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“THIS WAS ONE OF THE HARDEST WEEKS I’VE EVER BEEN THROUGH”

by Sarah Shortt

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SARAH SHORTT:

Hi team! What was the choreography process around BODYCOMBAT® 90?

RACHAEL NEWSHAM:

When New Zealand went back into lockdown at the start of August 2021 we had, literally, just filmed Release 89. We were right in that post-production phase where we’re getting the choreography notes done and the Masterclass edited for that Release. In terms of 90, we were starting to choose the music, but that’s as far as we had got.

Lockdown threw everything up in the air. Whereas in the last lockdown in 2020 we had already been teaching that Release (BODYCOMBAT UNITED) at the club, so it had had its normal birthing process, everything with BODYCOMBAT 90 had to be created at a distance.

We designed the whole Release over video calls and, as anyone knows who has tried to work with others remotely, it can be quite painful! We had the music on in one person’s house and not the other. We’d be trying to do the workout and then as soon as someone speaks the music goes quiet. So, Dan would have the music on in his garage and I’d be trying to remember what the music sounded like at the point it went quiet… so yeah, it was difficult in that respect.

In terms of the choreography, we decided to keep it simple, using moves that were tried and tested and we knew worked well. Luckily, BODYCOMBAT has a really successful formula that means we can still deliver a really great workout even under extreme circumstances.

What's the music like this round?

DAN COHEN:

In every Release, there’ll always be one or two moments where the movement and the music just really gel and they become the highlights. We really focused on leading with the music in BODYCOMBAT 90, and I think there’s a magic moment in every single track because the music is so diverse. Because we haven’t made the choreography too complex, that’s allowed the music to really jump out and “be the thing” about this Release.

Track 7, Muay Thai, also reminds me of BODYCOMBAT 21, which was the first Release that Rach and I choreographed. It’s got a bass sound that we haven’t used in the program for a while, so I think people are going to love it.

RACH:

We have a fire playlist this round! I was so in love with the music for this Release that I was literally playing it on repeat every day in my garage; and because I was by myself for such a long period of time, I felt like I was really immersed in every single track.

"We really focused on leading with the music in BODYCOMBAT 90, and I think there’s a magic moment in every single track because the music is so diverse. Because we haven’t made the choreography too complex, that’s allowed the music to really jump out and “be the thing” about this release." – Dan Cohen

 

What are your highlights from this Release?

VILI:

I think people will love the feel of the kung fu. There are some movement patterns that we haven’t seen for a while in BODYCOMBAT, and I know that they’ll enjoy the feel of this – because it takes a lot of concentration and focus when it comes to things like the positioning of the hands.

I loved teaching Track 7 because it felt like a marathon! It really challenged my fitness and took me right to the edge, pushing me to my limits. And this actually happened in the first half of the track… it took ALL of my inner strength to get to the finish line, haha!

RACH:

The new move in Track 5 is pretty cool. We’ve been focusing on floor work for a long time now, which enables us to get the heart rate really high in the second part. We were looking for a new move that would feel fresh but not be tricky, and still deliver the heart rate drive; and what we came up with was a modified touchdown. It’s combined with the boxing moves of a jab, cross, and it’s great footwork to hone our boxing skills. In boxing you’ve got to focus on how your throw your punches, but actually it’s also crucial to practise your footwork to be able to throw the punch. This move is very simple, but it will help to improve our agility and coordination.

Like Vilz said, there’s this massive Track 7 where you just go until you want to give up! You’ll reach a point where you think: “This must be it” and then out of nowhere there are four more reps of the Combo! It’s about explosive endurance… you just need to hold on in that track.

DAN:

Yeah, I echo Rach. I think the three points that just stood out for me personally were Tracks 5, 6 and 8, because of the combination of the music and the movement – they just gelled so perfectly in those tracks. Track 8, All You Ever Wanted, is my favourite piece of choreography, and Rach just did such a great job bringing it to life.

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What was the filming process like?

VILI:

This was one of the hardest filming weeks I have been through, because we couldn’t practise the way we normally would. Rehearsal week wasn’t normal at all, and every day was a risk knowing that if any of us got sick then the whole production would get shut down. Nothing was open. We couldn’t practise in the gym, we didn’t have any stage rehearsals. All of our practises took place in the Centros [rehearsal rooms at Les Mills International]. We also did a rehearsal at Dan's house – on his deck – because other teams needed to use the office. I was extra, extra cautious because all his beautiful family were there, and I was so conscious of not bringing any risk to his children.

Dan and Rach are so awesome to work with. Rachael definitely gets the gold medal for doing all the rehearsal workouts with her mask on. That's not easy, and she still brought the highest level of performance. I have such respect for her – she's a real superhero.

