Sunday, May 29, 2016

To The Sea, The Only Way Is South End

The title of this post is true if you're looking for the cheapest and fastest way to get to the beach from central London. 

I was missing the beach and as the days were sunnier, Kim and I went to South End On Sea on a weekday to avoid the crowds. It was my first time in Essex, hence the title of this post. Trains were frequent, running every 10-20 minutes. It took about 50 minutes to get to Southend Central from Limehouse and a day return ticket costs £15.50 

It's always lovely to get out of the city. We could see the countryside and a river, or rather low tide where boats stand naked on wet sand. 

The beach was 10 minutes walk from the Southend Central station. Typical of English beaches, there were loads of amusements arcades. I'm no fan of them as I think they detract from the beauty of a seashore. (Of all the places to have cheesy loud indoor entertainment, why the beach???)

Fish and chip shops lined Marine Parade, most offering OAP specials. Kim talked up a place called Bailey's Fry Inn so we had to try it. Indeed their fish and chips were amazing, the batter was perfectly crisp and bubbly. The fish so tender, it was actually juicy! I completely understand the British love for this deep fried meal. 

The beach was quiet with only small families around. The water was too cold to swim in but I was happy just to get my vitamin D. Southend beach is a pebbly sandy beach and there is a really long pier. Its private so you have to pay if you want to walk on it. 

We played a round of mini golf. The course is actually the best I've been to, by the sea and well maintained. It helped that no one else was playing at the same time.

I also had to try the cold seafood. Oysters are obligatory. We shared half a dozen and they were huge. Excellent value for £1 each, shucked on the spot with lemon. Kim recommended the cockles which was the most appealing cold seafood on display amongst rubbery whelks, frozen-looking prawns, fake lobster/seafood sticks, and jellied eels.  

The oysters were delish and the cockles weren't bad. They were tasty but had a lot of grit. 

By 4pm, there were more people around It was time to return to London. On a quiet day, I think Southend On Sea is lovely. I will come back for another easy seaside fix. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cooking Seitan At Home

I've discovered a meat-like protein made from wheat gluten, otherwise known as Seitan. Yes, it's a funny name. I've found Seitan to be the closest plant based protein to meat in terms of texture.

In terms of other plant based protein, Quorn is not as flavoursome or economical as homemade Seitan. I limit soy/tofu from my diet as I've had a few hormonal issues. And I don't enjoy beans or pulses as they are too starchy. When I tried to become vegetarian, I missed the toothsome chew, the juiciness and flavour of meat.

I was put off by Seitan from the Chinese grocery store. It's known as mock meat but the main ingredient is wheat gluten. There was some frozen reptile looking "chicken" and "intestines" resembling turds. The mock duck tins from China didn't look appetising either.

I looked up a few recipes and ordered a bag of wheat gluten from Amazon. I've made it once so far and I'm storing it in the freezer. I use it for stir fries although it can also be chopped up for pasta sauce or chilli con carne.

Making your own Seitan is worth it if you do it in bulk as there's a long steam or baking period. The key is to cook it slow. Otherwise it gets a squishy, soggy sponge texture and the flavour get leached out. To cut down on cooking time, I sliced my raw Seitan into strips and steamed them single layer for 5 minutes. This was faster than cooking a hunk of it for an hour. After cooling, I put the pieces in the freezer. They should be fried for maximum chewiness.

The addition of Worcester sauce, vegetable stock, tomato powder and herbs helped the flavour alot. It was important to add some oil to give it juiciness. While Seitan won't ever taste like meat, (no matter what the recipe says), it's the closest thing I've come across as a substitute. Just make sure to include some nutritional yeast as wheat gluten is not a complete protein.

If you're trying to go meat free, even if it's for one meal a week and you're not gluten intolerant, Seitan is definitely worth a try.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Getting Zumba Instructor Jobs

When I decided to teach Zumba, my instructor friends added me onto a number of Facebook groups for Zumba cover. They are private so ask your instructor friends to add you as you can't search for them. Members post jobs that often need to be covered on short notice so keep their notifications on.

