“Move first, think later” is instructor Jess King’s philosophy in the Peloton studio, where her mix of theatrical fun and inspirational bons mots inspire millions of people in their homes to get their hearts pumping. The only out woman instructor for the increasingly go-to fitness giant, King makes sure her classes are body-moving but also safe spaces to let one’s hair down — or to put it up in a kicky I Dream of Jeannie-esque high pony as King has been known to sport.
Tune in to King’s class and she may be adorned in rainbow lamé with matching eye makeup, or she may ride wearing something fun from the Peloton Pride collection. She might blast Rage Against the Machine or host an entire Rent or Rocky Horror Picture Show-themed class as part of her seasonal show, The Jess King Experience. She keeps it moving so that others will follow, all to their own degree of comfort. And she does it all while often proudly calling out to her queer community.
While King, a dancer who’s been with the company for seven years, has always sought to motivate folks with positivity, her nurturing brand of fitness took on extra significance over the past year for folks who were isolated and unable to work it all out at the gym like they normally would. It turns out that the Peloton community was there for her too when things got tough in 2020.
“Because of Peloton, I felt anchored in community, I felt anchored in purpose,” she says.
“It really was the lighthouse for me and for so many, but definitely for me throughout this wild time — what I like to call the ‘great pause.’”
Moments into one of King’s classes, one grasps her sense of openness in addition to the feeling that she’s holding space for each member on the Peloton leaderboard. Throughout class, she breaks up her banter to shout out to members with a congratulations on their 100th or maybe 1,000th class. All Peloton instructors do that, but King tosses in language that resonates with LGBTQ+ people. “I see you,” she often says.
A native of Myrtle Beach, S.C., King says that “being gay was stigmatized and criticized” where she grew up. A dancer, she spent time in Las Vegas before finally landing in New York City. She had never been in a relationship with a woman before her fiancée. After a string of romances that didn’t pan out and a year-long dating pause to really come into herself, King met musician Sophia Urista in a cabaret-type show they performed in together at the Box nightclub. Now not only are they engaged, but they’ve launched an irresistibly charming Instagram cooking show called Ooo, Mami!
“It’s been really beautiful, really healing — [I’m] totally obsessed with her and our lives together,” King says of Urista.
Still, seven years ago, when King was on the ground floor with Peloton and new in her relationship with Urista, she checked in with her company about how that partnership would be received.
“Right at the genesis of opening our doors, nobody had ever had to think of themselves as a brand. Or, you know, what they stand for, who they are. It was like, How do I teach a cycling class?” she recalls. “But I remember going to my boss and saying, ‘Hey, I’m dating a woman. Is that a problem?’”
“She kind of looked at me sideways and was like, ‘Not for us. How do you feel about it?’” King recalls.
In June, like many Peloton instructors, King taught a Pride ride, but her mantra is that Pride is now and always. So her classes not only have a bit of a queer flair, but between sprints and climbs, she infuses them with tidbits of queer history.
“I’m so proud to be part of [the queer community]. It’s a place where I feel like, Oh, I belong here. And [LGBTQ+ people] are just thrilled because I create content that is for us as much as possible, where I’m not just waiting for Pride Month to talk about being gay,” King says. “I talk about my partner all the time. I talk about Pride as a vertical and my programming as a vertical in the conversations I’m having on social media all the time, essentially just like normalizing it as a way of being.”
Pride is “all the time, and it’s been all the time,” she says. “And now, you know, we have a voice. And it’s important to educate people, I think, on the influence that [the] LGBTQ+ community has had on entertainment, fashion, music, pop culture.”