Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Soul Cycle and cult of Stacey
by Maria Melmotte

It is a hot day on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Many of the mummies have decamped for the summer to the Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, or their country of origin. That said, the city is still teeming with billionaires and millionaires, and women smart enough to not leave their husbands alone for the summer. And a high percentage of those smart women share a second strategy for retaining the affection of their wealthy husbands: keeping their bodies tight by riding stationary bicycles.

I have somehow gotten a bike in Stacey’s coveted 9:30 am Soul Cycle spinning class. This is unusual for me because I did not buy a $3,000 super soul package; I have to sign up for my bikes on Monday at noon with the rest of the proletariat. Stacey spends the hottest summer months in Southampton sitting in traffic but she agreed to teach four more classes before she leaves for the summer.
To the untrained eye, this looks like any other spinning class. The room is dark and the music is pulsating. A girl next to me is texting on her IPhone as she pedals. There is a lot of chatter, a lot of noise, until Stacey takes over. I have heard stories about this fabled teacher but nothing could prepare me for her presence. Stacey is more famous than Soul Cycle. She may soon eclipse spinning itself. She has risen to the rank of local celebrity among a certain crowd of women.

Most female fitness instructors who come to New York City via LA look like porn stars. Stacey does not look like a porn star. She has short blond hair. She is fit, thin, toned but not excessively so. She has her fair share of tattoos—one maybe two, possibly three but none are particularly slutty.

No tramp stamps for this woman. But that is because unlike most exercise teachers Stacey is not selling sex, she is selling something even more beguiling.

She tells us to close our eyes, to stop looking at each other. She turns off all the lights and turns up the African drum music. It is hard to stop staring at all the other people in the class. These are the women who sleep with the men who rule the world. And none of them is wearing much clothing.

That said, by far the most bizarre thing about this group is that no one is putting up her hair. There is something vaguely sexual about all these woman on these bikes half naked staring at each other. But there is also something puzzling about it, after all the room is at least 85 degrees and I am already sweating like a pig. Aren’t they hot? Don’t they feel messy with their hair all over them?

People always talk about all the celebrities who go to Soul Cycle. But mostly the room is filled with the merely very rich. Occasionally there are famous people, but most celebrities are working (or still sleeping) at 9:30 on a weekday. No, this group consists almost exclusively of housewives of the most desperate variety.

But there is something different about Stacey’s class. Usually these women are complaining, often bitterly, about various real or imagined slights—someone neglected to invite them to a hot party, one of their children was rejected by a school that accepted many much less qualified toddlers, the nanny and the cleaner are greedy and lazy.

They also have quite a few things to say about their husbands. But today they are blissful. They are in awe of Stacey; they are basking in her wonderfulness. They like it when she gives them orders, although outside of this room it is they who give orders to others.

A more cynical person would say that these ladies are engaged in a fantasy of leaving their Faustian deals (or marriages, as some people call them) and running off with Stacey. After all, being married to a rich man is not all orchids and private jets (or so they tell me). And there is a lack of power in these woman’s lives that is profound.

In a world where many people actually have to work, clean their own apartments, and take care of their own children, I understand how it is hard to muster too much pity for these ladies, but one must remember that housewives as well as mill workers can live in despair.

Personally, I don’t think that the Stacey obsession is about the fantasy of leaving one’s husband, even if one’s relation to one’s spinning teacher has a sadomasochistic erotic tinge. I think people are obsessed with Stacey because she offers them something that is otherwise painfully absent their lives. She offers them much more than exercise.

She offers them the promise of power over their bodies, over their minds, over the numbing monotony of life on the Upper East Side. Stacey does visualizations, more along the Yoga and meditation spectrum. Stacey studied with Tony Robbins and various other spiritual leaders. For her, spinning is the route to a kind of transcendental meditation. She offers the mummies of Manhattan the closest thing they have to actual religion.

A cynic might suggest that this religion involves nothing loftier than worshipping one’s own body. But at least this body-worship involves the muscles, the lungs, and the vascular system. It is a body worship that is more than just skin deep. For women who spend much of their day in more superficial body rituals, rituals centered on hair, skin, and clothing, a hardcore muscular burn is almost like possessing an authentic interior life, a life of the spirit. And when they come together in a spinning class, they recognize and honor this inner life in each other. The class is a congregation, the spinning studio a church where they come together to reaffirm their commitment not just to being sexy but also to living intensely.

One wonders if Stacey might slowly be changing the world, infecting the woman who sleep with the masters of the universe with a touch of spirituality, a more palatable version of God shrunk down to forty five minutes, costing $66 and worth every penny.
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