Friday, April 3, 2009
Every week for a few months, I've gotten my ass kicked doing Masala Bhangra. You may have heard of it, but in case not, it's a cardio workout based on folk dance in Punjab, India. Recently, a woman named Sarina Jain developed a cardio workout, combining traditional bhangra with Bollywood dance moves, and the result is Masala (spicy) Bhangra. My gym has a class in Masala Bhangra taught by one of Sarina's students, and believe me when I say it is a tough workout. This class is known throughout the gym as "the one that makes you sweat"--my classmates report that the other aerobic dance classes are more like a brisk warmup compared to this.
One of the things that has been very interesting to me about bhangra is that, according to my teacher, the dance was developed for men and not women. As such, it's really not at all graceful like ballet, and it's not sexy like salsa; in fact, we are encouraged to keep our hips as straight as possible. There's lots of hopping and clapping, but there is also a great emphasis on shoulders. I've found this especially great because I carry all my stress in my shoulders, but rarely give them much attention, and it's been helpful to me in developing my burlesque routine (which will be another post entirely).
The most challenging thing for me, besides working up a vat of sweat, has been the importance of right and left. I know, I know…knowing your right from left is important for any dance, not to mention life, but for someone who still makes an 'L' with her hands to figure it out, it's hard. I've never been a dancer, and I guess I never really had to focus on it. But with Masala Bhangra, everything is moving so fast, and you can’t do most of the workout without a strong sense of direction which I have never had. Over the weeks, though, I think it might be coming to me. Every one of us, from the veterans to the newbies, makes mistakes in class, but finally, I'm not the one making the most anymore. Now my challenge is when first-timers try to join in the middle of the class, or even ten minutes after we've started. They're hopelessly lost, and it throws off the rest of the class. Masala Bhangra is a bit like line dancing, where you partly take your cues from the rest of the group--so when someone suddenly stops or turns the wrong way, it can really throw you off.
Because it is a man's dance, Masala Bhangra might seem a little odd to recommend to pin-up fans. But it works wonders for your calves, among other things, and if anything you become more aware of your sensuality in regular life once you've spent some time bottling it up. It's also worth noting that we've only ever had two men try and join the class. Only one has made it to the end of the class, but he hasn't returned since.