Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
They call themselves the #tamily, Tracy Anderson's loyal devotees. The #tamtribe have #tamhubbies and stream Anderson's cardio-dance workouts in #tarealtime. Some live in New York City and are able to attend classes at the trainer's Tribeca studio, but most are much more far-flung: Portugal, South Africa, Argentina, Saskatoon.
Sure, they interact online, commenting on each other's Instagram videos of that day's leg lifts ("you look gorgeous and strong"). They also FaceTime workouts and text about soreness, or which steamer to get to replicate the humidity of Anderson's studio. But the relationships have grown deeper than that. Some call each other every single day, others proclaim the tamily their very best friends.
Emery Chapman, a core tamily member who owns a bed and breakfast in Maine, told Anderson's assistant that what they really, really dreamed of was to meet up and work out in the same room. "I'm like, tell them I'll host them if they can just get themselves here. I'll teach them all together," Anderson says. There was one caveat, though. "The only bummer is the room only fits 25 people."
So Chapman invited the 25 most dedicated members of the tribe and they flew in from at least four different continents to eat and drink and work out and bond for a weekend in October. Morgen DeMann, a makeup artist and tamily member who lives in midtown Manhattan, volunteered to house some of the crew and host a brunch. "There has been a lot of girl-crushing," she says.
It's the Sunday of the weekend and they're all gathered in the hallway at the studio waiting for their 2 p.m. master class. Behind them, at least two A-list celebrities are working out. But instead of gawk, they'd rather talk about how the Tracy Anderson Method has changed their lives. "Well, the results are huge, so you keep coming back for more," says Chapman. Melissa Rigdon, who traveled from Florida, shows me a before-and-after photo of the 48-pound weight loss she credits to Anderson.
When it's time for class, Anderson comes in wearing a T-shirt that reads "sisTAhood." In person, she's taut and muscular, but also surprisingly sexy and ethereal. She would look great in a flower crown. DeMann calls her a "fairy ninja." "That girl could kick your ass," she says. "She's like a WWE fighter, but looks like a ballerina."
Everyone stands in a kind of receiving line to say hello and take a selfie. Someone records Anderson saying hi to a tamily member who couldn't make it. She talks about how moved she is that everyone came, that they're rooming together, that they really get each other and get her. Anderson chokes up. Next to me, DeMann starts crying and within seconds, at least half the room is in tears.
"Okay," Anderson says, taking a deep breath, and puts on Drake. We start dancing.
Now it seems like every celebrity — Kim Kardashian, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lopez, Victoria Beckham — trains with her.
Before the five studios, the 160 different workout DVDs, and the high-profile clientele, Anderson was a dancer who struggled to keep a dancer's body. The story goes that a couple of decades ago she met a doctor through her then-husband, a professional basketball player, who advocated targeting and strengthening small muscles. She took his advice, she says, to transform her own body. The dancer-to-trainer evolution came when she began working with women around her (Anderson uses the word "studied"), giving them diet advice and designing their exercise programs, creating a different workout every 10 days to keep engaging those smaller muscles. The Tracy Anderson Method was born.
"Unlike other exercise programs that target the major muscle groups, the Tracy Anderson Method focuses instead on the accessory muscles," her website reads. "With the former, women tend to build bulk, and then they invariably plateau finding that they cannot continue to change their bodies." Anderson's routines change every 10 days to keep the muscles confused. What that translates to are cardio classes consisting of small choreographed moves that feel like a combination of Broadway-style dance, aerobics, and hip-hop. There are also mat-based high-rep workouts with names like "Attain Definition" that use weights and bands to tone the whole body, with a special focus on the thighs and butt. Classes are taught in rooms heated to precisely 86 degrees, with 69 percent humidity.
It wasn't until Gwyneth Paltrow used Anderson's exercises to get her postpartum body in shape for Iron Man in 2006 that everything changed for Tracy. Paltrow became business partners with Anderson and talked up the company in the press and on Goop. Now it seems like every celebrity — Kim Kardashian, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Lopez, Victoria Beckham — trains with her. On the new Muppets show, Miss Piggy attends Tracy Anderson classes; if Sex and the City still existed, there would definitely be a scene with Carrie and company struggling through a session.
"It was never my mission to train celebs or make them teeny-tiny, those things were forced upon me by the press," says Anderson. And yet she is now a bona fide celebrity herself, a red carpet fixture that has graced the covers of magazines, and counts many of her star clients as real-life friends. "I text with Lena [Dunham] and Jenni [Konner] every day. They threw my 40th birthday party. Gwyneth, she is my dear, dear sister in life."
At first her Tribeca studio was a members-only affair. Even though the monthly fee is $900, there was a waitlist to join. Recently the studio has gone pay-per-class; at $45 each, they're are on the high end of what boutique fitness classes cost in New York City. (There are also two Hamptons studios, two Los Angeles studios, and private training sessions available in London.)
But Anderson wants to be democratic. She wants to be inclusive. "If you're in the middle of Montana and I'm in the press all the time, and you're like, ‘I want that,' I don't want to be the girl that's like, ‘You can't have it, I'm so sorry.' I don't want to be a mean girl who's like, ‘My life's so great and you can't have this." So she has a #tamily-approved video streaming service that transmits sessions, with subscriptions starting at $90 per month. "I'm not in hair and makeup. I'm in my sweats," she says. "I'm a real woman. I literally just share myself with them."
There's a definite body-by-Tracy look, modeled after Anderson's own physique: a flat, chiseled stomach; skinny, sculpted arms; bottoms that are small and pert. It's an aesthetic that looks like a lot of work has been put into maintaining it. "I call them bird girls, so light with tiny little bones and they fly around the studio," says DeMann, who notes that she's 5'10 and a size 8.