There are quite a groups for London although if you live in smaller areas, you might need to check the Zumba Instructor Network forums in your district.

I used Facebook groups to find my first Zumba instructor job. I managed to get regular work from cover jobs so they're worth putting your hand up for when you're starting out. It took a lot of persistence as the easy-to-get-to cover jobs get snapped up quickly.

If you private message someone, make sure to comment on their post so they know to check their filtered requests inbox. If you're not friends with that person on Facebook, they won't see the message in their usual inbox.

I've learned that it doesn't take much to get the job if you respond early, know the instructor (or rather, they know you) or they are desperate for cover. Keep your responses simple. Most people just want to know that you're experienced so just say where you have taught before. Since jobs get covered quickly, expect minimal response as sometimes the instructor will only comment to the original post to say cover is found.

It's important to ascertain these three details before committing to a job:

1) If you need to be on the facility's payroll as otherwise, who will pay you and by when. If paid directly by the instructor, chase them straight away if payment is late. You have little recourse if they fail to pay you.
2) How to play music through the sound system. What type of cables do you need to connect your device? Some gyms require that CDs are to be used to meet music licensing requirements.
3) The full name of the person you are covering as sometimes they go by an alias on Facebook. Check the gym's timetable to verify they are the usual instructor because it's questionable on how you will get paid if you or they are not on the payroll.

The second way to get work as a Zumba instructor is to contact gyms directly. Most of them have a Zumba cover list so ask to be added on. Try to get on their payroll as it opens up more cover opportunities, especially at the big gyms like Virgin Active, LA Fitness, Nuffield or Fitness First. To secure a permanent class you might need to audition.

I've been lucky approaching two local independent gyms. I got cover work from these gyms and then was given the classes permanently. Class co-ordinators like that you live nearby so make a mention of it.

The last way to get work is to create it although I don't have advice on this. If you're super confident and enterprising, the rewards of running your own classes can be significantly higher than teaching at a gym.

Friday, May 13, 2016

10 tips To Improve Your Dancing Through Zumba

If you're new to dancing and want to become a better dancer through Zumba, here are my top 10 tips:

1) Watch yourself in the mirror
There's a reason why people make a dash to the mirrors when they enter a studio. It's an aid to keep their alignment and timing in check. If you work out in a space without mirrors, watch with your peripheral vision or even your shadow. Practice where you can see yourself, including your sides. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll improve when you do.

2) Practice good posture
Even the best moves are spoiled by bad posture. Posture helps you maintain balance and make graceful movements. A quick way to keep tabs on your posture is to imagine that your body is suspended in the air by a rope coming out of your chest. If you have a sedentary job, make sure you're taking regular breaks and stretch. Keep your chin up, chest out, shoulders back and relaxed.

3) Pretend to play an instrument
To keep in time with the rhythm, imagine you are playing a "drum" as you dance. You can use you hands and feet to mark the beats with the moves. Sometimes I gently tap my foot or I discreetly tap the roof of my mouth with my tongue to keep in time with the rhythm. Keep counting the beats from 1-8 throughout the track. You will learn to find the beats without thinking about it.

4) Anticipate a move change on beat 6 or 7
An extension from the previous tip is that once you can pick the first beat and the eighth, you pre-empt the next move on the 6th or 7th beat. Your Zumba instructor might cue at this point. You can expect a repeat of the move or a new one even if it's a track you've not done before. On the eighth beat, you should getting in position for the next move, shifting your weight or turning your body in anticipation of the next step. You want your move to be correct on beat 1.

5) Minimise your reaction time
When you're new, there will be a delay from watching the instructor do the move and when you do it. It's a combination of observing, reacting and getting into position. Reaction time is minimised by anticipating the move. You might not get it correct the first time but at least there isn't an awkward pause where you stand like a deer in headlights. Stay moving on the beat. As you get to know the instructor, it becomes faster and easier to predict their moves.

