Get Fit --and Tone Your Butt--Bollywood Style

Shimmy and shake your way into better shape.

Michele Bender

With the success of Slumdog Millionaire at this year’s Academy Awards, it’s no surprise that Indian dance is more popular than ever. Gyms have added Indian-inspired workouts to their schedules and YouTube is filled with videos of people-including hundreds of Filipino prisoners – mimicking the Jai Ho dance scene at the end of the movie.  But having seen Slumdog Millionaire only recently, I wasn’t that intrigued by the craze. Then a bunch of Indian dance workout DVDs arrived on my desk promising to help me shimmy and shake my way into better shape. Always eager to find a fresh way to get fit, I pulled down the blinds and popped  “The Bollywood Dance Workout with Hemalayaa” in my DVD player. It started with fitness star Hemalayaa telling us how the upcoming moves, which come from an Indian style of dance called Bhangra, were going to be fast-paced and frenetic. Just as I was wondering if I was too old for frenetic moves, she promised that no dance background was necessary.
The workout is performed by Hemalayaa and two other dancers whom she calls her sisters. They start with a  6-minute warm up that includes slow paced dance moves and lots of soothing shoulder rolls and spine stretches. “I can do this,” I thought. That was until the “Playtime Begins” segment where you really start shimmying your hips, shaking your head and moving your arms in quick, rhythmic movements. Hemalayaa and her sisters looked cool and exotic; I looked like I was having convulsions. (I could tell this was the case when my daughter asked if I was okay.) But I stuck with it moving on to the “Footwork” and “Now We’re Hot” segments where you add on to the moves you warmed up with but do so at a faster pace. By this time I was happy that I was sweating and my heart was racing – I may have looked like an idiot but I still wanted to get a workout.  I was also starting to catch on thanks to the fact that they kept repeating similar routines with some variations. Plus, many of the names of the moves describe exactly what they look like, such as “feeding the chickens” and “wiping your foot.” All throughout Hemalayaa was very encouraging reminding me not to “think too much” and to “have fun with it.”

I felt especially reassured when she said, “You don’t have to do exactly what we’re doing” because no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t.  Though woven into this Indian dance routine, many of the movements are similar to traditional body sculpting exercises such as plie squats and knee-ups and with all the reps you do, you definitely get a muscle-toning workout. At one point, the ladies head down to the floor for ab exercises which, though similar to traditional tummy toners, seem less boring when set to the Bhangra beat. The last segment before the cool down is “Playful Dance,” five minutes of high-energy choreography that left me drenched.

A few days later I tried “Hemalayaa: Bollywood Booty” and had as much fun, while getting as much of a workout with these four butt-toning dance routines. I realized that part of it is that Hemalayaa herself is very likeable. Unlike many workout DVDs where the instructor is perfectly coiffed without an ounce of body fat, she looked, well, normal. Yes, she’s very fit, but you can’t count every rib and she doesn’t have perfect six-pack abs despite the fact that she wears a belly-baring top and low-slung pants. Her hair is loose and natural and, best of all, she actually looks like she’s having fun- at one point cracking up mid-shimmy. I admit that I never felt sexy and sassy like Hemalayaa promised and won’t be making my own YouTube Jai Ho dance video anytime soon, but if I can burn calories and tone up while getting my Bollywood grove on, I’ll take it. 
For more info on Hemalayaa’s DVDs, go here. 

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