How Spin Class Gurus Hypnotized Hollywood

It's not just spinning's 800-calories-an-hour burn rate that has producers and execs flocking. It's the motivation and validation: "We're in an industry where people root for your failure," says Eli Roth. "In SoulCycle, you don't feel that."
How Spin Class Gurus Hypnotized Hollywood
How Spin Class Gurus Hypnotized Hollywood
Emmanuel Walker

And yet, there is a spiritual component. The new cycling classes are not so much a reaction to the old cycling classes but a reaction to yoga. For how many years did we sit in yoga class, hating ourselves as our minds wandered and we thought about that deal or that client? The new breed of cycling is so intense that one can't possibly think of anything else. They are meditative in a competitive, efficient manner. There is no more one can reasonably expect from a 45-minute period.

One of cycling's attractions is that it's a high-intensity workout -- so much so that 45 minutes is enough to get the job done for the day -- and it's low-impact, so injury is minimal. Add to that the weights session each class incorporates on the bike, and you've pulled off a full workout fast.

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They also appeal to Hollywood's aesthetic by putting on a good show. Each instructor is a performer, each class is like a story. There's an introduction, slow music that builds, a script and such dramatic questions as: "Who are you?" "What did you come here for?" And the production value of the classes is something special, from stadium seating at Flywheel to SoulCycle's candlelit, dark caves.

"I'm not a touchy-feely person at all," says Wendy Engelberg, a writer and producer of Drop Dead Diva who attends classes at Flywheel by instructor Tevia Celli-Recht. "But Tevia's class is so inspirational. She gets you to places where you don't let your shit get in your way. I find myself falling for it, and it's something I normally resist."

Tevia is one of L.A.'s original celebrity instructors; she started Body & Soul in 1998. Her class is more laid-back -- the music a little softer with an unwavering light on her. Recently, Engelberg brought her staff for a bonding experience. She recommends every showrunner do it: "People loved it."

SoulCycle by far was the most crowded spot I visited. Each instructor has a special charisma: MB growls and vogues on her bike; Angela screams motivation over heavy techno; Pixie, a tattooed Tawny Kitaen ringer, warns that you and only you are responsible for your health.

"I love Pixie," says director Eli Roth, still breathless from a late-morning class. "Some instructors get Rihanna-happy, but she'll put on AC/DC and Florence + the Machine." Roth has been cycling since May. He has seen fads come and go: He remembers Billy Blanks and Tae Bo and cycling's first incarnation and always prided himself on resisting trends, preferring lifting and plain cardio. But he recently had seen a paparazzi picture of himself at Coachella and had noticed some extra weight.

"Directors get baby fat the way new mothers get baby fat. If you're 20 pounds overweight, we get it; you just did a movie. So I started this." He found it fun and an easy way to disconnect. But more than that, it worked. He lost 10 pounds right away.

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And for Roth, there's nothing more seductive than receiving out-loud validation from cult instructors. "Roarke acknowledged me in a class," he says. "I got so excited, it was ridiculous. I got a shout-out from Pixie. People all day were telling me, 'I heard you got a shout-out.' You may have noticed that we're in an industry where people other than your friends are rooting for your failure. In SoulCycle, you don't feel that." Roth claims that there's an unspoken understanding among industry folks that if you see someone past 9 a.m. in a class, you don't mention it. "Nobody needs to know you left work because you needed a Pixie class."

The newest entrant, AuraCycle, on Third Street, has been marketing aggressively to the industry, holding classes for PMK, IDPR and Spotify, which have yielded some regular clients. At AuraCycle, the mirror the bike faces is set up almost like a Lite-Brite, with multicolored lightbulbs that go off. AuraCycle's ball of energy Heather Adair laughs and bike-dances her way through her masterful playlist -- Lorde, Rihanna, even Carly Rae Jepsen. Says producer Lawrence Longo: "I love that it isn't a scene. I feel like I discovered this great place right ahead of the curve."

The real magic of these classes, though, happens toward the end. Once you are broken down -- and both Tevia and Roarke did use the phrase "broken down" -- you'll hear the smallest whisper of encouragement, the tiniest reminder of what you're here for. Roarke will pull out Coldplay. Angela has the temerity to play Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." They are all shameless in their third-act songs.

But none more than Tevia. In Tevia's class, which I took the day after DOMA was crushed, she plays U2's "One," the version that Mary J. Blige sings on. As the instrumental builds, Tevia describes her own children, how they have parents who love them, how she and her partner are now going to marry. She tells her class that every child deserves to know that they are loved, that they were brought here intentionally and legitimately and that their parents' love is sanctioned and good. Suddenly, you're no longer cycling for your heart or your body or your brain; you're cycling for a cause no less than equality itself. You are cycling to save the world.

And a little bit, like during that climactic scene in an episode of The Newsroom or Grey's Anatomy, you hate yourself for crying, but eventually, you lean into it. Because it's dark and who will know and nothing feels better than a good story, does it? After all, isn't a good story why we came here in the first place?

This article originally appeared on on September 12, 2013.