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Paula Dawn Markey is a SoulCycle Instructor in San Francisco, she’s also a DJ, lifestyle blogger and all around renaissance woman.   She was kind enough to sit down and talk about SoulCycle and its connection to music.

For the uninitiated take us through the SoulCycle experience?

SoulCycle is a 45 minute full body indoor cycling workout done to the beat of the music. Most studios contain 45-65 stationary bikes. We call it a “cardio party”, the music is bumping, the lights are low, candles are lit and it feels sort of like a night club. There’s also an element of mindfulness as we cool down and reconnect our mind and body. Most classes follow the same formula – class starts with a warm up, a party moment, weights while cycling (riders can choose 1lbs – 5lbs weights), a strong finish and a stretch. What differs each class is the music, choreography, and group of people of course! The room works together as a pack to get to the finish line. Ideally, everyone moves to the beat together so it sort of looks synchronized. It is totally natural for newer riders to sit near the back and take things at their own pace but the workout is doable once you’ve gotten the hang of it (could be anywhere from 5-50 rides).

So your role  as an instructor is to make people push themselves?

Totally. I encourage riders to realize that it is possible! I’ll relate the challenges in class to the challenges in life – you need to be patient, believe in yourself, take things one step at a time. I’m more of a motivational coach than a traditional trainer. I’m not into yelling at people. They have already showed up and are committing to doing something healthy for their mind and body for 45 minutes. I’m more so there prompting them when to take a challenge, making sure they are safe/injury free, giving them a few laughs, and showing them the moves on the bike (I’ll do 80% of the class with them). I’m big on resistance in my class. As much as I love dancing and the choreography, resistance is really what works the body and the mind. Turning up the knob is the best way to get better and become a stronger rider!

How does music play a role into motivating people in your class?

Music plays a huge role in my class! I love music but I’ll easily get over songs so my playlists are always new and fresh. The music sets the mood, tells a story and takes you on a journey. Since our whole workout is to the beat of the music it’s important that the beats are obvious. It’s nice to incorporate songs people know which brings in a moment of nostalgia and introduce people to songs they have never heard!


So you’re almost more of a DJ in someways than you are a traditional fitness instructor.

I’d say yes! We do a lot of the work a DJ would do. We know the BPM of each song because this corresponds to what sort of moves we might do on the bike. We also know the builds and the drops which help us to cue moves in and out. We are designing the playlists so that it fits well together. For example a song might end with a drum beat and the next song we bring in might have a similar drum beat as to maintain a nice flow and not shock the ears too much. And Since I’ve done the groundwork I actually have started to mix! So far I’ve played at a few popular venues in SF, Public Works and Mighty. You can find these mixes here

When you hear new music are you always thinking about where it might fit within a given class?
I definitely listen to music to enjoy it first but naturally my body will start moving and I’ll quickly be able to tell if the song is good for class. I’ve been caught doing “tap backs” in the club, one of our signature moves where you contract your abs to bring your hips back a few inches and return back to neutral. It’s great that I can find inspiration everywhere! Even if the song is slow and mellow I think “hmm this would be great to stretch to”.

What’s your favorite type of music to play personally during a class?

I play a lot of “festival music”. Look at any Coachella lineup and that’s basically the kind of music you’ll hear in my class. I’ll mix house music with hip-hop, trap, r&b, and pop. I also play a lot of songs without heavy vocals. This way riders can hear the beat more effectively. 


So if I name a hip hop artist, you tell me where you’d like to include him in one of your hour sessions and why.

I’m game.

Kanye West?

I play a LOT of Kanye.  He’s great to play because people recognize his music and the beats are pretty obvious. I’ll play him during any part of class. For example we might warm up to Power, climb a hill to Stronger, or stretch to Ultra Light Beam.


Outkast is great for the party portion of class. Rosa Parks is a great hill that you can sing along to, ATLiens is really fun to go down the hill to and do some fun choreography. I also love playing The Way You Move in the warm up.


I don’t play too much DMX but every Thursday I do Throwback Thursday rides so DMX might slip in here and there.


I love playing Ride With Me because it talks about riding and is really fun!

Missy Elliot?
Lose Control, 4 My People, One Minute Man. All super fun in the party portion of class
Lauryn Hill?
Really great for the cool down and more introspective part of class.
I can play Drake at any part of class. People love singing along to Drake!