S ExpressRebecca Small
Year Released: 2003
Categories: Step Aerobics
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I’m reviewing this workout after doing it once.
General workout breakdown: This video teaches eight 32-count symmetrical and tapless combinations for almost 62 minutes of step aerobics. [I know the back cover says nine combos, but I think the copy got mixed up with the one for Step Revolution.]
There is no warm-up or cool-down/stretch; the video launches right into the first combo and stops as soon as the last run through of the last combo finishes. There is also no TIFTing; each combo is taught separately. The combos progress in relative difficulty, with later combinations often having more rhythm and direction changes, and after the first few Rebecca starts spending a little more time building up the combos.
Rebecca’s teaching method begins with simple base moves that are layered and tweaked until the final combo emerges. She often builds up the first 16-count, then the other, usually concentrating on one half before moving onto the other, although sometimes you’ll learn a 16-count that’s cut down into less than half of the final combo. Rebecca also likes to play with order here; several the combos have their elements switched around from how you originally learn them. You’ll see many of the same base moves from combo to combo, but Rebecca combines them differently so each final product has its own personality.
Rebecca mentions that she hasn’t spent as much time with the breakdown / build-up as she would do in a class; the back cover says it should take about 15 minutes to work up to the full combo in a live class, and here they’re taught in about half that time. That means there’s a learning curve, as you don’t often have as much of a chance to repeat things before moving on. Even so, because Rebecca only adds on a bit at a time, clearly giving you a heads up that a change is coming and then often using the “watch me” method, to which she adds a clear verbal breakdown, before asking you to do the new or changed move, you may be surprised at how quickly you pick up things.
Rebecca’s style is to take basic, standard step aerobics moves and combine them in surprisingly fresh and interesting ways; you will hardly believe she gets the final combos out of such simple starting steps. Filler steps in breaks between run throughs or as place markers while building up combos include marching, step touch, basics, leg curl, and repeater knee; you’ll do mambos, cha chas, stomps, box steps, and v-steps; and the final variations include cross behind or straddle moves, quick steps over the platform, playing with rhythm, reverse turns, and twists or pivots.
There are a good number of higher impact moves, mostly small leaps for pendulum or a lift in a knee up, although there are some more plyometric-type moves like a jump switch lunge with one foot on the step and a ski-type move on the floor. Those whose knees complain if there’s too much torque may want to be careful because there are a good number of twists, pivots, and turns, both on the step and on the floor.
Rebecca’s choreography has a natural-feeling flow. She sticks almost exlusively to a right – left – right – left (or vice versa) pattern, so there are no awkward weight shifts. Any time I found myself having trouble with a transition or a step she promptly announced that she was layering on something that suddenly made much more sense. Of course, her superior cuing helps there; she knows just what’s going to give you trouble, such as telling you to use the same foot that you started on to do the new move or which direction to turn.
Level: I’d recommend this to at least intermediate to intermediate / advanced or so exercisers comfortable with complex step choreography. This is not for those who want to sweat while their minds take a break. You must be willing to sacrifice intensity for interesting choreography, and, boy, will you be rewarded.
I consider myself an intermediate / advanced exerciser who likes and thinks herself better than average at picking up complex choreography, and I found this one fun, interesting, and surprisingly doable. I generally pick up choreography easily if it’s broken down and cued well, which is certainly true here; I felt confident in the combos after the first run through.
Class: 1 man (Steve Schiemer, Rebecca’s husband – knowing this will make Rebecca’s insistence on calling him “babe” make more sense) and 1 woman join Rebecca, who instructs live. These two seem better rehearsed than often happens in Evolution productions (Steve perhaps has seen Rebecca work through the final routine a little too often, as he sometimes forgets which variation Rebecca is currently on), although as usual they work through any oopsies.
Music: upbeat pop-type vocal music. Usually I find Evolution soundtracks better than average, if overused, but this one is even better than that and was new to me. I recognized a few songs but can only name Pink’s “Get the Party Started.” Note that the soundtrack loops, so you’ll hear many of the songs twice.
Set: the “black abyss” Evolution set, which is an all black studio with monitors along the back featuring a revolving E (the Evolution logo). Steve and Nicole wear all black pants, so it can be hard to see them, but Rebecca has on a running skirt / skort, which was a good choice because her bare legs stand out, making it easier to follow what’s going on.
Production: clear picture and sound. There’s really only one camera angle used, which is of the whole crew. It’s a hair far away, but I prefer that to the too close close-ups. There is one obvious point at which two takes must have been edited together, but it’s just a quick glitch.
Equipment: step (Rebecca and company use those Reebok steps; my full-sized club step was just fine, if a bit long for a few moves) and sneakers that can pivot on your workout room flooring.
Space Requirements: You’ll be doing moves all around the step, so make sure you have enough space to move comfortably along each side; you’ll need to be able to kick off to each side and need extra room behind and in front of your step, where you’ll have both feet down doing mambos cha chas or mambo pivots or walking back with a knee.
DVD Notes: After the Evolution intro (which you can skip), the main menu options are Play All (which plays through an Evolution intro plus Rebecca’s intro), Zap to a Block (8 are shown in the menu, and the chapter points don’t seem always to line up with the start of combos perfectly), and Evolution DVD previews.
Comments: If you haven’t guessed, the S in S Express (or S-Express) is for Step. Trust me: Rebecca is MUCH more creative with choreography than she is with video titles.
Like many Evolution productions, this was made for somewhat experienced step instructors to learn new combos to teach to their class as well as ways to break down and teach choreography. However, this works perfectly fine for an at home exerciser, including one who doesn’t intend to teach aerobics. Rebecca says things like, “When you’re teaching this to your students…”, and she points out several times that she’s teaching things rather quickly in an effort to include as much choreography as possible on the tape, although she’s not as focused on discussing methodology here as she is in many of her more recent releases. This actually kind of works to the home exerciser’s advantage because it means that she’s very conscious of cuing moves well and spends most of her time running through the routine rather than marching about.
I’m so happy this has been released onto DVD so those of us without VHS players can satisfy our desire – no, need – for more Rebecca Small workouts. There are no signs this is a VHS transfer other than Rebecca telling you to rewind the tape as needed; it looks exactly like other contemporary Evolution productions released directly onto DVD and may have even better sound quality (I find the Marcus Irwins I have from this time period on the quiet side).
There's more impact and the choreography doesn’t seem quite as intricate as in some of Rebecca’s other offerings, like Step Revolution and Symmetrical Step Solutions, but I feel like there’s less repetition in S Express and she assumes some basic familiarity with her style, so it almost seems just as hard to pick up. Well, “hard” by Rebecca standards, that is…
This is my fourth Rebecca Small video this month and the last of the ones I’ve been able to find on DVD (at least, those available here in the U.S.). I’m not at all bored with her and look forward to many happy years of stepping with her, rotating her videos with my collection of Christi Taylors, Marcus Irwins, Marc Oliver Kluikes, Petra Kolber, Marcos Prolo, and others.
Rebecca’s cuing is so easy to follow. The amount of preparation she does, thinking through not only the choreography, how it flows together and works with the music, but also the cuing, how best to cue current moves and how to prepare for upcoming ones, makes such a difference. She mirror cues verbally a lot more here than she does in later videos (although she messes this up a time or two), where she’ll use more visual cues; either way it’s easy to follow her, especially when she adds in the direction of turns. I really like her personality: professional and focused while being pleasant and positive, she’s pretty much my ideal fitness instructor personality type. She clearly enjoys what she’s doing but never loses sight of her job as a fitness instructor.