Dance Your Way to Fitness
FOLK FITNESS is the new age Indian fitness regime that combines fitness with folk dance styles and folk music. AARTI PANDEY, one of the three founders, speaks on what makes Folk Fitness not just unique, but just the thing for fitness and Indian folk forms and music.
Being fit, these days, is so boring. Many are just not interested in the usual routine or are afraid of the trainer or feel very unfit for the suggested workout. Whatever the issue, fitness takes a beating here. But there are individuals who are making sure that you enjoy the process of being fit in an Indian way. Introducing Folk Fitness, a newage Indian fitness regime merging fitness with folk dance styles and Indian folk music. Started by three passionate Pune-based individuals - Aarti Pandey, Ashwin Pandey and Manoj Upreti, their vision is to make India proud of its existing fitness formats. They are based in the city, though they are now going national. We catch up with Aarti, one of the co-founders, on a busy Wednesday at a coffee shop to get the details…
Aarti calls Folk Fitness India’s very first concept that originated due to the fact that the fitness industry in India is more West inclined. “That’s how Folk Fitness was born. What is Folk Fitness? It’s an amalgamation of folk dances from different states of India and we have merged that with the science of fitness management. It is a one-hour routine that is holistic in the sense that we start with meditation. Then we do warm-up. Then there is an upper body workout, lower body workout, cardio workout and then there are cool down and stretches. So you don’t have to dedicate your one-day for upper body and second day for lower body, because you tend to miss certain days. You do it three times a week. And you take care of your entire workout.”
And the name intrigues you. They had thought of Folk Fit, but Folk Fitness came naturally to them. “We wanted to keep it easy for the audience to get it.”
Apart from being India’s first desi fitness concept, there is a lot more offered at Folk Fitness. “We have authentic folk music. We have in-house singers, musicians and composers who actually keep fitness and intensity in mind, and sing and put the rhythm in. Every workout is choreographed keeping fitness in mind. It’s not dance. So you would know how many squats and lunges have to be placed. And the beauty is, every folk dance has a beautiful story around it and is all functional in movement. We have taken every function of the people and these tribes and we have merged it with the modern science of fitness. That’s how it is unique.” Another interesting feature is that you burn almost 1000-1200 calories in one session. “Every session is vetted by the physiotherapy head of the department to ensure that it is injury proof. We are the only fitness group that is in the Limca Book of Records being the first unique concept. And we are the only concept that has been accredited with NASM and AFFA, which are the international fitness bodies. So we have taken care from the science bit. We have taken care from the Indian bit. And we have taken care from the holistic fun bit. And we have Folk Fitness Nanhe for the kids. We have Folk Fitness Yuva for the adults. And we have Folk Fitness Pranam for the senior citizens.” Aarti feels Folk Fitness’s beauty lies in the fact that it is not always Bhangra or Garbha. “There are 122 folk dances and 1,000 unregistered dances. So our motive is to make people fit, but to also make them know about our cultures. So every session has 10-12 different folk styles. And every time you come for a class, you get acquainted with more different folk styles. The music you will hear will either be from South, East or West. But you will be ensured you are enjoying all the popular songs and also enjoying the melodious music that you never come across. So that is how we try and enjoy getting your fitness, but you also get to listen to these jewels of India, which are somehow dying or people are not getting to hear about it.”
Aarti gets down to the basics and gives more details on how a typical workout is at Folk Fitness. “The pattern of our class is upper body for eight minutes. Lower body is eight minutes. Cardio is eight minutes. So in the upper body, we take four different folk styles, which stresses on your upper body workout. For example, a Koli dance would impact your upper body muscles. A Bihu from Assam would take care of your core. A Garbha would take care of your biceps. Every folk impacts each muscle. But there are some that will impact more. A Bhangra will impact your lower body more than the upper body.” For the one-hour session, register as an enthusiast first. You later increase the session to three times a week at any of the gyms, societies or places you think it is fit. “What we do is we certify people who want to make their career in fitness. It is a two-day certification course that anyone can take. Then we provide them online modules to practise. We give them two days of physical training. Then we provide online tutorials. And then we provide them opportunities through corporates, schools or gyms to start their careers. So that is the entire eco-system that we create for any individual who wants to start.”
“We are telling you to come and burn those calories. But burn while you learn a dance form. So you won’t even realise that you have done 20-25 squats. In a gym, if a trainer tells you to do 20 squats, you are mentally counting them. Here the music is played. You are doing those steps or workout. You really don’t think about the workout. You are enjoying; you are smiling. You are with a group. And the beauty is everyone knows his or her own capacities. If you can only bend till 45 degrees, you just bend till 45 degree. After a couple of sessions, you realise you are bending more and your flexibility is increasing. Your stamina is increasing. So this module is as per your own body strength and own body stamina versus pulling 20 kgs or 25 kgs because your trainer is telling you so.” In this regime, you can find dance forms like Bhangra, Bihu, Garbha, Kalbelia, Dangal, Koli dance, Telatali and Ghoomar amongst others.
Regarding uniquely preserving our traditions, Aarti reveals, “It is very unfortunate that this art is dying. When I was in college, folk dances were really taken up as one of the activities. And that is how folk has been so imbibed in me and my partner Ashwin, because we lived through those moments. These days if you go to an annual function in school or college, you don’t hear folk dances. The next generation is really not into it. But what we realised is that when we are playing these songs, they love it. So it’s not that they don’t want it. It’s just that nobody has got them into this. Our humble effort is to make folk music reach out to them. People thought folk music is slow and boring. But it is not. If you ask the little kids, they are so excited about the folk fitness sessions. And now they are singing these songs. And they go back and tell their parents to play a Bihu or Telatali. And that’s our mission. We just want everyone to know about our culture and know about folk dances and just get fit.”
