Doonya classes offer fitness as Bollywood dance party

NEW YORK Mon Jan 21, 2013 7:35am EST

Kajal Desai leads a Doonya class in New York in this July 2012 handout picture. Doonya, which combines high-energy aerobics and conditioning with the hip-swaying, arm-swirling exuberance of Indian folk, pop and classical dance, is a Bollywood-based workout that experts say can be fun and effective. REUTERS/Christina M Hicks for Gilt Group/Handout

Kajal Desai leads a Doonya class in New York in this July 2012 handout picture. Doonya, which combines high-energy aerobics and conditioning with the hip-swaying, arm-swirling exuberance of Indian folk, pop and classical dance, is a Bollywood-based workout that experts say can be fun and effective.

Credit: Reuters/Christina M Hicks for Gilt Group/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Doonya, which combines high-energy aerobics and conditioning with the hip-swaying, arm-swirling exuberance of Indian folk, pop and classical dance, is a Bollywood-based workout that experts say can be fun and effective.

Named for the Hindi word for world, Doonya is the brainchild of two fitness instructors who tapped their heritage for inspiration. It draws on the infectious song and dance numbers popularized by the prolific Hindi-film industry based in Mumbai, nicknamed Bollywood, where movies usually feature intricate love sagas and plot twists.

"Our parents are from India so it was a way of connecting with our roots," said Priya Pandya, a New Jersey native who created the workout with Mississippian Kajal Desai. "We grew up learning dance. We both wanted to bring Bollywood dance to the world."

Doonya classes are held in the Washington, D.C. area and in New York City and will launch in Los Angeles next month. A DVD is due for release in February.

Jessica Matthews, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), said in addition to being addictive and fun, dance fitness classes can provide an effective workout.

Research studies sponsored by ACE on Zumba, a Latin-based dance workout, and Qi Dance, which merges the Eastern concept of Qi with world music, found them to be sound fitness routines.

"These modalities do elicit cardio-respiratory response. You can gain lean muscle mass, and when there's a core sequence it can strengthen that area of the body," she said. "Dance fitness really resonates with some people. They get hooked on it and form communities around it."

FUSION OF MUSIC

Pandya, a yoga teacher, said the one-hour Doonya classes are carefully structured to ensure a full-body workout.

"We always make sure there's a warm up," she explained. "Then there's the peak of the class with the most intense cardio. Finally as you slowly come down there's more conditioning and a cool down."

She said the workout can burn 600 calories if done full-out.

"We vary the playlist class by class," she said, "to incorporate different dance versions."

The Bolly-Pop portion fuses traditional South Asian styles with hip-hop and jazz, while classical conditioning borrows from ancient styles and emphasizes intricate hand motions. Pop Bhangra is an energetic dance from the northern India in which the basic motion focuses on squeezing the shoulder blades together while keeping the arms tight.

Desai, who holds a fitness certification from the ACE, said instructors stress the connection of movement to muscle.

"The more that you understand that the more you'll condition your muscles," she explained. "Some people come to class just for cardio, which is fine, but for others we've developed the routine so that connection is there."

Enthusiast Magdalena Slawecka credits Doonya with bringing fun back into her fitness routine.

"I'd been working out for a few years but I wasn't enjoying it," said Slawecka, a 45-year-old pharmaceutical representative based in Brooklyn, New York. "But I absolutely love the energy of Doonya. I tell people it's my Prozac."

Slawecka, a longtime dance lover, said she had given up ballroom dancing for want of a partner.

"I watched my first Bollywood movie about a year ago and I fell in love with the music and dancing. So I googled and went," she said. "With Doonya you don't need a partner."

Her enjoyment, she added, is also about the people she has met.

"When you come to Doonya you have people who have a love of the same thing," she said. "You don't get that at the gym."

Slawecka said through Doonya she has also discovered India.

"(It's) such a fascinating country. Not only the dance, but the culture, the food," she said. "My daughter and I just went to India in November," she said, something she doubts she'd have done without Doonya.

"I was involved in a wedding there," she said. "I danced at someone's wedding in India."

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Cynthia Osterman)