6) Know the parts of a Zumba track
A track usually has set moves for the intro, verses, chorus and interlude. Listen and remember the order of verses, chorus and interlude. As you learn the track, you can pick out these parts and recall the corresponding moves. If you really enjoy a track, ask your instructor for the title of a song so you can learn the music and practice at home.

7) Build up your imagery bank
The more you practice and watch yourself, you build an imagery bank on the way you dance and what you look like when moves are done correctly or incorrectly. So as you're learning, recall what you have seen from tip 1. Over time your memory bank allows you to pinpoint repeated alignment issues and visualise new moves. 

8) Engage all muscles in your body
Moves are not confined to moving just the most obvious body parts like the hands or feet. A move looks more natural when the body reacts to it. Practice isolating muscles by circling only your hips or chest. Notice how muscles around the abdomen are either pulling or pushing? Remember for every reaction, there is a reaction. If something has to pull forward, there is something pushing it so remember that all muscles in your body needs to be engaged in the move. This enhances your workout and defines the moves. 

9) Add weight to your movements
To enhance body control, add imaginary weight to your hands, feet or whichever areas that need to move. Let's say the move is to put your hands above your head and wave them around. Imagine as if you a cans of soft drink attached to the palm of your hands. You create resistance in your arms. It looks more controlled than as if they were weightless. Not only do you burn more calories but helps you keep in time with the rhythm. 

10) Keep transitions fluid
To do this you're connecting the "end and start points" of the moves and making the transition as fluid as possible. There should be continuity in your movement so the moves flow seamlessly into each other.

On a final note, don't forget to keep smiling. Zumba is meant to be enjoyed and happiness looks good on everyone.

6 Tips For New Zumba Instructors

I have 6 tips that rarely get talked about in the online world. These are things I learned to raise the satisfaction level for myself and my participants.

1) Talk as little as possible about yourself.
It's easy to fall into "performer mode" when faced with your first class. You might feel a need to talk about yourself to become acquainted. But from the participant's perspective, they're already assuming you're a great Zumba instructor. There's no need for an opening speech about your background and credentials. Just say hello, tell them your name and ask if there are any injuries or pregnancies. Then give them the workout they came for.

2) Give them a hard workout, not a hard routine.
No matter how qualified you are as a dancer, remember it's about what your participants can do. Know your participants want. Just because you do the moves intensely, doesn't mean they can or will. If the moves are too lyrical, most people won't get it. They won't burn as many calories either. Participants are happiest when they've worked up a sweat and feel accomplished in class. Make the moves energetic and easy to follow. Keep momentum up by using a playlist so there's no idle time flicking through music in class.

3) Forget the bad days.
Bad days happens to all fitness instructors. People walk out, bring in the wrong mood or hardly anyone turns up. If you are taking on board feedback and trying your best, don't worry about the occasional bad day. You have no control over them so don't take them personally. I never thought I'd get asked to teach again after my first bad day but I did, and the following week's class was amazing. It must have been a "glitch" in the stars.

4) Swiftly deal with difficult participants.
Act quickly to difficult people and stay calm. Remember you have an audience and bad behaviour is not something participants have come to see. A participant interrupted me mid-track once, grabbing my arm and asking me to teach in front of the mirror. The class came to a halt. I had to acknowledge her and say: "Sure!" and did what I was told happily. Result? Minimal awkwardness and disruption.

5) Make eye contact with everyone in class.
You need to make eye contact with every participant at least once. It's means that you're checking up on them to see if they're having a good time. Eye contact shows that you are with your participants. If you make a habit of constantly meeting eyes with every participant, it builds a connection and they will reciprocate.

6) Have contingency plans.
If you rely on public transport or drive, aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Do a first aid course for the obvious reasons. And finally bring spare equipment. I carry audio cables and a UE Megaboom bluetooth speaker. If you play music through a phone, bring a spare device with the music backed up and a power bank. For your peace of mind, don't risk any show stoppers.