Michelle Dean of no fixed address: For over three years Michelle didn’t have a home; travelling the world presenting at fitness conventions was her full time job. Before pre-choreographed days, instructors would attend these conventions for ideas and inspiration to choreograph the classes they were going to teach.
From Spain, London, Sweden, Italy, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore to China – the language barrier has never been an issue, everyone seems to understands fitness! But not everyone understands song lyrics. Michelle was horrified at one Spanish convention as the oblivious organizer and crowd bopped about to an explicit tune blaring from the speakers; you can just imagine a non-Spanish-speaking Michelle explaining vile song lyrics via charades to the non-English-speaking organizer. For the record – once he decoded the charades he was horrified too.
Spain was one of Michelle’s favourite places, she went for three days and stayed for six months “in the end though I had to get out of there – I was the ugliest, whitest person there, all the girls were stunning”.
It’s that self depreciation and willingness to have a laugh at herself (“her voice and deep belly laugh just makes you want to jump in the air and climb any mountain possible”) that had endeared Michelle to a generation of instructors during the aerobics explosion of the 80s and 90s. Mindy a fan of Michelle’s freestyle days says “she was my favourite freestyle instructor and boy she could really move, you couldn't look away! Selfless, infectious and magnetic”.
One country that kept cropping up for one drama or another was Mexico – from the dodgey, to the scary to the downright sad, Mexico has always had something in store for Michelle Dean. On one occasion she was caught up in an earthquake, it was only after five minutes of a trembling earth and blaring alarms that she realized she was in the middle of something more serious (and not jet-lag which is what she originally attributed the shaking!). A terribly sad memory that Michelle recalls was when “a convention volunteer offered to take myself and my team to the airport – I remember it being a really scary drive in the bad weather and after we were safely dropped off I distinctly recall saying to the driver ‘be careful on the way back’” sadly it wasn’t to be and the driver was involved in a fatal car accident on the way home.
Despite the dramas, tragedies and the unknowns that each country would present, there was still a job to be done: “Michelle, where did you get your ideas for choreography from?”
No really, what is your inspiration, what is your background, what gave you the ideas for moves that have never been seen before?
She does acknowledge however that she was surrounded by very talented and passionate people at the time. It may come as no surprise then that Michelle lead the very first freestyle Step class in Australia at a Reebok event in Melbourne. “I was 17 at the time, people loved it and were ready to embrace something different”. This was at a time when a timetable would read like this: aerobics: beginner, aerobics: intermediate, aerobics: advanced. What kind of moves might you see in the very first step class? “Basic steps, indecisions, V-step, over-the-top and turn steps”; not bad given these moves have stood the test of time, just one small detail though “I did 400 basics steps on one leg and 3 on the other”.
So tell me, if I asked you to choreograph a famous Michelle Dean ‘Step Moves’ class, how long would it take you? “I could do a rubbish one this afternoon, but if you want it to be balanced doing the same number of moves on each side and making sure there is a proper structure, I would say a week….but it would be super daggy!”
I asked if she missed those free-style days, her answer, an emphatic “no”. Come on Michelle, you can tell me, don’t you get frustrated doing someone else’s chorey?”
Still a no.
“I would get frustrated if I thought I could do a better job, but I can’t. I’m happy to leave the hard work to someone else”.
I ask Michelle when the idea of pre-choreography first emerged, what was the feeling amongst free-style instructors? “Pre-choreography came at just the right time. It was a time when group fitness was struggling. It was unfortunate that this created a divide amongst instructors, you were either LES MILLS or free-style, instructors felt like they couldn’t be both”.
By: Marie Anagnostis
Marie is the Marketing Communications Manager at LES MILLS Asia Pacific and is an instructor in BODYATTACK®, BODYPUMP®, CXWORX® and GRIT™STRENGTH