With 1800 articles in our archives, there's a good chance you may have missed some of our best posts. So we will be reposting a few that we feel are not only very special, but timeless in their value to ICI/PRO members.
By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas
Organized systems of physical movement have the potential to progress toward artistry, yet most indoor cycling instructors wouldn”™t call themselves artists. Still, any instructor who wants to create a compelling class experience could benefit from thinking that way.
Certain activities fall under the term "art". A dancer of any level could reasonably be called an artist, even though many dancers are not particularly artistic. But indoor-cycling instructors are seen as fitness instructors, people who teach indoor cycling.
Are we artists? We”™ll get to that in a moment. Is there any benefit in considering yourself an artist? I would definitely say yes. Being an artist implies that you transcend the ordinary and do something creative in your trade.
There are those who cook, garden, design home interiors, or cut hair and have elevated what they do to an art. Isn”™t “transcending the ordinary” what many of us strive for as instructors? I don”™t teach simply to be a competent exercise instructor. My class is my craft, but it”™s more because I create each ride with an approach that feels, at this point, like artistry.
The assets I use to create the experience include music, lighting, voice, words and, most recently, video. I also incorporate concepts and philosophy and combine all of these elements in the cycling studio environment to create art. (I covered some of this in a previous post on The Art of Cueing.)
So can you consider your class art?
It”™s an important distinction to make because art enriches our lives, sometimes more than work. When we approach something as art, it stimulates different parts of our brains, makes us laugh or cry, with the gamut of emotions in between. Art gives us a way to create and express ourselves. There are days that creating my next ride is the main reason I get out of bed in the morning.
We”™re hard-wired for creativity and hone it to our specific abilities. Giving life to something original from within to share with the world purely for its intrinsic value is perhaps one of the most rewarding feelings we can have.
Originality may be a key concept in art. We”™ve all heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but is the imitation art? I”™d say often not, even if it”™s imitating something that is.
That”™s where the distinction occurs for many instructors. Approaching your class as art may be joyous and provide great return, but it takes authenticity — a willingness to share what”™s really you. A copycat workout, even skillfully run, isn”™t authentic.
I believe the ability to make art is inherently human, but it TAKES WORK. When I began teaching, my class wasn”™t art. I was no more skilled in teaching indoor cycling than anyone else at the beginning, but I”™ve poured arduous hours, days, weeks, months and years of my life into it.
My point is “art” is more than a label; “my class is art” isn”™t something just anyone can claim, even a good instructor. The difference between art and craft lies in the intent behind it. If your intent is merely to design a great workout, to emulate that amazing instructor at the last conference, or to impress the class with your skill, I”™m not sure you can claim to be an artist.
I make my class art because I love creating. There”™s nothing more gratifying to me than working on a playlist for days, selecting just the right videos, and planning what I”™ll talk about — leaving enough room to improvise that I never know how a class will turn out until it”™s over. The process itself is enjoyable: I express my interests and empower my students to enjoy training and go beyond what they thought they could do.
Sometimes class participants dismiss artistic attempts, saying, “I just want to work out”. Such a statement speaks to the loss of creativity in our world and only magnifies the need for us to consider our classes as art. Fitness can be so much more than a workout.
Is your class art? Why should you consider turning your class into art? Are you willing to do the work to make it art?
Art is natural and instinctive, like language and laughter. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist,” and every culture has art. Expressing something artistically makes us feel more complete.
Art is also a medium for expressing ideas. While a class could be just a workout, treating our class as art gives us greater range of expression and helps us share thoughts, ideas and visions that may not be easily articulated in words.
It”™s also healing. Creating your class from an artistic perspective will enliven and stimulate you. The process of creating engages both body and mind and provides us with time to look inward and reflect.
Finally, it”™s a shared experience. When you look at your class as art, you recognize it as collaboration with the participants. It uses your skills as exercise specialist, cyclist and public speaker, which combine with the musician”™s artistry in the songs you play and the cinematographer”™s artistry in the videos you select. Art offers us a reason to share talents in a collective manner.
Approaching my cycling class as art has been good for my soul. It”™s been good for my brain and my body. I”™m a better cyclist now than I would have been if I hadn”™t brought artistry to the practice of teaching indoors. I”™ve been a mediocre dancer and a horrible musician, but teaching indoor cycling as art has allowed me to bring my bike to life.
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I don’t know exactly what Jim is trying to suggest we normal work-a-day instructors do beyond adding personal touches to our classes. I can say – in my humble opinion – that no one gives more to his craft, this industry or us as instructors than Jim Karanas. His willingness to do the hard goes beyond great all the the way to extraordinary. He is an artist!!
I’ve been there at the end of his last trade show class when he could barely get off the bike. Not one of his riders would have noticed but those of us present who are friends and ICG colleagues could see it. That is a man, an instructor to emulate. I’m proud to call him friend.
There is a reason the great artists are far and few between. They have something special beyond a willingness to do the hard work.
My own special talent lies in the more monastic environs of the airplane cockpit. Flying small underpowered airplanes through low altitudes where most weather is found is art at its most basic level. An exercise in mental gymnastics. I never tire of it and have been happy to inspire the few I’ve met in 40 years of flying that posses the same knack.
As a new indoor cycle instructor I new instinctively to seek out the artists and learn by emulation. Like painting, the art of teaching indoor cycling can be categorized. Learning from many and adding my own nuance has produced popular well attended classes. Yet I’m far from ever calling myself an artist in this arena.
Still, learning from the best of the best is what ICI/PRO is all about. Though we all may not be able to create great art, we can use great art to inspire our riders. They will like our classes and for that we have people like Jim to thank.
Let me be the first. Thank you Jim. 🙂
As always your insights are remarkable. As a trained artist (painter) I often find myself in conversations with people about the creation and process of making art. I am always struck by the perception people have of making art not being “work”. There is a perception that the painting is a result of pure inspiration.
To be sure inspiration has an important and critical role. But it’s the fundamentals and the work that brings the piece to life. It’s the love of the thing. The love of putting your hands on it and nurturing it, forming it into something that will illicit the desired response.
Making music or a painting or a film is only the initial step. It’s the sharing of the experience that makes it art. It matters what other people bring to it and take from it.
Although working out for the sake of working out is a fine goal, as an ICG instructor I want my class to take away more. I would like them to come away with something that inspires. Not necessarily in a grand way but in a way that brings a bit more meaningfulness to them.
Sometimes my small paintings are the ones that bring me the most fulfillment because they contain so much information so simply and succinctly.
And Chuck, I’ve seen you in action. An artist in your own right!
Jim, I agree with Chuck in his assessment of your artistry. As always, and let me be the second, thank you for your insights.
Chuck and Rob have shared great insights in their comments; of course I agree. And both of them are excellent at what they do.
If anyone would like more information on Jim and what he’s accomplished in the fitness industry to merit the praise he gets, please check ICI-PRO archives for a post I wrote a couple of years ago, called “Who Is This Jim Karanas, Anyway?”
Chuck, Rob, Joan:
Thanks for your comments. I was a bit nervous about this post but Joan helped me crystallize my words (thank Joan) to a point where I did not sound sanctimonious.
You guys are my teammates, friends and fellow riders. Thanks for your kind words.