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Secrets of a SoulCycle Instructor

The Soulcycle experience is different -- it's not just the music. It is healing. Here is what a Senior Master Soulcycle instructor and cancer survivor has to say.

SoulCycle is addictive. If you find a good instructor, and we went for the most experienced ones, it is sort of like dance class + church + spin bike + massive sweat. Since indoor anything is off the menu for us for some time to come, we have recently become devotees of the digital SoulCycle experience using the Variis app. There is so much to love, but one thing that stands out for us is the experience and age of the instructors. Some of the instructors, like Sue, have been honing their instruction since the beginning of Soul. We here at AGEIST have respect for excellence and experience of which Sue, who has been doing what she loves for 20 years, is a great example.

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Sue has been through some hard knocks, and she has come out full of love. She was diagnosed with endometrial cancer on her 53rd birthday. After a full hysterectomy, they told her some cancer cells were the aggressive kind and that she needed chemotherapy and radiation as well. She ended up having three more surgeries but is now back in the saddle at Soulcycle. Sue is a hero. 

The Senior Master Instructor Started in 2007

Where are you from and how did you get to be a superstar Soul instructor?

I grew up 10 years in Wisconsin, then South Carolina for ten years, then Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. I taught at Gold’s Gym in Hollywood for 8 years before I was recruited by Julie & Elizabeth in December 2007 to work for Soul in NYC. I was a flight attendant at the time, and I worked both jobs for a few years. I would teach at Soul in NYC, work the flight to LA, teach my class at Gold’s Gym there, then work the flight back to NYC and teach at Soul for the week. Did that for two years and then finally retired early from United Airlines and focused solely on being a SoulCycle instructor. 

What do you do when you are not teaching at Soul?

When I’m not teaching at SoulCycle, I’m usually cooking and eating. I’m a homebody.

“The music is EVERYTHING”

How do you program the music? From our experience, that is what separates Soul from the other programs out there. It is more like dancing.

The music is EVERYTHING. I brought the notion of riding to regular music to the indoor cycling scene back in 1999. People were a bit confused at first; once everyone got the hang of it, they realized that it was fun to ride to music not previously thought of as “exercise music.” I would much rather sing along with great music and be driven to keep the beat of a song rather than have a background “boom boom boom” soundtrack while an instructor distracts you with moves. I don’t want to have to reach a number (RPMs, etc.) I just want to ride to the music and have the song itself motivate me.

How do you make your playlists?

I’ve been doing this so long that I make my playlists the morning of the classes I teach. That way I can see what kind of mood I’m in, what’s going on in the world that I can infuse my set with. Sometimes one song will inspire me and I’ll build the set around it. Sometimes it’s whatever point I’m trying to get across — like hope, or change, or maybe something that’s hot on Broadway, like Jagged Little Pill. Sometimes I go for the general “dance party on a bike;” sometimes I try to go a little deeper than that.

Adjusting to Digital Classes

How has the adjustment to recorded classes been for you?

I have found the recorded classes are the most difficult to teach — there’s just something a bit more stiff when it’s being recorded. When it’s live, I have much more of the vibe of it being a regular Soul class. I can be myself a bit more.

It’s been an interesting transition to the digital world from my community on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. SoulCycle started with one studio on the UWS and I built a very loyal family of riders there. We’ve all been riding together for 13 years now, and they all know me so well that I feel comfortable being myself and not fearing that I’ll be taken the wrong way, or say something that may offend someone. I’m realizing with the digital world, that I need to be more careful in my delivery. I can be pretty blunt and sometimes my humor doesn’t translate. With a face-to-face experience, it’s much easier. 

How is the interaction different for you?

I kinda just trust that most people who are riding with me digitally are going to give me the benefit of the doubt — that I’m coming from a place of compassion and encouragement —and go with the flow with me, even when I’m being kooky or different. As much as I dislike social media and what it’s done to humankind in general, it is a good way for people I don’t know to connect with me. To give me song requests, or let me know that what I’m doing is making a (positive) difference in their lives. That is a gift I don’t take for granted.

