I've created this book primarily to be listened to, not read. Grammar police please don't mind some of my choices, they're meant to be conversation.
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This information is designed to help you move through the following stages:
- Become a Pungrafier,
- Become a Pungra Activator,
- Become a Pungra Coach.
It's about more than a different spelling, more than exercise and definitely more than screwing the light bulbs. It's my mission to create the world's highest standards for exercise to Punjabi music.
I coined the idea of Pungra in 2012, and since then although I've explained it to hundreds of people, I feel constantly at odds with many people's lack of understanding. So I hope you'll allow me to labour the point about what my idea is, without feeling patronised, please hear me out as I use some analogies. But first, why do I think people don't understand? Here's an example of a typical conversation that results in me wanting to have a facepalm moment.
"Hey, I love your videos and your class". "Thank you". "You're a great dancer". "Ok, thank you". "Will you come and do a show at my wedding?" Although I respond with a comment like "I don't do performances", and a little part of me inside dies, the person speaking to me, with all the best intentions in the world looks at me like I just called their mum something. With a look of "but you dance.... dancers perform at weddings... you say you don't perform... you must be weird... I don't think I like you any more, because I feel offended that you won't dance at my wedding".
Other examples where people don't understand are when they say "I love your dancing, oh I love Bollywood so much". Again, a little part of me dies every time I hear that.
One last one is when someone asks "what time is your class?" When the person realises that they can't attend that time, I'm usually met with a response of "oh it's ok, I know another bhangra (spelt the conventional way) dance teacher who teaches a better time for me". It's ok if that goes over your head, I'll explain why what I've created is fundamentally different from the classes my work is compared to. And hopefully, you'll understand why I feel insulted by such comments, but must bite my lip.
The fact that you've made it this far into my lesson reassures me not to lose all faith in humanity, especially people from a South Asian background. Generally, I find that people that are of European descent, such as British, Americans and more "get" pungra. This is not a genetic thing, of course, it's a psychological schema thing, which I'll get into more detail in a future lesson.
A key part of #pungra's marketing is being focused on exercise, and not at all on performing. It's important we make it clear to clientele that we are not performing arts disguised as exercise. After all, every time we promote our fitness program we are instilling a sense of hope and aspiration within the minds of our clientele. They want to get fit, and not waste their time on activities that aren't focused on helping them. Let's not let them down.
Here are the standards our clients will expect from each instructor.
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Expectations of #pungra classes
Let's not fail our clientele who are relying on us to show them the way towards healthier and fitter lives contributed to by fantastic instructors like you.
Imagine if intelligent extra-terrestrials were to land on Earth today. Suppose they observed that that hundreds of thousands of people dance around, randomly, to different types of music, for no special reason other than that's how things have been done for years.
Then imagine the same aliens figure out the humans' biggest problems, and one of them is called obesity, is correlated with a lack of physical activity.
Would the aliens put two and two together and consider, "why don't these humans reconsider the way they move to solve their modern age problem?" Meaning they might design a way to use movement to combat obesity.
You might be thinking that all types of dance are good for obesity, and whilst that's true, most dance forms aren't designed to focus on obesity. It's like me saying to you that my pencil is great for dealing with an itch on my arm. Yes, it is, and it does it fantastically, but is that really what the pencil is for?
Let me ask you a question, what's the difference between cycling and Spinning? If you don't know what they are, give me a moment to explain. Cycling is riding a bike in a conventional sense, perhaps to pop to the shops, for enjoying the scenery, commuting to work or even competing in the Tour De France. Spinning is like an exercise bike on steroids. The bike is stationary, meaning it doesn't move, to which many cyclists would remark "what's the point of that?". They're both good for exercise, but which is better?
Cycling can be done in various terrains, be it flat or hills. But each cyclist has little to no control over the terrain. Also, there are associated risks with cycling that hamper cyclists' fitness goals. Firstly, the weather is not always on your side. Second, if you live in an urban area, there are chances of collisions with vehicles, or even more likely, pedestrians. This is especially true if you want to use music to help motivate you because it's difficult to listen to music and focus on the road ahead of you. Even if you're riding in rural areas, there are issues such as needing to make sure you're back home before dark, and not risk being stranded miles from home because your bike has a puncture.
I hope you're aware of interval exercise, often referred to as high-intensity interval training, which I'll describe in more detail in a future lesson. But the key takeaway is knowing that exercising in bursts of intensity, with rest moments, is proven as much more effective for bringing about changes to your levels of fitness, than doing the same level of intensity throughout. The second important thing is that these intervals should be approximately 20 to 30 seconds of bursts. 10 seconds is too short, and 50 seconds is too long, for example. Cyclists might tell us "well, I get intense intervals on hills". The problem is, they can't control the size of the hills, so they can't control those crucial seconds.
