almost all reggaeton and hip hop and the over 50 crowd does not care for this much.

The last time I subbed at this particular club, it was… um, not a success.  As in, people yelled at me.  This morning, I stuck to doing things their way and I ended the class with smiles from everyone and several wonderful compliments.  Learn from my mistakes, grasshoppers.




  1. wenda says

    I agree with you completely and thanks for your useful tips. I tried my hardest to adapt but I am still trying to win them over.

  2. Mandy Hart says

    You hit this spot on. I just moved from the subbing list to having a job in less than two weeks. Our classes are really diverse. There are people between 21 and 71. There are 3-4 different cultures (and languages!) in each class. Some people like the dancier songs, and some like the more fitness songs. I can look at everyone’s face during a routine, and I know if they like it or not. If it’s a miss, I put that one away. At the end of the day, they’re the ones paying for the class or the gym membership to be there, and I’m the one getting paid. I want to make them happy, and I want them to have a good time. What I like or what I think is clever or creative doesn’t matter as much anymore.

  3. Jenna says

    Thank you so much for these handy tips!
    I’m going for the instructor training in 2 weeks and have no idea how to approach job seeking after that – I’ll definitely try to get my name on the sub list =)

  4. APRIL says


    Thank you for your insight. I too, will be going for the instructor training the end of the month and now have a better idea on how to job seek. I definitely planned on subbing first off. I think queing is a huge part in any group excercise. I find that if the class gets lost, they get frustrated. Would you agree?

    • Elizabeth says

      Congrats April and Jenna on pursuing instructor training and I hope you girls have a freakin’ BALL! Your life will never be the same. Welcome to the cult. 😉

      April, yes, cueing is absolutely crucial not just so that your class has a clue what’s going on (frustration creeps in and they feel like dopes if they can’t follow you) but also to keep things safe. If people are just crankin’ out moves frantically trying to keep up, knees can get twisted, ankles sprained and so on. Cueing gets easier with time. 😉

  5. Ana says

    Hi everyone I am also going to start my zumba training this ws month and I am wondering what other training do I need to be able to start teaching zumba?

  6. Whitney says

    Hey everyone!
    I’m trying to start up a class in a small town. I tried and failed miserably at turbo kick. Even seems to be avid Zumba lovers. My problem with the instructors are 1. She does all the same moves and 2. The other one is too easy.
    So my question to you all is do I try to start turbo up again OR do I instruct zumba the way I want it? Or maybe even try something really crazy like piyo?

    • angela says

      Hi Whitney. I just got certified for Turbo Kick and licensed for Zumba. I’ve been doing Chalene Johnson’s workouts at home for years plus enjoying my friends Zumba classes. I finally made the decision to go for becoming an instructor. I’m curious why the Turbo Kick failed if you don’t mind sharing. Thanks!

  7. Rosy says

    Thank you Lizzie for your tips! I just got certified and now have a variety on my first Zumba playlist! Now, I’m just trying to find places to apply at. So far, 24 hr is the only place I’ve applied at, just now. What’s the hiring process like? What’s expected in auditions? Please email me thank you!

  8. Nazira says

    All your comments are really helpful! I’m giving my first zumba class tonight and am super nervous esp. since I have no idea as to what crowd I’m going to have or the music they are used to. Hold thumbs for me pleez!

    • Laura says

      Nazira how was your first class? I ask because I keep putting mine off. I’m eager to teach but terrified at the same time!

  9. nazira says

    Omg! The current instructor stayed for the class and every time I got the class going and motivated she stopeed me and asked to do one of the songs she does weekly with them. So basically it was horrible. She kept breaking my momentum I built up with the class. I did however give other classes at other gyms after this which went well. Best of luck. Stay strong. I’ve basically noticed that some Zumba instructors are very intimidated by a new instructor to the club/gym and others are very helpful with tips etc. Hope you have only the best experiences.

  10. Bonnie Steward says

    I am about to get certified in zumba. My zumba instructor has really encouraged me in this. I am super concerned that I won’t be able to remember all the steps and that my mind will go blank during the songs. How do you remember the choreography to all the songs? I am fine with cues, but when I am the one giving the cues….eeeekkkkk! This is my biggest concern! Thank you!!!!! :)

  11. Zina says

    Thanks for the tips! I, too, was wondering how I would go about getting a job once I got certified. I feel a little less worried about the whole process now. THANKS!!!

  12. kathy a says

    Hi Guys and Girls! I have a question….I am looking to be a Zumba instructor and have looked into the different certification classes. Can anyone tell me if I can take the jumpstart gold instructor course first? The only reason why I am asking is because in the description of the jumpstart gold instructor course, it seems to have the zumba basic 1 included in the class instruction/description…Can someone please point me in the right direction….Mucho thank yous in advance!!… :)

  13. Shelby Sunshine says

    You should complete Zumba Basic 1 before Zumba Gold, for which you should be a member of Zin before completing. But you must complete basic 1 to become a Zin member :)

  14. Rebecca says

    Hi all,
    Firstly, this post was really really helpful – I’m getting licensed tomorrow, eeeek, so excited!
    I have one question though, if you participate in classes, do you prefer the instructor to break down the main moves before the song, or just to go into it and cue? If you’re an instructor, feel free to reply with what you do too :)

  15. Anna says

    Great thread, getting lots of good info. (Am scheduled to get certified in October, can not WAIT.)

    Rebecca, my two cents as a participant- I HATE when instructors stop the music to break down the moves. My opinion is if you can’t cue it well enough to have most people follow along by the second verse, maybe your choreo is too much. That being said, there’s usually that little intro part of the song where people are finishing getting water, etc, and that seems to be a good time to just quickly show a little footwork.

    Congrats to everyone who has recently become licensed and is diving in. Love our giant zumba family! :)

  16. Laura says

    Thanks for this very helpful article :)

    Regarding the sub list, is it normal to be asked to send them copies of my zumba certificates and insurance just to add me to the sub list? I feel more comfortable when I bring them with me in the first class I cover.

    Hope to hear from you soon x

  17. Leena says

    Hey everyone. I’m recently certified as a Zumba B1 instructor. I’ve never taught any sort of class, I was always the student. I’m actually stuck, don’t know how to start, build my skills or even where to start. :( Can i get any tips. Help! plz

  18. says

    I have my first Zumba instructor training class this coming Saturday and a CPR class on Tuesday. I just got my study materials from ACE for a group fitness instructor certificate. Thanks for your tips and your other post on mistakes, which was awesome! Wish me luck!

  19. Reena says

    Hi! I am getting my zumba certificate this sat. and I am nervous! I don’t really know what to expect. Also, should i look in to getting my CPR license as well?

  20. Ashley says

    Hi guys. THis thread is extremely helpful. I am looking to take my Zumba B1 class next month. Do we need insurance, i know CPR is prob one thing that is required. Though where are you getting the play list? Do you create one or do you get with with ZIN to be able to introduce to the class.

  21. Jessica Peterson says

    I just signed up to become a instructor in July…:) and was wondering how to learn the dances. Do I get to make up my own because I’m cool with that but may need some teachings. Do they teach it to you at the place I’m instructing? So excited!

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  1. […] off to take a pilates class from an amazing instructor.  I sub for her a lot so in keeping with my principles of successful subbing, I want to check out her class so I know what to deliver for her students when she’s not […]

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