“It’s wonderful to ride outside. The silent disco headphones are amazing”

We see that there have been some outdoor classes. What was that like?

I’m teaching outdoor classes in NYC at Hudson Yards, as long as the weather permits. I taught outside in the Hamptons this summer and, once I started there, I joked that I never wanted to ride indoors again! It’s wonderful to ride outside. The silent disco headphones are amazing. And the energy exchange is still wonderful. I do, however, miss the candlelight and the intimate vibe of the pack riding together in the dark room. I look forward to being able to have that once again. But honestly, both experiences are transcendent.

A Joyful Experience

What is the experience you aim for your riders to have?

What I would hope that people would get from taking class with me on Variis is a joyful experience. To be able to dive into the music and forget the world and your worries for 45 minutes. To get a basic workout, yes. But so much more. Cormac McCarthy has a passage in All the Pretty Horses that sums it up pretty well:

“And after and for a long time to come he’d have reason to evoke the recollection of those smiles and to reflect upon the good will which provoked them for it had power to protect and to confer honor and to strengthen resolve and it had power to heal men and to bring them to safety long after all other resources were exhausted.”

Mutual support and encouragement. I think that’s what I’m going for. Another of my favorite quotes is: “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other,” George Eliot. I hope that my class does that.

The Soulcycle experience is different — it’s not just the music. It is healing. And the human connection. I don’t know if you have experienced that yet, but at least for me, that is the goal as well, besides the physical workout. I hope to offer healing through movement and music. And a chance for human connection. We’re all struggling right now with the state of division in our country. And this is a chance for us to connect and encourage each other to be our best selves. To be patient and compassionate and kind to each other, and move us all to a better place. So. There is a reason that SOUL is in our name. It is a soulful experience, not just a physical one. And I use soulful music to facilitate that healing.

“Do your best, don’t judge yourself or others, and have fun with it”

For us, and maybe for other new riders, the coordinating of the moves on the bike with the peddling cadence was at first a bit clumsy. Do you hear that much?

Hmmm… coordinating cadence and moves… It’s a really good idea to just start with the basics. And I mean as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and having a good time. Once you’ve got the basics down (just being on the saddle and riding to the beat, maybe getting up to the beat occasionally), then you can start having fun with trying some of the choreography. I’m known at SoulCycle as having the least choreography in my class. It’s fun every now and then but I am not at all interested in being distracted the entire class by moving from one “move” to another. I’d rather just ride to the music.

It took me a few years before I could jog off the saddle for a whole song. I would either just sit down every now and then to catch my breath, or I’d just go at a slower pace until I built enough strength and stamina to rock the whole song. You have to cut yourself some slack. I’ve been riding for over 20 years and I still struggle through a quick jog sometimes. Do your best, don’t judge yourself or others, and have fun with it. And personally, I wouldn’t ride again with any instructor who made me feel like I was less-than because I sat down. I always say that sitting down is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. Allow yourself time to get stronger, and to get the hang of it. And don’t take yourself too seriously.

“It’s the exercise version of a concert”

I think Soul is the most fun because we let the music drive the experience. It is all about the music — at least for me. I don’t go to clubs and dance anymore, so I get to rock out on the bike. I *DO* go to a ton of concerts and shows, and a Soul class is similar to that. It’s the exercise version of a concert. It makes you forget you’re exercising! I’m just not a numbers person; that doesn’t motivate me. But the crescendo of a song? That will make me work harder than anything!

We use a Schwinn spin bike, and it seems to work well. Any experience with non-Soul bikes?

I have riders who are riding the Variis classes on all different kinds of at-home bikes. I don’t really have any experience with them (I’ve only ridden on the Soul bike) so can’t really offer any advice there. Since my class is light on the crazy choreography, any bike should be fine for what I do. From what I hear, the Soul bike is the most solid. Just use common sense and be careful out there!

Instagram: @soulcyclesue

https://www.variis.com/app

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David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

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