Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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2018’s Icons, Innovators, and Disruptors

Caleb Salute   Credit The Fitness Marshall

Caleb Marshall: Fire Marshall
Caleb Marshall burns down the house as an international dance-fitness superstar, with millions of die-hard fans.

Since 2014, Caleb Marshall, also known as “The Fitness Marshall,” has been inspiring millions of YouTube viewers to get fit with his dance-based workout videos, which have earned him a massive social media following (1.1 million YouTube subscribers and growing).

Marshall takes the hottest songs from the music charts and choreographs heart-pumping dance routines alongside his “Backup Booties” (his name for his backup dancers). Since catapulting to stardom, Marshall continues to tour around the world with his sold-out cardio concerts.

Often referred to as the Richard Simmons of Generation Z, Marshall is becoming one of the most beloved social media figures today — and it all arose from the ashes of a traumatic breakup.

“I was going through a terrible, terrible breakup with the guy I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with,” Marshall reflects. “I created the YouTube channel to feed my soul and lift me up, and help me take all of my negative energy I was feeling and put it into something positive, and something that made me feel sexy and confident and of value.”

Four years later, Marshall has teamed up with DanceOn — a leading digital music entertainment brand for Millennial and Generation Z women cofounded by Madonna — to release his new series, Life of a Fitness Pop Star, exclusively available on Verizon’s streaming app, go90. (go90.com)

The show features Marshall’s move from Indiana to Los Angeles alongside his best friend,s Bria and Haley — his permanent “Backup Booties” (the latter whom he previously dated before coming out as gay) — and Cameron, his current boyfriend and manager. Viewers get to see what happens when the music stops and personalities collide.

“We feel things very deeply and we express that to each other, and it gets uncomfortable really fast,” Marshall says of his crew. “But also, at the end of the day, we’re best friends. So we always are going to love each other, we’re always going to figure it out, and we’re always going to become stronger from it. We’re never trying to one-up each other. It’s really just figuring out what it means to be fit as pop stars together.”

The move to L.A. is a realization of a childhood dream for Marshall. “I’ve always wanted to be here, literally ever since I can remember,” he says. And he knew he was destined for greatness — just like his role model, Britney Spears. As a “closeted gay kid,” Marshall saw Spears doing a back flip in a “pink crop top” in an infomercial and immediately demanded that his mom buy her album. The pop star’s essence has been ingrained in Marshall’s showmanship ever since.

“I started taking these fitness classes, and then I realized, OK, maybe one day I can teach this,” he shares. “Because if they’re going to give me this little headset, then I can actually be Britney Spears. So I started teaching [dance classes], and that’s when I realized, this is it. This is what I’ve been missing.”

As an overweight, closeted teenager growing up in a small town, Marshall remembers, “My family was very conservative and obviously very antigay and very Christian. It was a very scary place for me to grow up, feeling like I didn’t belong in school or, really, in my family.”

That’s when he found dancing: “I would dance and perform, and that was my outlet, how I felt like I belonged,” he says. “When I was dancing with my friends … I felt like I was included.” He adds, “That’s how I got through it until I eventually came out.”

From the beginning, Marshall has encouraged people of all shapes and sizes to join in on the fun, and many of his videos include plus-size dancers, grooving to his choreography. But he didn’t go out of his way to recruit people of size. Everyone he spotlights in his videos are his real friends.

“My real friends are just real people who look different, act different, and come from every walk of life,” he says. “It was never this curated thing. … In the beginning, before there was any money, any success, I was wrangling any of my friends that I could. I would switch them [out] every video. And I think it was beautiful that everyone around me got to see different types of people because there really isn’t representation. You don’t see people of color or people of different sizes in all these picture-perfect dance videos.”

His dance videos seem to have the power to heal and create change. “I started getting letters from people saying that I have helped them through sexual abuse, or their parents disowned them because they were gay, or they just found out they had HIV and were now doing the dances to feel sexy and love their body again and not be ashamed of themselves,” he says of his impact.

“I realized that it’s about everybody else [who] this impacts, [to give] them the same feeling it gave me when I was at my low point. [Dancing is] this magical feeling of release and of nothing else mattering. That’s how I want everyone else to feel.” —DA

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