Alison Benney
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I’m ACE certified, belong to IDEA, and have been teaching fitness classes since 1985, in Paris. I coordinate an independent association of fitness instructors at the Franco-American community center. I enjoy training teachers, organizing workshops and fitness fairs, and am a frequent presenter on fitness in Paris for a newcomers' orientation program.

How does coordinating a fitness program and teaching classes differ here from in your home country?

Paris is such a multinational city that we get clients from many different countries, which means lots of cultural and language differences. With the different accents, it can be a challenge answering questions on the phone! This means that I need to especially rely on hand signals in class, or at least pay special attention to clear enunciation when giving directions, and some classes are conducted in a mix of English and French. Our countdowns are given in four languages, English, French, Italian and German, with the occasional visiting Japanese, Swedish or Russian.

Due to working restrictions, there’s a real scarcity of qualified English speaking teachers in Paris, so finding new or substitute teachers can be a challenge. When a good teacher does come to town, he or she may end up doing lots of personal training rather than group instruction, as rental space for classes is expensive and hard to find.

A benefit of giving classes in France is that most clients have national medical insurance, which means that the fees we pay for liability insurance are minimal.

Marketing: I concentrate on keeping a stock of leaflets in the foyer of the community center/American Church, and have a running ad in one of the English language magazines. Many clients hear about us by word of mouth.

Client base: We get 50% English-speakers, 25% French-speakers, and the rest are from just about everywhere else in the world.

Competition: There’s not much, as we offer an la carte service that is fairly unique in Paris. Although we aren’t a gym, we do provide the basics: music, mats and weights. Occasionally someone will start up a daytime class in another location in Paris, and this makes a good complement to our mostly evening classes.

What is your teaching specialty?

I’m a big fan of hi/low impact cardio workouts, I love to bounce off the walls! But I also enjoy teaching body sculpt, and my favorite format is called Sweat ‘n’ Sculpt. For half the class, I alternate five minutes of cardio with 5 minutes of standing or slightly moving with weights. Have incorporated some basic yoga and pilates moves into the classes and am trying to incorporate more serious stretching and relaxation.

What are your priorities?

Fun and safety, with education built in.