Bollywood Fitness Craze

By Pam Leblanc
Austin American-Statesman

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.

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.

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