Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

The African rhythm is going to get you – in shape

Forget salsa and Zumba, African dance is the latest fun way to get in shape.
Liris Mosquera teaches African dance class at Exhale studios in JBR, Dubai.
Liris Mosquera teaches African dance class at Exhale studios in JBR, Dubai.

Imagine Rihanna's video for Where Have You Been? and that's not far off from the kind of moves you'll be throwing in this high-energy workout class, African dance.

Using muscles you might never have expected, from legs and core to arms, in ways you never moved them before, it really is a true all-over workout, or at least it will be once you get the hang of the moves.

Dance styles such as salsa have been lighting up dance floors for years and the Zumba fitness craze has long been a growing international trend, but one fitness studio in Dubai has decided to take dance fitness beyond the boundaries.

At Exhale's ladies-only studios in JBR and Motor City, styles such as African dance, Latino cardio and 1980s cardio have been growing in popularity, with women looking for more creative ways of keeping fit than the usual offerings.

Watching a class of African dance could seem slightly odd to the unaware. The women move in all kinds of free-flowing, full-body movements, without the kind of inhibitions many would have on a nightclub dance floor or with the regimen of styles such as tango. Gyrating hips, imaginary hammer-banging, whirling hands and a lot of squatting and leaping will ensure there is some serious sweating going on during the one-hour workout. Set to the beat of drums and authentic African tribal sounds, it is a little escape from the outside world, to a place where there is really no right or wrong way.

It's loud, it's sweaty and the girls are giving it their all. There's no doubt they are burning calories.

Some of the girls have been doing it for several years while others are newer to it, but nobody is looking at their neighbour, just focusing on trying to keep up and follow.

After a few minutes of warming up and stretching, in the first 40 or so minutes of the class, participants learn a small number of moves and a mini-routine to around five songs, moves which are changed every week to keep things fresh. At the end of the class, it is all thrown together into a routine - building up slowly until it's at breakneck speed, women throwing themselves around in all manner of shapes.

Rama Al Jayyousi, the managing partner at Exhale, which opened four years ago, says it was important to have the dance fitness options there for women who would otherwise not go to a gym or do more conventional training. "Some of these women really want to be pushed but don't have that motivation to go to the gym," she says. "For others, they really want to dance but can't go out solo, so this really gives them that chance. It's the feel-good factor. Especially in 1980s cardio, people of all ages love the music."

She says being women's-only helps. "It's different when you dance in a club and in front of guys," she says. "This is time away from the world with no judgement and no worrying about what they look like."

Lulu Sultan, 36, from Bahrain, has been doing African dance since it launched four years ago. "I was so stiff when I first started but it's really given me a lot of confidence, not only when I go out dancing in clubs but in general." She says it is fun and does not feel like a workout. "It's a really good way of keeping fit but it's more fun than exercise for me," she says.

Liris Mosquera, 37, is the high-energy Colombian teacher who keeps the ladies coming back. Each week the professional performer's classes, most notably African dance and Latino cardio, are full to the rafters with around 20 women crammed into the studio ready to get down to work.

"Once people start to get the hang of the moves, I can guide them more so they become more aware of how they should be moving and which muscles they should be moving," she explained. "But there are all levels, some with a natural dancing ability and some who just love it and do it for the fitness. It's all about technique, exercise and most of all, being happy."

African dance is held at 6.30pm at Exhale at its JBR studios in Murjan. Full schedules and class details can be found at www.exhale.ae or by calling 04 424 3777 for JBR, or 04 447 4220 for Motor City.