Written by Christiana Bay, ETA ’11-13

“So, what exactly is spinning?”

My childhood friend takes a long sip of her strong, completely black Iced Americano. We meet on my last day of vacation in America before I head back to Korea. The stories spill out. Ever since we were kids we’ve never had trouble leaping from one subject to the next. Never had any awkward silences. Never had any communication breakdowns.

I had nonchalantly mentioned my exercise routine the previous night, an aside within the comfortable flow of stories.  But I’m suddenly at a loss for words, struggling to find a way to even begin describing spinning.

If Spinning were a person, she’d probably have severe ADHD. She would use Xanax recreationally, she would own roller skates instead of a car and she would have become a member of the Mile High Club before the age of eighteen. She’d stumble when she walked, and never be able to sit still. She’d stutter. She might even twitch occasionally. She’d be a jittery, wired, hot mess.

Spinning is Bicycling’s drugged up, ecstasy pill-popping second cousin. It is Rowing’s ex—and man, did they have one messy breakup. It’s Leisurely Walking’s greatest enemy. It thinks Jogging is a joke. Weight Lifting is a wuss. And Jump Roping’s a poor excuse for a workout.

“So, what exactly is spinning?”

It was a Tuesday afternoon. Successfully kept high school boys on topic? Check. Successfully pick-pocketed all girl students’ mirrors? Check. Feeling good on that six-floor elevator ride up to the gym? Check. And after stretching and a quick warm-up on the treadmill, I sit at a table with some middle-aged women, my new ajummas friends.

They smile at me and we try to carry on a conversation in minimal English and fast-paced Korean. I do my best to catch words and form responses, but I am distracted by the girl—probably in her late thirties—who joins us.

She has a diamond sparkled clip in her black kinked hair and bright lime green biker gloves cover her hands. She is wearing green plaid and tan booty shorts. Her top is made out of a faux satin material. Her halter straps tie like shoelaces across her back and she wears a nude colored Spanx undergarment that smoothens out any loose skin around her midsection. She even has on bubble gum lipstick and eye shadow. Kinked Hair came to play.

A trainer, who I like to call a roadie, turns on the lights as we all jump up and wait at the door to Spinning’s room despite the fact that class won’t start for 30 more minutes. Spinning is that popular. Spinning is that coveted. You have to wait before Spinning lets you through her apartment door.

The big sign on top of the doorframe before walk into the room is in large bubble letters with a jagged red underline.

I should have been more prepared. I should have been Kinked Hair prepared.

The roadie opens Spinning’s door like a bouncer, and we all rush in, piling on top of each other for a spot.

I choose my bike… my fate… Left? Right? Up? Down? I get stuck on the right side. Mostly because the veterans pushed the rookie into the corner.

Being 172 cm, I need to adjust my seat. And I, of course, seem to get the only defective bike in the room. The seat is somehow stuck in its position, and it ain’t budging. No worries, one of my ajumma friends offers to switch and while giving me a toothless smile.

I wouldn’t be surprised if years of Spinning had knocked those teeth out; because, after all, Spinning would have a killer uppercut.

I’m on the left side now. The walls glow with lightening bolt, half moon, star and explosion stickers. There’s a stage at the front with a lone bike. Red, blue, and green lights bounce off the walls. The roadie leaves the room. Kinked Hair takes a seat near the mirror, maybe so she can watch herself sweat off her mascara. I take a swig of my vitamin water and watch as our Spinning director enters the room, goes to the stage and dims the lights.

Here we go.

We start off doing what I can only depict as “yoga on bikes.” We loosen up our arms and necks, and hold the handlebars of our bikes and bend our backs. Downward dogs on wheels. Our male Spinning instructor asks the group something in Korean. The ajummas shout their approval and he presses the power button on the stereo next to him.

A strobe light comes on. Serene Spinning becomes Hypomanic Spinning. It becomes an epileptic’s worst nightmare.

I’m at a rave. I’m sweating. Lactic Acid burns my legs. The ajummas are screaming. K-Pop, electronic beats and dance remixes stream out of the stereo and send our group into a psychedelic, funky high. It is mania.

I imagine Spinning head banging in the middle of a night club’s floor. She’d worship Lady Gaga. She’d wear sparkly nail polish. She and Kesha would be besties. They’d go out in their “ripped all up the sides” stockings; they’d wear their matching friendship “Jesus necklaces” together. They’d throw glitter on each other and then have an amiable mud wrestle in front of alcoholics in their fifties. Kesha would snort cocaine while Spinning snorted Pixie Sticks.

I’m in a loopy, kaleidoscopic daze.

Our Spinning director is high-fiving the air. He’s punching, he’s wiggling, he’s shaking. He’d have the Energizer Bunny running for its money. He’d have Lance Armstrong doing a double take as he rode by, throwing sequins in Lance’s face. This Korean man never stops. He demonstrates K-Pop dances with his arms as his legs do 3,000 revolutions per minute. He shouts at us to keep pushing, just like the P90X trainer on my DVD.  But unlike the P90X guy—who I just want to punch in his smug face and scream a long string of obscenities at—the Spinning instructor just makes me want to party every weekend with him. He drinks euphoria instead of water. He breathes out enthusiasm instead of air. He perspires excitement instead of sweat. This dude knows all of Spinning’s moves. He knows all of Spinning’s dirty secrets, and he is one of the only people on the planet who might be able to control Spinning.

He is a Spinning deity. We civilians below his throne take water breaks in between each song, but his legs never stop pumping.

Halfway through the class a plump ajumma enters the room and stands by a bike that was deserted after fifteen minutes (some of us just can’t handle Spinning) and spends the next thirty minutes—while I torture my body—swaying to the music. I don’t mean dancing, I mean swaying. Just a casual, relaxed, rocking of her hips, really. I glare at her enviously and try to keep pace with the Spinning Lord.

Spinning morphs you into a Behemoth. And I mean, a huge, colossal, swimming monster. You drip like you just stepped out of the shower. You feel your skin become slick and slippery. Your mouth opens three times wider than normal to suck in oxygen. You are a slimy, fanged creature amongst colored, flickering lights.

And then, it stops.

An hour is over and you haven’t even looked at the clock. Spinning’s acid trip wears off and the lights come back up. The real textures and colors of the room become visible. Spinning’s high starts to wear off. She starts to sober up. And with Ke$ha passed out on the floor in her apartment, Spinning starts her cool down routine: hoola-hooping in front of her pet iguana.

We get off our speed demons and stretch out again. Exhausted, we bow to the instructor; thanking him for his time.

It’s like Spinning’s effects had never happened. It’s like it was a dream. Spinning winks, pivots around, and skips away.

I look at my friend, finally answering her question, “Spinning is blacking out, having a dream about watching a Color Visualizer screen on your iTunes as you listen to symphonic music, waking up in your own sweat, and then walking home like everything is fine.”

“Ah,” she nods, “So, are you gonna do it again?”

“I already promised my ajumma friends I’d be there Friday.”


Christiana Bay is a 2011 – 2013 ETA at Cheonan Ssangyong High School in Cheonan.