Folk Fitness Incorporates Moves From Regional Indian Dances To Take You From Flab To Fit
Aarti Pandey teamed up with Manoj Upreti and Ashwin Pandey to create a revolutionary exercise routine that has a strong ‘Made in India’ ethos. It consists of a holistic regime that draws inspiration from regional folk dances of India to result in a fun-filled session where you get to tap your feet, move your shoulders and shake your hips to get fit, fast. No quick feat, this took two years of research, testing and case studies before it came into existence. Aarti tells us what makes this workout so unique.
An exercise based on folk dances of India sounds pretty interesting. Tell us about Folk Fitness.
“Dance and fitness has always been my passion; as a child, I learnt Bharatnatyam, represented my college in folk dances and later specialised in Latin styles like Salsa, and Bachata. Manoj Upreti and I started a dance academy in 2010, and the four-year entrepreneurial journey made us realise that although there’s so much variety in the fitness industry from aerobics to pilates, there was nothing that was purely Indian. Both of us teamed up with Ashwin Pandey to create Folk Fitness, which is India’s first holistic fitness regime that is inspired by 122 folk dances from across India. With tailor-made fitness regimes for children (nanhe), the youth (yuva) and senior citizens (pranam), this combination of Indian Folk dance and cardio workout can help you lose 800 to 1,000 calories per session. Apart from burning calories, you will experience an increase in flexibility and peace of mind. Within a year, we have nearly 700 fitness trainers and 70 per cent of them are women. Providing an entrepreneurial platform for aspirants, Folk Fitness trainers are now holding sessions even in Australia.”
Which regional dances did you pick and why?
“Folk Fitness has 122 registered folk dance styles from across India, which are incorporated into a high-intensity workout. Each folk style has a functional workout but some of the dance styles have slightly more impact on certain muscle groups. We have a dedicated Research & Development team, which works on creating new routines. Every folk dance has a story to tell, a reason for their existence and the steps are majorly influenced by their profession and their geographical areas. For example, a Punjabi dance will be influenced by the landscape, which is absolutely flat and will involve a lot of jumping and free movement, which makes some of those steps perfect for cardiovascular activity. The Koli dance from Maharashtra would be done to the beats of a beach song as this style is connected to fishermen and impacts the lower body muscles more. Some of the folk styles that are incorporated into this routine are:
Koli (dance style from Maharashtra) — This helps in strengthening the upper and lower body.
Garba (popular folk dance from Gujarat) — This style has a lot of bending movements that help in strengthening the lower back. It is also very useful for the core muscles. Swinging of the arms helps the shoulders. A lot of clap movements involve wrist and forearm movements, thereby strengthening the hands.
Bihu (dance form from Assam) — Squeezing of the abdomen helps in strengthening the core and simultaneously works on the hamstrings.
Bhangra (folk dance from Punjab) – It works on the shoulders, hamstrings and the quadriceps. Dancers carry each other on their shoulders, which can serve as a weight-training exercise to an extent.”
Run us through a session.
“Every session starts with meditation, which helps align your energy and focus together followed by a warm-up routine, some cardio and then the folk dances. While one is busy focusing on learning and following particular moves from their instructors, each session is also intellectually engaging as they learn about different parts of India. Every trainer is taught about the different folk dances, the story and health benefits behind each of them. The session ends with cool down exercises. The structure is different for adults and children. For adults, we tend to focus on strength and cardio; for kids, we focus on strength but at the same time also pay attention to agility, hand-eye coordination, gross motor fine skills and energy boosters.”
What has the response been like?
“The journey has been incredible and enriching so far. It hasn’t been a smooth ride as many questioned whether people would actually enjoy folk music and some also come with the preconceived idea that folk music is generally slow. But we didn’t let that get to us as we were on a mission to create something of Indian origin. The response has been phenomenal.”
In addition to the health benefits of each dance, do you find that your classes promote a sense of unity in any way?
“Of course! It creates a sense of unity for the single reason that many Indian cities have people from different backgrounds and different states. When they hear the music from their respective state and watch everyone exercising and enjoying it together, there is an elevated sense of pride and unity. Each session also creates an emotional connect, which is overwhelming to watch and experience.”
What are your future plans?
“Our ultimate aim is to put Folk Fitness on the global fitness map. We also want to create job opportunities in the next five years for more than one lakh fitness entrepreneurs, especially women and encourage women empowerment through this in every city across India, and eventually have a fitter India. The strength and the desire to lead any revolution lies in the smaller cities of India. There is so much talent, energy and eagerness. Folk Fitness will provide skills through trainer certifications and support them through their entire entrepreneurship journey. Apart from this, we plan to launch the Hum Safar workout for couples, Yodha exclusively for men, and Jal where the session will take place in water during the summer.”