Your body moves with the thump of the dhol, then a voice yells, “Now, the bhangra slide”. Your feet move to the command as you perform a John Travolta-like forward slide; only it is different because you also pump your knees and add some Daler Mehndi shoulder lifts. It’s Masala Bhangra, after all.
“I have a lot of Indians who come to my class and say they already know bhangra, what’s new about this?” says Sarina Jain, creator of Masala Bhangra. “But after 15 minutes of the workout, they look like this,” she adds as she bends over, clutches her knees and pants like a dog. Jain, who’s been called the “Indian Jane Fonda” by A Magazine, conceptualized the Masala Bhangra Workout, a fitness routine with aerobic moves such as the bhangra slide and balle balle knees, in 1999. As she gets ready to release her sixth workout video early next year, she talks of her inspiration and bhangra.
How did you get into dance?
Spice girl: Sarina Jain keeps time with the beat of the dhol.
I used to be part of this group called Dhamaka Girls. We were four girls, and we used to participate in all the cultural shows till I was about 18. And we used to win.
When did you decide you wanted to make fitness a career?
I have always been passionate about fitness. I lost my father when I was around 19. I had already started teaching aerobics by then, but losing him was a huge shock. He had a cardiac arrest, and he only really started working out in his 40s. People, especially Indians, don’t make it a priority to work out, they have family, customs, this and that, but it’s important to take care of yourself first.
How did you come up with the name Masala Bhangra?
I needed to find something to trademark, something catchy that reminded everyone of my workout. Masala Bhangra had all the elements—it rhymed, it wasn’t generic, it could be shortened to ‘MBW’—and it had to stick, which it did.
Where do you get your music?
I create my own music. It is mixed especially for my workouts. I want more emphasis on the dhol beat, so I have my DJ mix it. In fact, the Dhol Junkie CD is also out and we market that as well.
How difficult was it to start?
It wasn’t easy. Having studied communications and public relations helped, as did being a certified aerobics instructor. I already had the name and concept, and bhangra was getting big in the US. I had to figure out what moves to put together and give them names —as an instructor, one has to call out cues as well. I had to modernize it, keeping in mind American taste. It was basically building something from nothing.
What keeps bringing students back to your class?
Masala Bhangra is a complete workout and a cultural experience. These are steps that you could do at an Indian wedding. In fact, I tell my students to imagine they are at my wedding. I even burst into an Indian accent to keep things fun.
Is the Masala Bhangra Workout coming to India?
I am shooting my latest workout video here. I wanted to bring Masala Bhangra back to India. I also wanted it to be bhangra and Bollywood, so I am shooting in Mumbai. I plan to start my workouts here, but I am still looking for a partner. I don’t want the quality to differ, so (I) will have to personally train each instructor to ensure it is exactly the same workout. But I am in talks with a couple of gyms and other organizations.
Masala Bhangra Workout videos are available online for $17.99-19.99 (approx. Rs719-799) at www.amazon.com, www.masaladance.com andwww.bn.com.