Nichelle Hines spins a new life as actress and gym owner
Nichelle Hines finds balance between acting on shows such as Parenthood and serving as “chief ride officer” for Cycle House in West Hollywood.
The 2008 Hollywood writer’s strike proved disastrous for same actors, who ended up leaving the business. Nichelle Hines ’94 nearly joined their ranks, as the strike ended her occasional appearances on Grey’s Anatomy, The King of Queens, Heist, Charmed and Everybody Hates Chris.
A talented actress who graduated with her MFA from New York University and who earned her Screen Actor’s Guild card after an appearance on The Sopranos, Hines used the writer’s strike to continue another passion of hers – exercising – a decision that began a new storyline for her, one taken right off the pages of a Hollywood screenplay.
Today, you can still see her on TV in shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles, Scandal and Parenthood, and you can find her at Cycle House in West Hollywood, where, as part owner and chief ride officer, she has earned a huge following and reputation as one of the best spinning instructors in an area where exercise is the next best thing to religion.
Just read CycleHouse’s glowing reviews on Yelp to find just why both Hines and the other instructors (who include her brother Aaron Hines ’01) are so popular.
Her gym has also been featured by The Hollywood Reporter, Shape, Self and Glamour both for Hines’ clever way of motivating her riders and for the eco-friendly and altruistic practices of Cycle House. You won’t find plastic bottles, only purified alkaline water for reusable bottles. The gym publishes its schedule on a chalkboard and online to avoid using paper, and it donates two meals, in partnership with Feeding America, for each exercise session it offers.
“SI taught my brother and me that the world is not just about us,” said Hines. “I was so inspired by my 100 hours of community service work, that I did 150 additional hours. I wanted Cycle House to have the same philosophy that drives SI.”
Hines’ parents taught her the value of healthy eating from an early age. “My mom cooked nearly every meal at home, and my father never brought white bread or white rice into the house,” said Hines, who ran track at SI and played basketball. She also acted in 10 SI productions, including A Chorus Line and helped the admissions office recruit students of color at local grammar schools.
At Cal Hines earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and Dramatic Arts and minored in African-American studies. She also piled on the pounds thanks to late night pizza and a focus on studies instead of sports.
“When I came home from college, my father told me he had heard about the freshman 15, not the freshman 35,” said Hines. “I was close to 200 pounds by the time I graduated from Cal.”
Her performance in A Raisin In the Sun as Mama at Cal earner her the attention of Harry Elam, a Stanford professor who served as guest director for the show. He encouraged her to pursue acting at the graduate level, and she filled out the forms for NYU as one of 2000 applicants. The school accepted her and 17 other students for its highly competitive and nationally renowned program.
At NYU, when she learned she would have to wear a bikini to play her role in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, she decided to lose weight by taking a spinning class at a nearby gym. “I loved it immediately. It triggered a competitive edge in me and reminded me of the sprints I used to do at SI, with all the starting and stopping. I’m easily bored by most exercise classes, but this held my focus.”
After graduating from NYU, she acted for two years on the East Coast and then flew to Hollywood to be closer to her boyfriend, who had a part in The King of Queens, and to leave behind the New York theatre scene with its focus on big-budget musicals. “I can’t sing,” said Hines. “That limited my options. And I missed the West Coast.”
Hines landed a small role on Ocean’s Twelve and acted in a number of TV shows that included Crossing Jordan and Charmed. Then, when the writer’s strike closed down most Hollywood productions forcing Hines to take a break, she switched her focus to exercise classes at a local Crunch gym.
“One day, when my spinning instructor didn’t show up, the manager asked me to teach the class in his place,” said Hines. “That’s how I became a fitness professional. Then I started getting letters singing my praises, and the manager added me to the regular schedule of instructors.”
Hines soon gained a reputation as a master motivator with her catch phrase of, “You have no idea what you’re capable of.” She also crafted workout music from a wide variety of genres to match the exercise routine and developed upper body exercises for her clients using light weights while spinning and kettlebells. She eventually left Crunch for Equinox, where one of her students included her brother, Aaron.
“I believe we are all capable of great things,” said Hines. “That’s something SI taught me. I can always be better, and that’s true for everyone. I’m known for The Push, as I motivate my clients to try their hardest to dig deep and give me something that they didn’t think was possible. I’m also interested in finding out the real reason they come to exercise. At SI, Mr. Devine taught me that my job as an actor was to inhabit characters and tell their stories. I try to do that with my clients, to pull out of them their own story and discover why they came to exercise. Because they had a bad day? Something deeper? I use my acting to help create the push so that they can tackle what’s inside of them.”
Hines' success eventually led a group of investors to approach her to start Cycle House, which opened in October 2011, and among her first hires was her brother. While still working for Pfizer, Aaron works part time with his sister and calls the experience “one that has been amazing for me these past couple of years. I love seeing how happy it makes our parents to see us succeeding together and having such a strong presence in the West Hollywood and LA fitness world.”
Hines praised her brother for understanding the value of The Push. “He played high school football at SI, where Coach Joe Vollert ’84 taught him to go beyond his self-imposed limits. Aaron and I have learned from our parents and from SI that there are no limits. We went to a school where everything is possible, and the family that is SI allowed me to become closer to my brother while doing the spinning that I love and pursuing an acting career.”
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