Known as the "Indian Jane Fonda," Sarina Jain created the original Masala Bhangra dance series that now moves and inspires people around the world. Her success stems from her knowledge and passion for Bhangra and Bollywood.
Jain devised the concept of choreographing Bhangra, featuring alongside folk-dances and music in India's Bollywood films, with modern, funky moves, to appeal to the American exercise industry 20 years ago. Now recognized as a global game changer, the Indian-American certified fitness instructor has 15 workout videos under her belt, and Masala Bhangra classes ranging from step aerobics to total body conditioning are offered in many countries.
Jain has dedicated her life to helping others find their healthy way to more positive living. She completed studies in marketing and public relations in Los Angeles before founding her company, Masala Dance & Fitness, Inc., in 1999. She soon relocated to New York and successfully cultivated a larger audience for her cross-cultural fitness ideas. In 2010, Jain was the new face for Nestle Fitness throughout Latin America, where 2.6 million cereal boxes include her “Masala Bhangra Bollywood Style” DVD.
We sat down with Sarina to understand Masala Bhangra and her journey to get there.
When did your journey start?
My fitness journey started at a young age. I got into fitness when one of the clubhouse coordinators asked me to take over since I was a regular student that would attend all the fitness classes. This was 28 years ago. I then took my fitness journey to another level a few years later. I was in college and was teaching fitness classes on the side.
What's your story?
I was born in Southern California and raised in Orange County! OC girl! My parents migrated to the U.S. in the late 70s for a better life and more opportunities, just like most immigrant families. I am sure many of you can relate to this. Both of my parents were proud to be Indian and they didn’t have any issues in showing off their culture, especially at a time when the Indian culture was not as recognized in this country. They were equally proud to become US citizens. My father was a civil engineer and worked his way up to a high position with the County of Riverside in CA. My mom was home with us for many years before she went back to school to get her education in computer science. Later she became a successful software consultant.
Both Mom and Dad wanted to make sure that my sister and I grew up with the best of what the West had to offer without forgetting the Eastern routes. Dad made sure to send us to India every summer to spend time with our families and our grandparents, and to learn to appreciate what the our culture was all about. My father was our rock. He was this man that was our friend, yet protector. Dad would always tell us to be proud to be who you are, respect the culture you come from and to stand on our own feet.
In November 1994, the unthinkable happened. I had stayed the night at a friend’s house on the 19th. The next morning, my mom called me to say my dad was not breathing anymore. My father passed away to a massive cardiac arrest at the age of 47 on Nov 20th. My mom was 40 years old. After a few months of processing what had happened, I couldn’t help but think…what if my dad exercised more, would he be alive today? I got my dad to join the gym and we all would work out at 24 Hour Fitness as a family, but I couldn’t help but think, "Should I have pushed him more to do more other than just the treadmill? Would that have made a difference?"
That is when it dawned on me that I needed to do something about this. I kept thinking that I have to come up with a way for my own Indian aunties and uncles to get up and exercise so that they don’t suffer a situation like my dad did.
I was relentless about this idea, I just didn’t know what I was going to do. So I took my aerobic background and combined it with my Indian culture and created Masala Bhangra. It was the first ever Indian dance workout! I created Masala Bhangra to honor my father and everything he told us to be proud of. I wanted him to know that not only am I proud to be an Indian woman living in the US, but I am getting this world up and moving Indian style. I came out with my first workout video in 2000 and since then have produced 15 workout videos and have brought Masala Bhangra to over 12 different countries with instructors teaching and celebrating 20 years this year since MB was born. I still get chills thinking about this.
I grew up dancing to Bollywood and Bhangra beats. Bhangra speaks to me in a way that does not make sense to anyone but me. Its vigor and vitality speak to me.
How many calories can one burn doing Masala Bhangra?
As you know, Bhangra is a high energy folk dance! One can burn over 700 plus calories in a 45 to 60 minute class. It just depends on how hard you work.
Health, fitness and South Asian women--are there challenges that are unique to us because we are South Asian? If yes, what are they and how do we tackle them?
Years ago, I read through the CDC that South Asians have the lowest rate in physical activity and yet, 3 out of 10 doctors in the US are Indian. As a whole, as a population, we do not make exercise a priority and we need to. The challenges are that we put our families first. We put our education and careers first. We put everything first before exercise. This has started to change, but it needs to be a bigger change. Exercise is not something that is done on a special occasion. It should be incorporated into your lifestyle everyday. Even stretching should be included, if nothing else.
When going to gym is not an option, what then?
I always ask someone, "How badly do you want it? How badly do you want to exercise?" If it’s worth the effort, then we can find all kinds of ways to make it happen if there is no gym option. I find the gym more powerful and more inspiring. However, these days have changed that mindset, and now I am forced to workout in my own home. It has not been easy, but it’s doable.
What keeps you motivated? What keeps you moving?
People keep me going. Their success stories are small victories for me. When a student of mine goes from one pushup to 10 pushups and works hard towards it, this excites me beyond belief! It gets me so pumped knowing that I made a difference in this person’s life. My students keep me going and I love them for it.
What's your advice for young women? Millenials?
You have to workout no matter what age you are. You've got to lift weights no matter what age you are. My mom, who is my best friend and my rock, lifts five pounds in her weight training class. I am on her all the time to lift weights. It is that essential and crucial for women. We have to make sure our bones stay strong as we get older. Our minds might be strong, but our bones need to be strong too. It is not about maintaining a figure, but more about making sure your bones are strong so they don’t get brittle and weak as we get older.
How are you coping with the COVID-19, new normal and what is your advice on how to manage cabin fever?
In the beginning it was hard. It still is hard. It is not easy for anyone. I have two kids under 4 years old who I pay attention to 95 percent of the time. So my personal gym schedule has gone out the door. However, I have now found ways to stretch and exercise with them. As they play in the morning or watch some cartoons, I stretch on the side. As they go in the hallway to run back and forth and have play time, I take my weights and do the basics – lunges, squats, side raises, front raises, military presses, etc. I try to get in 2 sets as we all “play” outside. My kids know that exercise is important to me. I do pushups with them. It is hard, though, so I'm doing what I can to maintain strength both mentally and physically. And that’s the advice I can give - take it day by day. But please don’t fall into a slump. It will be harder to get out of it in the long run. Everyone wants to be healthy! I know you do. And it takes work! I also have implemented a way of life where I do my best not to eat after 8pm and before 10am. I try to give my body time to digest everything in those 14 hours. I am not as active as I used to be, so my diet has changed.
Where can people find you? Anything else?
You can find me on most social media channels (@sarinajain and @masalabhangra), my website at www.masalabhangraworkout.com, or by email, email@example.com. Please find a way to stay active both physically and mentally no matter what age group you are.
Jain will be joining us on Friday, April 10, 2020, at 6 pm EDT, for the SEEMA Virtual Happy Hour to take us through her story as well as her patented Masala Bhangra workout. To rsvp, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org