Sydney Sabean basically lives out of a spin studio bathroom. She teaches up to nine classes every week—constantly in a cycle of showering, getting ready and sprinting out the door to her next job. She carries a backpack with enough clothes, food and work for the day, which sometimes includes three or four different outfits.
The 25-year-old Flywheel instructor is also a working actress and a fit model, among other things. She’s part of a growing part of the entertainment industry in New York that works in boutique fitness. Take a class at any of the major cycling studios in the city, like Flywheel or SoulCycle, and you’ll soon notice that many of the instructors shouting motivational phrases and forcing you to pedal faster are aspiring or working entertainers.
Gone are the days when actors and actresses schlep away as bartenders or waiters in NYC restaurants. Now, they’re taking advantage of the surge in popularity of spin classes, while also reaping benefits like shift flexibility and extra perks (such as free Barry’s Bootcamp classes for Flywheel instructors).
Bedford + Bowery conducted research on Flywheel’s instructors and found that around 30 percent of the NYC-based instructors are in entertainment or actively seeking careers in the entertainment industry. Most of them are aspiring or working actors and actresses. Likewise, nearly 40 percent of SoulCycle instructors have backgrounds in arts and entertainment.
“There’s so much pressure in the acting industry,” Sabean said. “Working in fitness and staying fit are ways to cope with that stress.”
Boutique cycling classes in New York have been gaining popularity since 2006, when SoulCycle opened its first location on the Upper West Side. The idea of working out in a dark room with loud music and peppy instructors shouting at you for motivation soon caught on as a trend. Other studios like Flywheel, Peloton and Cyc popped up in following years, all following the dance-club workout model SoulCycle established.
Flywheel opened its first studio in NYC in 2010, taking elements like low lights and upbeat music and adding high-tech bikes with screens that allow riders to keep track of their resistance and total output. Each bike is also synced to a larger screen in the front of the room, so riders can see their ranking against others in the class.
“Flywheel is a more athletic workout,” said Sabean. She explained that spin studios like Flywheel likely attract so many working entertainers due to the need for a flexible side job.
Sabean works as a fit model for Gap and is constantly going on voiceover and on-camera auditions—meaning she regularly has to move her schedule around for acting opportunities. Luckily, Flywheel offers easy ways to sub out classes to other instructors. “If you asked me on Monday of this week what my Friday looked like, it was only Flywheel and now it’s 11 other things,” she said. “It’s a struggle because auditions usually come up with no notice.”
Colleen Wright, a Flywheel instructor as well as an actress and singer, uses her Flywheel income to support herself while working mostly unpaid acting gigs to bulk up her resume. Following an undergraduate education at NYU in nutrition and dietetics, Wright decided to pursue acting more seriously, taking the equivalent of unpaid internships to get experience in the hopes of landing an agent.
Currently, Wright is unrepresented in the industry, combing through casting websites and emails to source the auditions she goes to. Her priority is being able to support herself while pursuing acting. “I think my concern is always that my money-making job will overshadow the acting,” she said. “And so it’s a very careful balance that I have to keep. Flywheel makes it easy.”
Wright lives comfortably on her Flywheel salary, and says that if she’s ever in a tight spot financially, she can “sub more classes.” While the money is pretty good, choosing to remain a part-time instructor at Flywheel means she isn’t offered benefits, like health insurance. Wright has been struggling with an overuse injury in her hamstring from spin. The cost of her physical therapy is coming out of her pocket.
Flywheel attracts both aspiring actors and a number of highly successful entertainers—like Ben Thompson—who choose to keep their side fitness gigs. Thompson is known most recently for his role as Earl in the Broadway production of Waitress and has also been in the Broadway productions of Matilda, Holler If Ya Hear Me and American Idiot.
When Thompson booked Waitress, he took a month off of teaching at Flywheel to get used to the performance schedule, and eventually picked up one weekly class at the Astor Place studio, to balance out the eight shows per week he performs in. When the show wraps in January, Thompson says he hopes to ramp up the number of classes he teaches again.
“Flywheel has allowed me the flexibility to leave and come back,” Thompson said. “And honestly, getting paid to stay in shape is great.”
Thompson agrees with both Sabean and Wright on the main reason actors look to part-time boutique fitness jobs: “There’s a performance aspect to being an instructor,” he said. “You have to be up there on the podium, command a room and control it.”
There’s a stark contrast between the side-hustle, working-entertainer environment at Flywheel when compared to cult-followed SoulCycle, which has 21 studios across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Research on the motivational fitness brand’s New York instructors suggests that SoulCycle tends to convert its entertainment-bound instructors into full-time employees. Alongside many of the 100 New York-based instructor’s names on the site, phrases like “former actor,” “former dancer” and “former entertainer” appear frequently.
Madigan Mayberry is a full-time SoulCycle instructor, and says that she found her passion for the brand soon after becoming a rider when she was in college at PACE University, studying dance. “It was about senior year that I figured out I did not want to pursue dance,” she said. After coming to terms with not moving on in the entertainment industry, Mayberry dove headfirst into SoulCycle. “I went with some friends and when I left I was immediately like, yup, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. “That’s what I want. It was fate.”
Along with the ever-positive attitudes at SoulCycle, there are perks to working as a full-time instructor, like healthcare, on-site physical therapy and opportunities to advance into their sought-after instructor training program.
The “Soul” allure comes partially from its branding and partially from the atmosphere it has created. There’s a big push for riders and instructors to live the SoulCycle brand outside of the studio, maintaining motivation and taking aspects of the meditative workout into their everyday lives.
Pursuing entertainment while also working in fitness can lead to landing major roles—or it can leave instructors burnt out, looking for a less-stressful environment to work in. “The entertainment industry is really tough and it’s a lot of negative energy,” said Mayberry. “It’s competitive. If you’re not the best, you’re not getting jobs. That’s not always the case in fitness.”