Bollywood fitness craze spreads

Sumi Singh leads a Bollywood dance class at Bollywood Shake in Austin, Texas, Jan. 13, 2014.Deborah Cannon / MCT

AUSTIN, Texas — Admit it. As the credits rolled at the end of "Slumdog Millionaire," you wanted to climb out of your red velvet theater seat and jam away alongside the cast of the movie.

Fearing the disapproving gaze of your fellow moviegoers, though, your rump stayed put while the actors and actresses pumped and swayed, hip rolled and swirled in what was, for many of us, an introduction to Bollywood dance.

Top 5 Bollywood song picks from Bollywood Shake

1. "Tooh" from the movie "Gori Tere Pyaar Mein"

2. "Tattad Tattad" from "Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela"

3. "Ishqyaun Dhishqyaun" from "Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela"

4. "Raghupati Raghav" from "Krrish 3"

5. "Party All Night" from "Boss"

Or was that just me? No matter. Bollywood has landed in mainstream America in the form of fitness classes that will have you rocking out to music from the Mumbai-based Hindi-language film industry.

In Washington, D.C., exercisers sweat it out in a fitness class called Doonya, a sort of Bollywood twist on Zumba. In Manhattan, gym-goers crowd studios to catch the latest Masala Bhangra (which roughly translates to spicy folk dance) classes. And in the United Kingdom, they flock to "Just Jhoom!" to get their Bollywood fitness on.

In Austin, exercisers can channel their favorite Bollywood stars during classes at places such as Bollywood Shake and Ballet Austin's Butler Community School.

We dropped by Bollywood Shake, where instructor Sumi Singh, 37, credits the city's growing Indian population, the increased popularity of Bollywood movies and the recent naming of Nina Davuluri as Miss America for the surging interest in Bollywood fitness.

"It's that time of day — 9:30 a.m.," Singh hollers and cranks up the music as 15 students line up in front of a mirrored wall. "Welcome to Bollywood Shake! Today's workout is going to be really, really hard!" It's all women except for one. Some are wearing hip sashes adorned with coin-sized metal discs that add a jangly note to every hip thrust. I'm there, too, in the far corner, trying to loosen hips that feel more like the rusted metal wheels of an old tractor that's been abandoned in a farm field for a couple of decades.

"Front, back, shake it," Singh encourages as the women follow her lead. It's like a Bollywood version of a country-western line dance. The group slides collectively across the room, then glides back, with kicks, twirls and dramatic hand motions tossed in. The music is irresistibly vibrant and lively.

"I can't move my hips like that," I whisper to the woman next to me.

"You can. It just takes time," she tells me.

And after 45 minutes with Singh, I sort of believe her. Or at least I don't care how I look trying anymore.

Singh transforms the studio into a Mumbai nightclub, with the students surging from one side of the dance floor to the other and cheering one another on.

"You're going to get your hair messed up. Whip it!" Singh shouts, then calls on the students, one at a time, to demonstrate their best head rolls. "OK my superstars! Girls from India, this is your song!" Before the class is over, we've lined up against one wall for a series of calf raises. We've high-fived, we've formed a circle in the center of the room and kicked our legs like Kilgore Rangerettes.

"It's so energetic," says Sonia Nimavat, 39. "I'm from India, and since I was a child I've listened to this music. It's like home." Most, but not all, of the students are of Indian descent. Laura Holle, 49, started attending at the invitation of an Indian friend.

"I like the dance aspect of it, and I'm kind of an international lover," she says. The moves take a while to catch on, she says, especially if you're not used to moving your hips in that swirly way. Holle is — she's taken Arabic dance class before.

Piroj Patel, 46, says a Bollywood fitness class trumps watching a Bollywood movie.

"It's a good workout. You cannot think of anything while doing it — just shaking and dancing and having fun," she says.

Saili Pradhan, 40, agrees. "We don't think it's like exercise — it's fun and whole body," she says. "I follow all the Bollywood movies, that's why I like this music."

The choreography changes for every class, so students don't get bored. That's good news, because, according to Bharathy Thangavelu, 37, I need to stick with it for at least eight weeks to get some interesting results.

"If you do it for two months you will be sexy," Thangavelu says. "It's not complicated."


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