Jared Reichert, who works in fashion, goes to men's classes at the Tribeca studio. (There are separate men's classes, as well as men's workout videos.) The Tracy body is "a mixture between athletic and ballerina. The women are very thin with tone and definition. It's not skinny-fat, it's skinny with muscles," he says. "On the men, it's just shredded. Sometimes I stand naked in front of the mirror and I can't believe it. I may have taken a selfie after class."
Anderson wants us all to know that we too can have that body, or at least an improvement on our current one. "At this point I know what I'm doing with anyone's body. There's not a body that can come in my door that I don't have content to help. There's no one I have not been able to change," she says. "I'm in the business of speaking straight to people."
People like Mallory Goodman. "I'm a thin person, but since I started working out, I couldn't find something that addressed trouble areas," says Goodman, an actress and tutor who lives in Tribeca and joined the studio in January. "I met with Tracy privately and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I see that, we can fix that, we can do this.' It was a relief that finally someone was on my side."
But the Faustian bargain you have to make is one of dedication. "When I first came to the public scene, everyone wanted to say I was nuts," says Anderson. "I was being nice saying you should exercise four to six days a week, even though I believe it should be seven."
"Sometimes I stand naked in front of the mirror and I can't believe it. I may have taken a selfie after class."
Ali, a public relations executive, drives downtown from her home on the Upper West Side every morning for the 6 or 7 a.m. class. "Do you want to hear something crazy? Sometimes I go back at night." That level of commitment is not an anomaly; in fact the norm at the studio seems to be two hours of class, six days a week. It makes sense economically to get the most out of your membership fee. Ali has been working out with Anderson for almost eight years, ever since she saw a flyer at her neighborhood gym promoting a two-week boot camp with Gwyneth Paltrow's trainer. "It's really just a chance to unleash your inner Janet Jackson."
Or, as Kimberly Emery, who used to attend class in New York before she moved to Minneapolis (where she now streams classes), says, "It's what you do, like you eat lunch."
"It's a particular type of woman, a type-A, to have that kind of commitment," says Candice Miller, a stylist in Tribeca. And that's further reflected in where in the studio you choose to work out. "I prefer the front row because I like to watch myself to make sure I'm doing the moves correctly. I guess the front row people are the front row people."
"But it's a great mix," she continues. "Young moms, art consultants, real estate, jewelry designers — they're all super cool. You would never know some are super glamorous, but then you look on their Instagrams and they have these super glam lives." After class, they all go for tea and oatmeal or to Juice Press together.
The community is an oft-repeated reason for what keeps studio members coming back. Sabrina Leichter Rudin of Chelsea, who owns a vegetarian restaurant and juice bar in Aspen, attends the 9 and 10 a.m. classes with the same group pretty much daily: "Many have become good friends. We go to each other's birthdays and baby showers and bridal showers. You have your Tracy girls and it transcends Tracy and becomes your community."
Her own loyalty to Anderson is such that when she found out she was pregnant, "besides my family, she was one of the only calls I made after I spoke to my doctor. I knew she'd know what to do and what to be careful of," she says. "She's accessible. She's obviously a celebrity personality, but she's there every morning at 8 a.m. in her sweat clothes with us."
"It could be providing food for a family for a year in a third-world country, but that's just New York."
The studio itself has a certain mystique, as do its members. "There's a little misconception that it's competitive, that we don't smile and don't talk to each other," says Rudin. "You would think there is attitude, but they could not be more nice," says Emery. She once even rode the elevator down from class with Gwyneth Paltrow herself. "I was just looking at my email, but I was dying to ask her for lunch. She started chatting me up: ‘Hey, how was your workout?' She could not stop talking."
As for the overall privilege of the place, Emery says, "You get used to it. You could buy a car if you opened up the lockers in the locker room, or it could be providing food for a family for a year in a third-world country, but that's just New York."
I expected the studio to feel like a Soho House for Tribeca moms. And in some respects, it lives up to that image. Are there a lot of gold Cartier Love bracelets? Are there Céline bags in the lockers? Are there tight, size-zero, blond Tracy Anderson lookalikes? Yes, yes, yes. But you see a lot of that same tribe at any fancy-ish fitness place like SoulCycle or Equinox. There are differences as well. Perhaps because of how often members come, there seems to be an intimacy between them and the people who work there: teachers, staff at the front desk. I saw a woman who cleans the locker room and a member sitting down and laughing at something on an iPhone.
Classes are as quiet as a Scientology birth. Instead of screaming out directions and cues, you're supposed to watch the teacher and tune into your own body. It's meditative, and when coupled with Beyoncé singing "Pretty Hurts," makes arm presses go by surprisingly fast. But it's also difficult to tell if you're doing something wrong and no one is making notes on form, which is why members often throw in a few private sessions for good measure. After my first class, I feel pain for days in leg muscles I hadn't known existed.
Back at the tamily class, attempting to follow what felt like the 15,000th repetition of an ankle weight-assisted leg lift, I think I got it. Not the moves (although Anderson did pat me on the head at one point and said, "Good job," which felt like being blessed by the Pope), but the whole ethos of the Tracy Anderson Method.
There is something refreshing, or at least realistic, about Anderson's approach. You can have the body of a starlet, but you have to put in the work to do it. There are no quick fixes.
And for the motivated, the studio — whether you show up in person or stream from your home continents away — is a best-case scenario fitness sorority, where everyone you meet is really nice and really friendly and has a cool life and is invested in this thing. No one more so than the matriarch.
"The best part about Tracy teaching a class," says DeMann at the end of one of the tamily sessions, "is that you watch her, and even just for a second, you think, ‘I could be this, too.'"
Editor: Julia Rubin