It’s a sign of development. And if you live in an area that’s targeted by developers, you see them. Fitness studios with some kind of gimmick. Whether it’s spinning, keeping your cardio at a heart-attack inducing rate, yoga, and more… they’re a sign that people want to be in your neighborhood. But chances are, they’re not marketed to Black people. Tammeca Rochester tried her fair share of those studios several years ago. Something stuck out to her, though. Not only did it feel like she didn’t fit in, but these boutique fitness studios also weren’t in her Harlem neighborhood. Plus, there was another problem. She likes to bike… and people in New York City don’t just take their bikes out for a leisurely ride. So she solved two big problems with one solution: she started her own place.
Harlem Cycle is now the neighborhood’s only boutique fitness studio. It’s a place that’s thrives at the intersection of fitness, culture, and soul. It seems like something like this should already be there, right? People always joke that Harlem isn’t what it used to be. It’s gentrifying. Even the Clinton Foundation had offices down there. In a time before Barack Obama, people used to joke that Bill Clinton was the United States’ first Black president. But still… people were surprised when the foundation showed up in Harlem. A place that was Blackity Black. With all the development that has happened in the 20-years since, there was one thing missing. Fitness. And it sent a signal. In all of the things that came to Harlem, no one bothered to think Black health was important enough to warrant a high end studio.
What Rochester has built acknowledges the flavor of Black culture, while pushing you to do the best you can. She says in the beginning, she had to dispel a number of myths. The most egregious for her was “Black people don’t do this kind of stuff.” Her reaction was always swift: “I’m doing it… and I’m Black.” She also had to convince people that you don’t have to be an athlete or already fit to handle the classes. Seems like it worked. These days if you’re looking to join an in-studio class, you’d better reserve your slot early. Several classes end up with waiting lists. Some people are even making plans to travel from hours away just to attend one of her classes.
Can’t attend a class in person? You’re actually in luck. Rochester is leading the way when it comes to Black owned studios creating classes that can be done at home. It wasn’t something she was immediately looking to do. However, the COVID-19 pandemic force her to pivot. When she noticed people checking out her classes from around the world, she knew she was on to the right thing. Now people are thanking her for leaning into the online learning space and allowing them to keep up with the familiar faces they weren’t able to see in person. But just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean she’s lost that clientele. They’re still logging and still supporting her mix of Black culture and fitness.
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