masala bhangra: Sarina Jain teaches New Yorkers Masala Bhangra to dance away from the pandemic blues
Born and raised in Southern California by her Indian parents who immigrated to the United States in the 70s, Jain says she grew up with the best of what the West has to offer without forgetting the East. “My dad made sure to send us to India every summer to spend time with our family members, our grandparents and to learn to appreciate what Indian culture is,” she recalls. And having grown up in Southern California, surrounded by the Indian culture of her family, it was not difficult for her to bring together her two passions of culture and fitness. It was her father, she recalls, who taught her to respect the culture where they came from, to be independent and to stand tall. His sudden death, after a massive cardiac arrest, when he was only 47 years old, was a great shock. But her father’s death also inspired her to create Masala Bhangra to honor his memory. “I wanted to tell her that not only am I proud to be an Indian woman living in the United States, but now I teach aspects of our culture through fitness.”
Jain did not formally learn bhangra, but was drawn to it in her youth. “I danced with a team called Dhamaka. We did many dance competitions and often won first place,” she recalls. And that’s where the confidence to launch a form of Indian dance into the fitness world in the United States comes from. Now it’s popular all over the world, she says proudly. Although she continues to grow her brand, she turned to offering virtual classes as soon as the lockdown hit due to Covid restrictions in the US. “When the pandemic hit, everyone was confused. But a week after the shutdown, Masala Bhangra’s instructors adapted to the virtual terrain and took off. It was trial and error at first, but we made it. We’ve been offline for a year and a half and it’s working,” she says.
Later in 2021, after the first lockdown was lifted, Jain launched the concept of ‘Bhangra in the Plaza’ outdoor sessions to get New York moving again, as she describes it. “I produced this event for New Yorkers to get out of their homes, hang out and dance with us. Also promote culture and bring people together through Indian music and dance. It was a huge success,” says The business model she follows now is hybrid, with people of all ages and fitness levels in the United States and even from different parts of the world able to attend classes or participate in “ gym on demand.” Masala Bhangra events are held indoors and outdoors. The program’s USP, even after 21 years, remains high-energy Bhangra and Bollywood dance moves in an easy fitness format to follow, says Jain.
She considers herself lucky to have grown up in the United States amid Indian and Western cultures. “I grew up with a large desi community and was super involved in all activities. I was also brought up in the environment of what the west had to offer. I loved my upbringing and I hope to bring that to my children. Indian culture is important to me, that’s why I promote it every day through Masala Bhangra,” she says. She has a lot of extended family in India and visits often. am also married in Jaipur,” she said.