Thousands of hopeful performers pound New York City's pavement every day looking for their big break and a stage on which to share their abilities with an audience. For a lucky few, that might be Broadway—but for a growing number, it's a boutique fitness studio.
Yes, that's right: In addition to producers and casting agents, (fitness) studio heads are now scouting talent, too—trying to find the perfect person to play a part in their sweaty show, ideally one they can mold in their method.
In addition to producers and casting agents, (fitness) studio heads are now scouting talent, too.
“It seems like nowadays everyone’s got their own brand, and they’re trying to recruit their own army of people,” says Marc Santa Maria, national director of group fitness for Crunch gyms.
One of the first to seek out entertainers—instead of trainers—to teach its classes was SoulCycle (which famously kept its process strictly under wraps until last year). Today, though, "instructor auditions" are such a standard practice that if you browse the casting site Backstage, you’ll find listings for boutique studios and big-box gyms right alongside ones for plays and commercials.
So, what's it like to try out for a starring role at one of the country's top studios? Here's an inside look at the audition process.
All the world's a stage—including the studio floor
Like SoulCycle’s model, most studios that recruit performers to teach fitness solicit applications and then invite a big group in to audition together. While one potential instructor teaches, the other applicants make up the class participants.
For example, at a recent audition for 305 Fitness, 200 people were invited to try out in groups of about 10 at a time. On their turn, they entered the studio with numbers pinned to their shirts (or sports bras) and set themselves up in rows in front of a panel of current instructors—including founder Sadie Kurzban—and briefly introduced themselves.
One of the current instructors then demoed three simple dance moves. Once the room was following the choreography, the panel called out a number and that person would move to the front, taking on the role of instructor for a short portion of the song.
"It’s going to feel like forever when you’re up here. In reality, it’s going to be 10–20 seconds."
“It’s going to feel like forever when you’re up here. In reality, it’s going to be 10–20 seconds,” Kurzban told one group before they started. “What we’re really looking for is that you’re loud, you’re big with your body, and you’re showing your personality. “
After the initial audition, there were call-backs, and just 12 hopefuls made it to the final round—an in-depth interview. Those who are hired after that enter a rigorous training program.
This is the common format for a fitness audition in places like New York or Los Angeles, where instructing is seen as either a full-time gig (not something you do outside of your 9-to-5) or a serious side hustle to supplement your income while you look for entertainment jobs.
Why working out is the new waiting tables
In the Big Apple, the group fitness boom has transformed what it means to be a young performer trying to make it big. “When I first came to New York, I waited tables,” says Antonietta Vicario, and instructor at Physique 57. “Who’s [doing that] these days?”
Someone who bypassed the bar/restaurant scene entirely is Danielle Carlacci, an instructor at 305 and a former gymnast and college cheerleader. She came to New York to star in Bring it On: The Musical on Broadway. When she was looking for work after the show closed, she opted to go the instructor route. The first time she auditioned for Kurzban, she didn’t get a call back.
“I was really set on hitting the moves and I didn’t break free from that. The truth is, everybody can do the moves; you have to do something different,” she says. Carlacci worked the front desk at 305, took lots of classes, and then nailed it on her second try. She now sits in on auditions with Kurzban, helping the studio founder spot potential in the crowd.
"The truth is, everybody can do the moves; you have to do something different."
I asked Kurzban what she's looking for in a new instructor. While she says technical training and fitness experience aren't important, she wants above-the-bar dance talent. Think someone who is down-to-earth and can improvise on the spot—and exhibits an "X factor" but isn't self-absorbed.
It's essentially the exercise world equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, according to Santa Maria. He’s looking for an entertainer who knows fitness and anatomy, a superstar with heart but little ego, a person who can both nurture and nudge people toward goals. His ideal instructor? "A person [who] has confidence grounded in authenticity.”(Vicario calls it “personality versus persona,” someone who is confident but also relatable.)
At the end of the day, though, “as much as that entertainment factor is key, if you don’t have the knowledge to provide a good workout, it won’t work," Santa Maria says,
Seeing it all in action, one thing is clear: Landing the role of "fitness instructor" is about as easy as learning how to gallop.
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