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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 00:08 GMT 01:08 UK
Indian dance routine wins over US
By Chhavi Dublish in New York

Sarina Jain
Fitness instructor Sarina Jain has her own series of tapes
"Balle balle, Hadippa," the chorus chants breathlessly, as the sweaty and bouncing group of New Yorkers moves to the rhythm of the latest workout in aerobics exercise.

They are performing bhangra, the Indian rural dance from the northern state of Punjab.

Bhangra is one of the trendiest of fitness and exercise routines, and is fast emerging as a popular alternative to regular aerobics among Americans, winning rave reviews from the fitness gurus.

"Bhangra aerobics provide a change from the routine that was created 30 years ago," says Dr Meg Jordan, a medical anthropologist, author and international health journalist.

"Aerobics moves have hardly changed over the years and are notoriously boring. But this new fad is vivacious, dynamic and provides a break."

It feels like attending a party and getting a workout at the same time
Bhangra dancer Eilleen Eisenperjan

Aerobics bhangra was introduced to the US by fitness instructor Sarina Jain, who created the routine four years ago.

She found the health market had all sorts of dance aerobic videos - from Latin to belly dancing.

But she noticed that Indian dance routines were not being practised, so she came up with the idea of "masala bhangra", as she calls the new exercise programme.

Initially this eastern form of dance aerobics was launched in VHS and DVD format.

'Indian Jane Fonda'

Sarina then produced a series of her own tapes, and is now a certified instructor giving regular gym lessons.

Her innovation and energy has earned her a reputation as being the Indian Jane Fonda.

All the moves in the programme follow the folk dance pattern, but have been reconditioned so that they can also provide a healthy cardio-vascular programme, designed to burn as many as 500 calories an hour.

Sarina has created names for all the movements making it easier for her American students to follow.

Bhangra dancers in the US
Students say they also learn about Indian culture

Since the workout is a derivative of a folk dance, it is safe for all age groups.

Dr Jordan says the beauty of these exercises lies in the fact that anybody can do them.

If it is too fast paced, a slower version is available to suit your comfort level.

The only downside of this workout is a lack of abdominal movements, says Dr Jordan, although that problem can be overcome by a decent instructor.

But the draw of bhangra for most fitness fans seems to be its music - a welcome change from mundane and rhythmless pop songs that never seem to end.

'Cool moves'

Eilleen Eisenperjan, a follower of bhangra aerobics, said: "The music is so alive, and the drum beat is infectious.

"I am Jewish and all the taps were similar to Israeli music. It feels like attending a party and getting a workout at the same time."

Most instructors seem to opt for Bhangra instrumental music, with occasional chants of "Balle balle" (hooray, hooray) and "Hadippa" (bravo).

For Lucia Caldera, the lure was fun, providing a refreshing change from her regular exercise routine spent on different aerobic machines.

"Cool moves and great music," she said.

Many students say the workout also gives them the opportunity to learn a little about Indian culture.

Bhangra dancers
Bhangra is said to combine "cool moves with great music"

As the reputation of the bhangra aerobics spreads through the country, similar routines are being created.

Veera Mahajan, from Massachusetts, has made an exercise DVD, which is available in all the leading stores.

She got her inspiration from the dance parties her family hosted.

"After the bhangra dance, you are completely drenched with sweat and I think that is one of the best things you can have - lots of exercise while dancing for fun."

Having given several demonstrations all over the country, Veera is now making her second DVD.

Increasing interest in Punjabi music by American pop artists such as Jay-Z and Britney Spears have fuelled the popularity of the bhangra workout.

The fitness industry insists that it is not a passing fad and is here to stay.

"Like yoga, bhangra has the potential to grow and grow," one instructor said.

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