By Mel Huikeshoven
Published: May 17, 2007

This wasn’t the first time I’ve met Phillip Mills, however it was the first time I’ve actually had an organised meeting with him for an informal lunch. I walked up the stairs to LMI and entered the offices. The receptionist pointed to a door which I’ve walked past many times now, indicating Phillips office. Wow, so now I know which is his office, right next to the Marketing Director’s office.

We casually said hello and after deciding where we would go for lunch we went across the road to a small café where we then spent about an hour chatting about Les Mills, the programs and how they started. Probably the thing that took me most by surprise was that Phillip taught, what is now known as BODYATTACK, for 10 years in the 80’s.

So how did all the programs start? Where did the idea come from? The idea of pre-choreography wasn’t a new model and it was well used in the US. While Phillip studied for his degree in Philosophy in the US he took an interest in the fitness industry and became familiar with what was known as Jazzercise. Later back in Auckland, Phillip was teaching aerobics, which until Jane Fonda came along wasn’t know as aerobics, but rather, “floor classes” or some other obscure name. The term “aerobics” as we know it didn’t exist. While he was teaching, Phillip became dissatisfied with the different standards in teaching amongst different instructors. So with the idea of the pre-choregraphy model he’d seen in the US, he began to provide pre-choreography amongst his gyms to standardise the quality of instruction.

The first concept of BODYATTACK was born. These classes were known as Jazzercise, or maybe it was Jazzerjectics? Or is that what is now known as BODYJAM? There was various name changes for both BODYATTACK and BODYJAM. When BODYATTACK changed name it commenced back at BODYATTACK #1. BODYJAM resumed the numbering at around 18 or 19 once it was released internationally.

Confused yet? Yeah me too. One thing is for sure and that is that BODYATTACK is the oldest program and if it hadn’t changed names we’d be well over release 100. Scary thought huh?

Well, for lunch I ordered a chicken and avocado foccacia and the man of LMI ordered the same. One thing I’ve noticed about Auckland is that while it’s similar to Australia, the food just isn’t quite the same. Even Subway, while it’s supposed to be the same it’s just somehow different. I miss my home food. How would I cope in a different country?

Phillip has always seemed like such a quietly spoken man. Seems like he never wanted to talk much. But now over lunch he was quite keen to tell me all about his experiences. I was excited to hear them but I had to try and curb my extroverted impulses to speak without thinking….

Phillip shares the role of Creative Director along with Jackie Mills and Emma Barry. What exactly is a Creative Director? More involved than I realised. The Creative Director oversees the entire creation of the program from the early days of selection of the music right through to the conclusion of the filming. Following the filmings the choreographers (also known as Program Directors or PD’s) receive CD’s where they listen to thousands of songs for their suitability for the next release. For each track they’ll pick 5 or 6 songs for consideration for the next release. The PD’s then sit down with the Creative Directors and go through the songs they’ve selected and decide together which would be most suitable for the release and which tracks go together best and once the selection is made choreographing of the tracks then begins. Trialling of the new releases then begins around 6 weeks prior to the filmings and any number of changes to the choreography could be made during this time.

During this production schedule this means that the PD’s only have about a 6 week window each quarter for travelling and presenting around the world. They can choreograph while they’re travelling, but they have to be back for the trialling period to prepare for the filmings.

I found out a lot from Phillip about what goes on behind the scenes of Les Mills International. I hardly noticed our food disappear and before long it was time to head off for the BODYBALANCE class at 1.10pm where Jackie and the team were practising the next filming release of  BODYBALANCE 38. Phillip also came along to the class and while I went up the front to get the best experience of participating in Studio 1, Phillip slid down the back corner, presumably trying to stay unnoticed? How does someone that tall stay unobtrusive? Next time I head to Auckland I’ll promise to find out how tall he is.



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