Queen of Aerobics

Meet the woman behind Austin's first LGBTQ-friendly fitness studio

Meet the woman behind Austin's first LGBTQ-friendly fitness studio

Erica Nix with Richard Simmons
Erica Nix, the founder of Transform, is like the Richard Simmons of the Austin fitness scene. Photo courtesy of Erica Nix

Erica Nix is a woman on a mission to make "working out fun again." She is pure energy — all bold colors with a mane of ginger curls. Her kitschy, sex-positive aerobics classes have grown a loyal following, culminating in the opening of her own LBGTQ-friendly gym, Transform, which hosts a full range of fitness classes and events.

Nix understands the reluctance to enter a gym as a person that feels like an "outsider," and that it's even harder for someone with body dysmorphia. So how did Nix become the Richard Simmons of the Austin fitness scene?

"Well that's a long story," she says. "I started go-go dancing with a garage rock band as an aerobics character named Thunder Thighs. Each performance would end with me weighing myself and going into a fit of rage, usually including powdered doughnuts and Cheese Whiz."

Thunder Thighs didn't come out of thin air. Like many children of the '80s, Nix would dance along to her mother's VHS tapes of Richard Simmons. She danced to all the fastest songs over and over again, weighed herself repeatedly, and then got frustrated. For Nix, "Thunder Thighs was a way for me to relive those ridiculous expectations in a funny way."

Later, her best friend and Austin videographer, Jessica Gardner, asked her to star in the web series Workout With Erica Nix!. The objective was to create nostalgic videos that made "working out fun again" and always included participants outside of normative physical culture. These videos became a platform for queer visibility in a body positive way.

Never one to take the conventional path, she took her act to the fine art world in places like MASS gallery, The Contemporary Austin, Lora Reynolds Gallery, and OUTsider festival. She also used her character for activism at Occupy Wall Street, One Billion Rising, Queer Bomb, Women's March at the Texas Capitol, and the Queer Dance Freakout at the Governor’s Mansion. Through activism, performances, and the web show, Nix's persona grew and she began to take her mission seriously.

"I started hosting classes at our local queer bar Cheer Up Charlies one day a week and eventually that turned into three days a week at an actual dance/yoga studio. Workout! became an actual workout."

Now, Nix had crossed over from a fitness personality into an actual fitness coach. She went back to school for personal training, which gave her the confidence and knowledge to do it safely.

School also gave her the knowledge to start Class Transitions. Class Transitions is one-of-a-kind in Austin and designed for people that are transitioning or nonconforming in their gender. Nix starts the class off every week with everyone introducing each other and preferred pronouns. She has seen transition from she to they to he. This means the world to Nix.

"It's an amazing thing to watch someone become their true selves. Our workouts are different because I consider each person's specific concerns about their own body and how it affects their gender identity, but I think the real power of the class is community. That's why I opened my own space, Transform, which serves as a community space available for my people and others that share the same ideals."

Transform offers all sorts of unique classes, many of them queer focused. Workout! with Erica Nix is the silly, staple cardio aerobics class that includes strength training; Queerdalini is a Kundalini Yoga class taught by queer yogis; Innercise for spirituality; and Big Boi yoga for "our beloved bears." The studio also has some traditional classes like Vinyasa with Natalie Nipper.   

Nix continues to refine Transform and create a welcoming atmosphere that is is "fun, laid-back, and ridiculous. When I go into other gyms, people hardly talk to each other. Everyone smiles politely, but it's rarely social. The teacher usually has to give you directions on the eight-count and interrupting her would be disruptive. At Transform, people are hooting and cracking jokes and sweating while they do it."

The community reaction has been extremely positive. Transform just received an award from the Austin Critic's Table for Best Independent Project, and Nix was invited to speak at an Austin Pecha Kucha event. While grateful for the acclaim, she has been caught off guard by the awards because "I'm just doing what I think makes our workouts fun! I didn't realize other people were enjoying it so much from afar."

So what does success look like from here?

"I guess I'd love for Richard Simmons to crown me the next Queen of Aerobics. Honestly, I'd like to tour with workouts around the U.S. and build my classes here until we bust out the walls. You don't have to be fit to start working out, and don't be hard on yourself if you still haven't started. Most people start thinking about working out years before they actually make the move. Come see me when you are ready."

Visit Nix at Transform, located 1909 Wheless Ln.