The art of SoulCycle hairography

For a pack of SoulCycle instructors, the party starts when their hair comes down.
(Photo: Instagram/@CharleeAtkins)

Midway through one of my first SoulCycle classes with Charlee Atkins—two-plus years ago, in Union Square—she tossed her long, brunette ponytail over her head, right as the beat dropped during a tap back. It was like time stopped. Beads of sweat flew off the end of her locks and across the studio, some even splashing me in the face. While it sounds kind of gross, at the same time it was also weirdly awesome. Fitness baptism meets head-banging on the bike.

Hairography—AKA tossing your hair purposefully with your moves on the bike—is a growing fitness world phenomenon and a skill that gives a steamy workout room music video transcendence. And its full expression lives in the follow-the-yellow-bike world of SoulCycle, where dancing on your bike is an art form, and long locks are both a stylish accessory and a metronome.

A generation of SoulCycle instructors is perfecting this technique, many citing master instructors like Janet Fitzgerald, who heads up Soul’s training program, as their mane-tossing maestro.

One of them is Karyn Nesbit, a New York City-based SoulCycle instructor with long, wavy hair, down to her chest. She says putting her hair to work on the bike was a happy teaching accident.

“When I wore my hair up tight enough to keep it in place, it was starting to break off. That’s why I started doing it really loose and then it would just fly out. My first community ride, that’s what happened. It was fun and it worked and they were like, ‘We love that your hair thing came out and you didn’t even care.’ It became an extension of the rest of my body,” she says.

Gina Heekin, Charlee Atkins, and Karyn Nesbit (Photos:

Nesbit owns her moves on the SoulCycle website, “You can expect strong beats and lots of hairography,” reads her bio. During one of her rides, in Tribeca, it looked exactly like that. She started with her hair down, bouncing it on her shoulders and flipping it back and forth during tap backs. By the time the arm series came around, her flowing hair was drenched. Nesbit frequently has riders coming up to her after class, gushing over her hair. As to how she choreographs her moves, “On jumps…I have to flip it,” she says nonchalantly. “Now I’m so used to it.”

In Los Angeles, Gina Heekin’s hairography resembles a musician rocking out on a drum kit. The petite brunette with a yoga background bangs her head back and forth like a drummer, arms extended out in front of her, even if she’s not the instructor on the bike. Her sweaty, totally enthralled students nail the beat by mirroring her. You become mesmerized. “I remember being taught the power of the hair by Janet Fitzgerald during my training. There is a sense of freedom, strength, and overall badass-ness that comes with letting your hair down. Sometimes a song just calls for it,” says Heekin.

Celebrity hair guru Julien Farel (who’s also the official stylist of the US Open tennis players), says he’s not surprised that hair’s become part of the indoor cycling experience. “You’re allowing yourself to use your hair as a way to connect with the music and your workout,” he says. “Using your hair adds extra oomph and style while you rock out on a bike,” he says, of its entertainment value. In an instructor, “it offers game-changing appeal.”

That’s why, though it may seem counterintuitive to wear your hair down during a blobs-of-sweat-inducing ride, this cadre of instructors say it can seriously change your mood.

“Hair can change the vibe and energy in me and the room. There are times during rides when I wonder what it is that the class needs….and I will realize my hair is still up,” Heekin says. “When the hair comes down the room lightens up…people makes noise and it’s known the party has arrived.” —Molly Gallagher 

Have you seen SoulCycle hairography at work in the studio? Tell us in the Comments, below!

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