Inside a typical SoulCycle studio, a rider will find booming music, energetic instructors, and plenty of stationary bikes. Every other Wednesday at the Dedham location, there’s a new addition: American Sign Language (ASL) instruction with teacher Heather Mottau.
On Aug. 4, the Dedham SoulCycle location began hosting biweekly spin classes with ASL interpretation. Instructor Lo McMann rides in the front, and Mottau is on the sidebar, signing instructions for deaf and hard of hearing students.
“Not only is Heather teaching the class in sign language and giving super descriptive clues so students can take the class, participate, and have a great time, but she is also the hype woman for the rest of the class,” McMann said.
Mottau started learning ASL at 13 years old at her boarding school in Minnesota, which was located next to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. Mottau continued learning sign language during her undergraduate studies at Northeastern University and received her ASL certification. She is in the process of finishing her second ASL certification at Framingham State University to get licensed for medical, legal interpreting, and more.
Prior to SoulCycle, Mottau taught at a group home for deaf residents. Her first SoulCycle class (sans ASL) took place on June 25, but she didn’t pair up with McMann until after a conversation in the SoulCycle parking lot in July.
“When I’m teaching the class in sign language, I am not necessarily incorporating everything Lo is saying. I’m teaching it so a deaf person can also ride to the beat of the music without being able to hear it,” Mottau said.
During class, Mottau signs simple descriptions to communicate instructions to deaf and hard of hearing students, such as “quick fire” or “walking through quicksand” to help them keep pace. At times, she’ll clap to the beat of the music or use her hands to replicate how riders’ feet should look on the bike pedals.
Since the first class, Mottau said she has received positive feedback from riders who hope to bring friends or relatives who are hard of hearing to attend. For Mottau, the most rewarding part of her class is being able to help educate those who do not have a connection to the hard of hearing community. McMann said her favorite part is community building.
“Being a part of the students’ first class made me realize we can do a lot in any space that we’re in to make it so that anyone is able to come,” McMann said.
Mottau and McMann hope to see further expansion throughout the Boston fitness community in the future. Their class takes place every other Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Dedham location, with the next one on Aug. 18.
“It’d be so cool to expand this in the Boston market and find people who have that foundation in fitness and understand the safety measures and protocols,” Mottau said. “Then adding in some sign language experience just to make the space a little more accessible.”
Riana Buchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.