Check this column out in the new issue of Divanee magazine
Balle Balle on a Thursday Thursday
I admit it: Back in college, I was a dancing queen â€” desi style, that is. I choreographed the all-girls dance three years in a row, performed a mean â€œBole Churiya,â€ and twirled my way through an entire dizzying garba. So armed with a resume of bona fide Bollywood-bootyshaking credentials, I decided to give the ammi of all desi dance forms a tryâ€”which is why Iâ€™m here today, standing in front of the New York Sports Club on 40th Street, heading into a bhangra workout class.
Everywhere you look, India is in vogue, and judging by the scores of non-desis lining up for Bollywood films, chicken tikka masala, and eyebrow threading, Sarina Jain knew what she was doing when she fused one of Americaâ€™s biggest obsessions (fitness) with one of Indiaâ€™s (bhangra, oy hoy!) to start the Masala Bhangra phenomenon nearly a decade ago. Since then, thousands of uncoordinated white folks have bought her hugely successful workout videos and gone on to â€œscrew lightbulbs,â€ â€œraise the roof,â€ and â€œscatter seedsâ€ in their own clumsy interpretations of Punjabâ€™s harvest dance. If they can do it, so can I!, I decided eagerly, and now Iâ€™m about to take a crack at a dance created by a race characterized by the robust masculinity of its peopleâ€¦ even the women. Who cares if Iâ€™m petite and fragile and no more virile than Elton John? Bhangra doesnâ€™t stand a chance against these hips. Brruah it on!
7:00 p.m. This would be a great place to pick up chicks, I think to myself as I stand awkwardly in the back of the studio, watching the ladies trickle in. Where the guys at? Sarina Jain bounds into the room, radiating more energy from each strand of her long black hair than Iâ€™ve been able to muster up all week. â€œHi ladies, you ready to go?â€ her voice booms, bouncing off the wallsâ€”much like the workout dynamo herself. I debate taking shelter from her overpowering enthusiasm in the back of the mirrored roomâ€”there, behind the girl in the â€œiBalleâ€ T-shirt, perhaps?â€”but decide, for research purposes, to position myself directly behind the spirited Jain herself. Big mistake.
7:04 p.m. â€œAlright, everyone, warm up! Pump your shoulders!â€ yells Jain as blaring bhangra beats engulf the studio. I eagerly begin pumping my shoulders, but instantly regret my decision to dance with Nikes still firmly ensconcing my already sweltering feet. But the prospect of being decapitated by a stray arm maneuver scares me off of the idea of running to the back of the room to kick them off, so I suck it up.
7:08 p.m. â€œPush it out, push it out, and back, and back!â€ Jain bellows over the thumping dhol resonating through the small space as she instructs us through a mini routine. The move is more reminiscent of the electric slide than what I might expect to see in a Punjabi field, but what do I know, right? I struggle to keep up but Iâ€™m already winded, and a glance in the mirror confirms it: my cheeks are flushed, and a thin film of perspiration has begun coating my forehead. But thatâ€™s OK, because at least my form looks good, right? All flowing and smooth and gracefulâ€¦
7:11 p.m. Suddenly thereâ€™s a voice in my ear. â€œHere, like this!â€ Jain roars into my eardrums, appearing next at my side to twist my arms into the correct right angles on my behalf. How embarrassing. Iâ€™m the bhangra-class dunce. Now both my feet and my face are burning up. What was I thinking â€“ thereâ€™s no place for grace in bhangra! Time to get manly. I put on my surliest face and get down to business. Grr.
7:17 p.m. The entire class is stomping in sync, and Iâ€™m all but grunting when Jain beseeches us to â€œShow me your sexy hands!â€ and directs us through some sultry arm motions â€“ finally, something I can do! But wait a second, when the hell did this become Masala Seduction class? These feminine moves hardly fit in with the other testosterone-fueled bhangra steps weâ€™ve been learning. You canâ€™t grunt while you make sexy hands.
7:21 p.m. But after a brief lapse into lady-land, Jain is back on track. We convulse into a series of kicks that take us lower and lower to the groundâ€”well, technically â€œusâ€ isnâ€™t accurate, since Iâ€™m too drained to partake in the action. After a few lackluster leg lifts I take a break and rest my hands on my knees, panting and observing the mayhem. Class must almost be over, rightâ€¦?
7:46 p.m. â€¦Not so much. After a seemingly eternal 45 minutes complete with countless mess-ups and audible gasps for air (mine) and enthusiastic facial expressions and passionate grunts (everyone elseâ€™s), on top of Jainâ€™s cries of â€œThis is my favorite song!â€ (at the start of every number, each of which sounds alarmingly like the one before it), the high-energy class finally balle-s its way into cooldown mode. Even Iâ€™m capable of inhaling and exhaling without personal assistance from Jain. My face slowly sheds its fiery hue and I join the exodus toward the locker room. And now that I can breathe a