Folk Fitness began with Aarti, who has done her MBA in Sales & Marketing, but has a passion for dance. “But at that time, dance was never taken as a mainstream. So I did what everyone else was doing. I did my MBA and took up a job in a corporate. But I kept learning dance styles. I specialised in Latin styles. My base has been classical. I have learnt Bharatnatyam. So this is how the journey was.” A difficult pregnancy led to depression and Aarti quitting her job. But dance was her saviour. “I thought this is what I want to do. And I started a dance academy. In that journey, I met my second partner Manoj, who was my student. So he is from 13 years of IT background. I said, ‘What are you doing in IT? It’s so boring. Let’s do something together.’ So we started a gym together. And in that journey, we realised that everything that is happening in the world of fitness is coming from abroad. And we were just sitting together, and my brother Ashwin, who is our third partner, has the most experience. He has 13 years of folk dance experience. He has travelled to villages and written down songs. He has learnt from Indumati Lele, who is THE folk dance expert, and he spent a lot of time with her. And he has travelled abroad for work. So he knew that the people love it, but it is not reaching out to them. He gave us the idea – why don’t we merge fitness and folk?” It took them two years to do research and put things into place, right from accreditation to the advisory board. “We had a US-based company called Velocity Fitness, who did a case study where we had 25 members of different gender and age. Some had done fitness. Some have never done fitness. We made them do this for six weeks and captured their information and monitored their progress. And the results were phenomenal. So we got
the white paper done and that’s how we got the accreditation done. And that is how the journey began. And in 2016 August 15, when we started our first certification course, we started from Pune and our first group had 22 people, who actually joined our journey. And today we have 900 trainers.” You can approach a portal to figure out which certified trainers put their classes up for those interested. “So we have classes anywhere and everywhere. But suppose you are an enthusiast and want to start it in your gym or society, you could just tell us. We send a trainer across and give a complimentary session to everyone to start with, because we want you to like it and then start it.”
One wants to believe that something like Folk Fitness will change fitness or the outlook or approach towards Indian dance. “I feel group classes and something which is Indian is the need of the hour, because there are lot of people who still don’t relate to English music or don’t like it. But they want to do something in fitness and this is the answer,” Aarti states. “You listen to a song which is from a state and is melodious gets you to move your feet and gets you fitter. You will always see there are lot of women who are in pallu and are shy. But the moment there is a dhol in the wedding, you will see them dancing the most. This is what we want to bring out. We want to bring out those shy people out. Give them something they relate to. Why shouldn’t they be fit? Why shouldn’t they do something to be fit? This is the answer to that. The younger generation is also relating to that.” It has to be noted that Folk Fitness has 900 fitness professionals and almost 840 of them are women, especially from Tier 2 & 3 cities. “A lot of women are doing this training for self-fitness. Because you pay in a gym, go twice and then you stop. But here we teach you to do this at home. So a lot of people who have this restriction of not going out of the house can practise at home and enjoy with their loved ones.” Folk Fitness is in 19 cities, from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Pune to Indore, Aurangabad, Chennai, Raipur, Ahmednagar, Rajkot, Surat and Baroda. “Our master trainer Ashwin travels, goes to these cities, spends time with them, and teaches everything to them. Then they are on the portal.”
Since 2016, Folk Fitness has got the right response. Aarti reveals, “When we started, we were very nervous. We really were scared, because there were lot of people who laughed at us. But the enthusiasts were nice and open to it. They really loved the concept. Some of the most amazing feedback was that after the training, these trainers would come and hug our master trainer. They would start crying, saying, ‘We never knew about India so much and you really got us to know it.’” “A lot of people and men think we don’t want to go for this class (just dance classes). It’s only dance and not fitness. But when they come for a Folk Fitness class, everyone needs equal stamina. For you to do the one hour session, you really need your fitness to be there. That’s the beauty about Folk Fitness. You are on rhythm. You are doing it on music. But you are actually doing fitness that is required.
That’s the trend we are changing. This is attracting a lot of people who have never come out for fitness. They think fitness is, you know, doing household work. Fitness is about taking a walk around the society. We are, with this, making sure that those people can come out of the house; especially women. And I strongly feel that if the women of the house are fit, the entire house is fit. If you want to make the entire country fit, you have to make sure that the woman is fit.”
Asked to describe Folk Fitness in brief, Aarti responds, “Folk Fitness is something I breathe and live in. I really want Folk Fitness to reach as many people and transform their lives. If I have to tell people what Folk Fitness is, it is something that is transforming people’s lives – financially, socially, and physically. So I would want people to try it at least once. There are a lot of people who are into depression or are shy. But when you come to a place like this, you open up because music is the best therapy. And then you meet so many people. We just want as many people to know about this. Trust me, if they try it once, they will get hooked on to it. We have not had people leave it once they started it.” The next on the agenda for Folk Fitness is going global. “There are a lot of Indians abroad who want something like this. If you ask me what next, next is taking it abroad…make sure a lot of people there experience this and get something where they can benefit. What better way to connect with India than Folk?” True that! And the story and success of Folk Fitness continues with the positive note and benefits.