Baring your soul via playlist

Volunteering my iPhone tunes for a music-less spinning class turned out to be an exercise in bravery.

Gracia Lam

It must be tough picking music for an exercise class when the ages range from 25 to 60. How can you possibly keep everyone happy? Sometimes in my spin class at a local gym, I’d think, “My music is so much better than this!” Recently, I had a chance to test that opinion.

As class was about to begin, the instructor was looking frantically for a charger. Her iPod was almost out of juice. Finding none, she started the class without it. If you’ve ever taken a spin class, though, you know music is an essential part of the experience.

It was just like in the movies, when there’s a medical emergency and someone calls out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” Except in this situation, the instructor asked, “Does anyone have an iPod or phone with music they can share?”


The class was full, but no one raised a hand. In fact they did their best not to make eye contact with the instructor. If it weren’t for the spinning wheels, you might have heard crickets. This was my big chance.

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I like a lot of bass in my music when I exercise. Loud, booming bass. Despite my white, suburban upbringing and advancing age (mid-40s), I have a preference for ’90s hip-hop and rap — bands like Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. Chances are I was the only one in the room whose taste ran that way, though. Sharing my “5K” playlist (my go-to exercise songs) was risky, but I couldn’t resist. Plus, no one else was volunteering. So I raised my hand, set up 5K to play, and passed my iPhone to the front. “There’s some swearing,” I warned the instructor. “And a few songs you’ll probably want to skip. I’ll tell you which ones.”

I don’t remember what the first song was, but trust me, it was eye-opening for my classmates. There may have been an ode to a certain leafy illegal (except by prescription now in Massachusetts) substance, which, for the record, I do not partake of. I got a few odd looks.

The instructor (who normally skews toward Top 40, with some oldies) looked visibly nervous. I did steer her away from certain songs, like Ice Cube’s “You Can Do It,” which includes instructions, for well, doing it. When something she vaguely recognized came on, like House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” she would relax a bit.

About four songs in, I worried I’d made a big mistake. Despite attending the class for months, I really didn’t know my fellow spinners well. What would they think of me? What had I done? But it was too late to go back. When one person left early, I joked: “He’s probably running out to pick up the new Wu-Tang CD.” No one laughed.


At the end of class, the instructor handed my phone back, with her thanks, adding, “That was . . . interesting.” I felt dejected, and more than a little embarrassed. As I packed up, the woman next to me said, “Well, I can’t say that music was my taste, but it had a great beat and you definitely need music for spin — so thank you!”

Another fellow spinner approached me on his way out. “You’re brave,” he said. “Sharing a playlist with strangers seems so intimate somehow. You just bared your soul to the class. None of the rest of us had the courage to do it. Thank you.”

His description was perfect. I’d bared my soul via playlist. And while my classmates may not have cared for the music, the experience is not likely one they’ll soon forget, so now we all have that connection. I was no longer a stranger to them. “You’re welcome,” I said, and walked out of the gym with my head held high.

Michelle Faulkner is a writer in the Boston area. Send comments to

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