If you prefer to get your sweat on by busting a move instead of pounding miles or pumping iron, dancing is a great way to get fit. But Zumba’s not the only dance workout in town, folks. Culture and fitness collide with Doonya, a fitness program that embraces traditional folk dancing from India with Bollywood and hip-hop-inspired movement.
“It started with a focus on bringing the joy and celebratory aspects of dance, which are so natural at Indian wedding celebrations, to a larger audience,” says Doonya’s cofounder Priya Pandya, who launched the program in 2011 with Kajal Desai. “People were starting to connect with their bodies during the classes,” she says, and it quickly became apparent that Doonya was about fitness, too. Led by 125 instructors across NYC, LA, Houston, DC, Delhi and Mumbai, the movement is already 25,000 participants strong (and growing). And it’s more than just their DVDs hitting the retail market. Last January, Reebok partnered with Doonya for a new dance footwear and apparel line.
Whether or not you’ve picked up on it, America has been having more than just a Bollywood moment. From Bolly-style routines on America’s Got Talent to Bhangra songs featuring Jay-Z to the Oscar-winning song “Jai Ho!” from the movie Slumdog Millionaire, American pop culture has embraced all things Bollywood and Bhangra.
“I believe this cross-cultural collaboration will continue as our world becomes smaller and smaller,” says Pandya, who explains that “dunya,” or “doonya,” means “one world” in Arabic. And a Doonya class itself is like the toe-tapping happy lovechild of Eastern and Western music. Traditional tunes and pop ballads (like Katy Perry’s “Roar” or Selena Gomez’s “Come and Get It”) blast from the speakers while students move at top speeds to catch the beat. The signature blend of fitness, art, awareness and expression is what keeps Pandya going as she teaches four to five classes a week.
Bollywood Dance Moves
While many dance styles challenge the core, Doonya’s expressive movements require balancing on one leg, squatting low, crunching your midsection, and shaking your shoulders more than you’d usually attempt in public. With all the jumping, twisting, shimmying and shaking, you’ll be sweating in no time. To get started, we asked Pandya to share some of the best beginner moves. Watch these easy-to-follow GIFs and then try them out yourself!
1. Pick Up Steps
Start with your feet hip-width apart and your hands at your sides, palms facing the back of the room. Sink into your left knee while raising your right knee. At the same time, hinge at your elbows and bring your forearms in front, with your palms facing up. Pandya says the trick to this move is to “suck and tuck,” meaning you’ve got to bring your rib cage to your belly button when bringing your leg up and your arms in.
2. Bhangra Shoulders
Targets: Back, shoulders
Stand with your arms extending straight out from the shoulders. Your palms should face the back of the room, so your shoulders will be rolled forward slightly. Roll your shoulders back while bending your elbows and turning your palms up. It should feel like you’re squeezing the shoulder blades down and back, which will work the back of the shoulders. Repeat! Speed it up once you’re comfortable and bounce from one leg to the other. Keeping the arms raised for an extended period of time will become more challenging as the muscles fatigue.
3. Flick Step
Targets: Obliques, and improves balance
Hop on to the left foot while lifting your right leg up and to the side. The leg should extend straight from the hip, and you’ll feel a slight crunch in your right oblique muscle. Next hop quickly back to the right leg, bringing your left knee up slightly. Repeat. Once you’ve got it down, try playing around with fun arm positions.
4. Bird Kicks
Targets: Core, legs, and improves balance
For this move, pretend your arms are like bird wings and let loose! Stand on the left leg while kicking with the right and contracting your abs. Hinge at the waist and bring your arms in and out like you’re flapping your wings. It will look more natural once you speed it up, Pandya says.
5. Classical Heel Lifts
Targets: Legs, glutes
This move is rooted in a traditional style that comes from temple dances. With your knees bent, sit in a plié position with thighs nearly parallel to the ground. Make sure your tailbone is tucked under you so your abdominals are engaged, then lift your heels up. This works the calves, quads and glutes. To make things fancy (and distract you from the burn!) bring your thumb and pointer fingers together for each hand and extend your arms out as you bring your heels up each time.