RACH:

Nothing about it was easy. I never feel nervous going into filming or on stage, apart from maybe the first time we teach the new Release. But this time I had adrenaline on a different level. My mouth was cotton-dry. When I stepped onto the stage it was like: “Oh my gosh, is that my voice on the microphone? Wow, the music's really loud. I'm not wearing a face mask. OK, I can see your full face. Whoa.” You know, it was weird and then the social distancing restrictions on set meant that it felt like everyone was on a knife edge. There was all this intensity that isn’t normally there. I’d describe it as a massively heightened sensitivity.

VILI:

To be honest, I was just glad we made it to filming. All the way up until the day, we were worried that the government might announce we were going to alert Level 4, which would have stopped production. We were just trying to get into the right mental and physical space to be ready to perform, even though we didn’t know if it would actually be happening. We didn’t get confirmation until 6pm the night before filming.

When we got to set, I was just happy to be there. I knew my choreography, I had my coaching concepts, and it was just great to make it to the day. It felt like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was a massive relief to just teach and bring my tracks to life.

"This was one of the hardest filming weeks I have been through because we couldn’t practise the way we normally would. Rehearsal week wasn’t normal at all, and every day was a risk knowing that if any of us got sick then the whole production would get shut down." – Vili Fifita

 

How did the lockdown affect your coaching on the Release?

VILI:

It was hard to connect with the others without it feeling forced. Even on filming day, we had to keep our distance on the stage, but still try to make it look natural. For example, we’d be having a conversation, getting feedback, and in the back of my mind I’m reminding myself “OK, you need to maintain a 2m distance; the second I stop speaking I need to put on my mask; and I need to sanitise.”

On reflection, I can see that this round has made me a stronger and better teacher, overall. It's taught me how to step up and perform even under the most extreme circumstances. I know now that I can turn it on, no matter what's happening. It's like it's given me new body armour!

RACH:

It was a really different experience for me – having had no physical contact with anybody for a really long period of time. BODYCOMBAT 90 is a window into what it’s like being in my world during lockdown. It shows how I talked to myself, how I helped myself get through lockdown. I really brought my own personal journey out in my coaching. The internal dialogue was bursting out of me, and it couldn’t wait to get out because I’d had no means of offloading. It wasn’t intentional, it was just a really natural performance.

When you watch the Masterclass, you’ll see all of this come out in my coaching – all of the struggle and the internal motivation to keep moving and stay focused really comes out. It’s a special one to watch because I was like a caged bird that had suddenly been permitted to fly around. When people watch the video, they’ll see that I’m plugged in, in a different way. It was personal for me. With everything going on in the world – none of us knows what the future looks like. All of those high Layer 3 motivational coaching cues came out, because I was just trying to help myself fight for it.

The other notable thing is that I didn’t get to sing the lyrics once during this class, and I’m a huge advocate of using the lyrics when I teach! Because we have various versions of tracks that get used for the final Masterclass (for different countries, LES MILLS Virtual, LES MILLS+, etc.) we’re not allowed to sing the lyrics during filming. But if you come to my normal classes at the gym, I love singing the lyrics and using them to motivate people.

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DAN:

I haven’t taught a live class since the beginning of New Zealand lockdown [at the start of August 2021]. It’s been the longest break I’ve ever had, because I’ve taught pretty much every week since the age of 18; and so I actually wanted to take time off.

Having a break from everyday classes also enabled me to create a really fresh script for BODYCOMBAT 90. One of the downsides of teaching 20 to 30 classes a week is that you can fall into the trap of using the same script or same style of teaching. This can especially happen if you’re teaching a few different programs: you may end up using the same terminology across all the classes and everything begins to amalgamate, even though the essence of those programs is significantly different. If you’ve got very little time to script or reinvent yourself, everything can start to sound the same. You’ve got very little time to sit back and ask: What objective do I want to achieve? What’s my outcome with this track?

I think you do yourself a disservice if you don't take time out. Taking some time away from live classes has allowed me to focus on improving my own knowledge and my skills as a coach. I think when you watch BODYCOMBAT 90, you'll see some of the best coaching I’ve done.

Any anecdotes you can share from the process? DAN:

Rach nearly died because she wouldn’t take off her mask for rehearsals. It was just me and her in a “bubble” together, training in a ventilated building and no one around for hundreds of miles, but this one was worried that "Big Brother" was watching and she’d be punished if she took her mask off – even though you’re allowed to take your mask off when you’re exercising! And so, she nearly suffocated because she couldn’t breathe properly!

RACH:

Haha yeah. I also think the beginning of the Warm-Up sounds like the opening credits to Harry Potter. There’s this bit where it goes “ding ding ding” and it sounds like the train coming into Hogwarts or something. Vili’s wife, Khiran [Huston] is a huge Harry Potter fan, so I asked her what I could say to reference it at the start of the track. Anyway, I ended up mentioning platform nine and three quarters. Harry Potter fans will get the joke – if you know, you know!

Read more about the Q1.22 Releases.