“Here together, in this safe space, in the intimacy of my home,” she says, “I hope you widen the aperture of what’s possible for yourself. That’s what we do here. That’s what we do here.” In Robin’s home, that’s what we do.
Robin’s home is also, at the moment, a television studio that is broadcasting to a Peloton bike in my home. I ordered the device in March, when weeks of anxiety annealed into American lockdown. I am across the city from her. Both of us have cool plants next to our bikes. We’re in 23,000 other people’s homes, around the world, too. And where else are we? We’re at the gym.
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If Robin had a class at the actual, regular gym and you stumbled into it without warning, you’d never stumble out: The wattage would fry you. Teachers on the major fitness platforms are, as a rule, highly telegenic; they’re broadcast talent, and their charisma has to carry. But Robin—Robin will get your heart beating three times a second, cackle, cue the tears (hers and yours), and be laughing again, all by the end of this Coldplay song. That’s what we do here.
Peloton has been very successful at putting expensive fitness hardware in people’s homes, and the pandemic has compounded that advantage, at least among those who can still afford both the hardware and the fitness. Sales were up 66 percent last quarter. “To the extent that for so many years there was no competition, it was almost mind-boggling,” Tom Cortese told me. He is the company’s chief operating officer and one of its five founders, and lately his responsibilities have included shipping out the A/V equipment for emergency mini-studios to a handful of instructors so they can continue to teach new classes from their basement or living room.
“Think about a swan, right?” the running instructor Jess Sims, who is broadcasting Peloton classes from her studio apartment, explained to me. “Above the water, the swan looks graceful and clear and calm and everything is beautiful. And then under the water, it’s going a mile a minute—the legs, they’re doing all these crazy things. And that’s kind of my apartment.”
At the other end of the production-value spectrum, there’s Zoom—all legs, no swan. In March, every yoga and Pilates instructor you’ve ever encountered, every dance teacher, every personal trainer, plus a great number of people who aren’t any of these but influence as if they were, made the jump to Zoom, to Instagram Live, to YouTube. This flourishing was a playful counterpoint to the surrounding catastrophe. One early-lockdown weekend, I took a free dance class from a teacher who seemed to be in a Scandinavian cabin. My friend Charlie had often told me about these classes in their live form, in a style called “gaga,” which is meant to rid the dancer of self-consciousness. There we were, dozens of us, swooping and whirling and leaping in little frames on everybody’s laptop. It was ridiculous. It was the kind of thing you could get away with in the first fresh days of apocalypse.