What is...? Masala Bhangra

A group workout new to Australia promises to bring not only sweat and smiles, but also a little spice...

Every group fitness instructor aims to see their class participants working hard, but also enjoying themselves. The latest international group workout to arrive on our shores, Masala Bhangra, makes it pretty hard to keep a straight face or a low heart rate!

Masala Bhangra originated in the US in 1999. The program was created by Sarina Jain, a fitness instructor motivated by the premature death of her father from a heart attack to devise a new way for people to improve their cardio fitness. Paying homage to her Indian heritage, Sarina created Masala Bhangra. Masala is the Hindi word meaning ‘spicy’ and Bhangra is a folk dance from northern India, so the program name literally means ‘spicy dance’! It was the first Indian dance program to be introduced to the fitness industry and Sarina was soon being described in fitness circles as the ‘Indian Jane Fonda’.

Masala Bhangra takes inspiration from the Bollywood film industry and from traditional Bhangra, resulting in a combination of cheeky, flirty, feminine moves with stronger, more masculine and energetic ones. Fusing these two inspirations together, Masala Bhangra delivers a considerable cardio punch. Catering to all levels of fitness, the moves can be modified to make the workout suitable for all ages and abilities.

The program follows a 32-count format, and participants learn and add move onto move until a complete routine is created. At the end of each class, participants are given the opportunity to ‘perform’ the routine in the ‘Masala Bhangra jam’. The easy-to-follow format, together with a selection of melodic and rhythmic music and regular opportunities for participants to express their enthusiasm vocally, ensures that everyone works up a sweat, but keeps on smiling.

Since its launch 20 years ago, Masala Bhangra has been offered at gyms, dance studios and other venues in the US, and has gradually been gaining popularity in places such as Scandinavia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, India, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and, more recently, Australia.

Regular Masala Bhangra classes have been running in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne for close to three years and their popularity is growing. Instructors are known as ‘ambassadors’ of the program. In addition to offering classes, the current Melbourne Masala Bhangra ambassadors, together with enthusiastic class participants, regularly present demonstrations of the program at events and multicultural festivals to raise awareness of the fun and fitness that it delivers.

Australian Masala Bhangra Master Trainer, Naki Khan, says: ‘There’s no doubt that dance is one of the best things that people can do to work out both body and mind. Masala Bhangra is a fantastic cardio workout, but also requires people to exercise their brains as they focus on and remember the choreography.’

With awareness and popularity of the program increasing, there is plenty of scope for new Masala Bhangra ambassadors to take the program to other locations. Ambassador training will be held in Melbourne soon, with Sydney and Brisbane to follow. New Zealand is also on the radar if the demand for training exists.