The Queen of Aerobics

The New York Observer; 1997

The Queen of Aerobics

One bright Saturday morning, a man wearing a platinum-blond bouffant wig, false eyelashes and white go-go boots burst into Studio One at the New York Sports Club on East 86th Street. He was carrying a whip.

“I’m Truly,” he told the women clad in sports bras. “And if you don’t know me, shame on you!”

They knew him. Anthony Truly is the most popular funk-aerobics teacher in Manhattan. He also happens to be a 5-foot 6-inch drag queen and self-described “glamourpuss.”

For years, he has been so in demand that he has offered his services at three health clubs: David Barton Gym, New York Sports Club, and Crunch. But in March, he quit Crunch because management wouldn’t give him the respect or money he deserved, he said. “They accused me of being a diva,” he said.

Truly’s former clients from Crunch are so attached to him that many of them have started turning up at his classes at New York Sports Club. “I’ve upped the standards for aerobic instructors,” he said, without a trace of false modesty. “Not only do you have to be a choreographer now, you also have to be a dominatrix.”

Truly (he goes by one name, like his idol Madonna) strode back and forth in front of the 60 devotees assembled for his “Power Funk” class. He thrust out his front hip, one hand on his backside, and surveyed the room. “La Toya,” he cried, “is Swahili for ‘I am not adopted!'” He cracked his whip and turned on his heel.

After the workout, Truly told of his plans to debut a new routine called “Single Black She-male,” for which he will don a wedding veil, white bustier, black fishnets, and elbow gloves. “It’ll be fierce,” he said.

Besides his taste in headwear, Truly’s funk routines are distinguished by his acrobatic leaps and spins. Not quite what you remember from the headband-and-leg-warmer decade. Students who can keep up with him feel like they’re dancing and not merely aerobicizing.

“Aerobics got too repetitious,” he said. “People weren’t motivated, so they weren’t getting anything out of the workout.”

When he first started, Truly, a former ballet dancer, didn’t fit in. “The popular instructors were these cheerleader types,” he said. “You had to have a certain look.”

Truly, 29, is no cheerleader. He has two tattoos—a skull on his arm, a mermaid on his back—and a delicate gold stud in his nose. And the only thing he hates more than standard “knee lifts and jacks” aerobics is a hideous-looking wig. “There’s a white go-go girl in me that has to express herself,” he said. He first dolled himself up in wigs—making use of his mother’s collection—as a boy in Memphis. And now? “Now I get paid for it!” He snaps his fingers. “Go figure.”

Truly believes a good class is “like a romance.” In his white-girl go-go get-up, he can convince women to get down more easily than the superfit, ponytailed girl instructors of the 80’s. “They’re the same type of girl who stole your prom date,” Truly said.