Over to Spinning then. By taking out all the things that don't matter, and adding all the things that do, Spinning becomes the true fitness fanatics exercise of choice. It is done indoors, meaning come rain or shine, winds or ice, we can complete a Spinning session without fail. We're not going anywhere, so we can plug in the earphones and listen to motivating music without worrying about getting in the way of vehicles. Conventionally Spinning was done in gyms, meaning that dozens of people could join a class and be motivated by a Spinning instructor, who they could hear. This is different of course to a cyclist instructor who will not be able to project their voice to dozens of riders easily. Today a fast-growing exercise at home concept is Spinning bikes with live classes. This means that thousands of people can be Spinning at home, at the same time, following an instructor thousands of miles away.
I'm not going to sit on the fence about it, and whether cyclists like it or not, Spinning is hands-down better for exercise than cycling. But do we need to do just one, without the other? No of course not. Here's what I do. I take part in Spinning at least 5 times a week, every week of the year. Then during the warmer climate, I like to hire a bike and cycle in forests. This means I'm getting fresh air when the weather is great, but I only cycle this way about once or twice a year. That's not a fitness plan by anyone's imagination.
Now think about the similarity with dancing, such as to Punjabi music. Cycling is a lot like dancing at a party. We just do it occasionally. But what if we could do similar movements in a way that is intended to be done for exercise because after all, no one is having a wedding or birthday party and then saying "come on everyone, exercise to celebrate now". In fact, they're probably feeding you junk and keeping you up late into the evening depriving you of valuable sleep, so it's counter-intuitive to fitness.
Pungra is not dancing. Pungra is exercise to Punjabi music. And a great way to discern the differences between bhangra spelt the conventional way, dancing and exercise to Punjabi music are to compare cycling with Spinning. To the uninitiated cycling and Spinning may appear the same, or similar. But fundamentally they are worlds apart. Let's explore one more analogy.
In this example, I'm going to compare farming with gardening. Again to the uninitiated they probably seem like pretty much the same thing. Increasingly people who live in urban areas are not exposed to any form of farming or gardening. There was uproar in the UK a few years back when some children were asked to identify vegetables and they couldn't. Mostly the point was that children were eating junk and not food.
I was lucky to grow up in a home with a large back garden. The strip of mud on the left was dedicated to vegetables. Dad also planted a few fruit trees like apples and pears. The majority of the middle of the garden was a grassy lawn. The right had bushes. There were two circular patches in the lawn for flowers. This was just the back garden. The front garden had a path of lawn and dad took care of dozens of flowers. Begrudgingly at the time, I disliked when dad encouraged us to maintain the food and flowers in our garden, it was almost an all-year-round effort. But today I feel grateful to have had those experiences. I recognise that many people, including my children, perhaps will never experience this.
If people never experience this, how easy it for them to discern the difference between gardening and farming? Surely the difference is obvious? Perhaps to some of us. But to many people, regardless of whether they are children, farmers and gardeners look the same. They use the same, or similar, tools. They get similarly grotty with mud. And they do what they do in that "outdoor place". For many, that's as much as they need to know. Until they start thinking about the importance of where their food comes from, of course.
Gardening is largely a frivolous activity. You might disagree, and I understand why. Many will argue that gardening keeps them happy, and keeps the people enjoying the space happy. Ok, sure... and I love landscaped gardens and living areas as much as everyone else, don't get me wrong. I'm glad they exist. But, push come to shove, if we need to choose between whether gardening or farming survives, farming wins hands down for a simple reason. We need farmers, we want gardeners. Our needs will always trump our wants.
For the exact same reason, exercise trumps entertainment. We need exercise, we want entertainment.
It's my hope that by now, using these analogies I have convinced you to think differently about bhangra, spelt the conventional and exercise to Punjabi music, which I call Pungra, spelt with a P. Perhaps you'll look at high intelligence, cycling, Spinning, gardening and farming all a bit different too. You've moved from being uninitiated to initiated, welcome to the club. Let me now describe what are some of the features of exercise to Punjabi music that are important and special.
There are many software operating systems such as Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, etc. On the surface, they look similar. By getting to know their differences perhaps it'll help explain how Pungra is a different operating system, to others that on the surface appear similar.
These software operating systems show a graphic interface which allows us to interact with the device and the network they are connected to. We all have our preferences. Some prefer some operating systems because they are simple, others prefer their's because they are sophisticated and give them more options. Some like the way the operating company keeps the operating system secure. You might ask something like, "well is Pungra like iOS, and bhangra, spelt the conventional way, more like Android?" No, instead the way I like to think of it is that Pungra is like a mobile operating system, and bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is like a desktop operating system. Now, the truth is that I think there is a lot of difference between Pungra and bhangra, spelt the conventional way, far more than the difference between a mobile device and a desktop device. However, it's still useful to use this comparison because when software developers design for a mobile device, they have new possibilities and capabilities, but also new restrictions. The new capabilities relate to things like the devices having satellite navigation or a high-quality camera. Restrictions include a small screen and also consideration for preventing the battery from being used up within just a few hours.
Many software developers including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and thousands more, have a background in developing for a desktop device. With the advent of an influx of mobile devices, these companies have been forced to think differently about how the software should work. Microsoft makes Microsoft Office and Outlook on mobile, Google has Search, Gmail, Maps and more. For the most part, the mobile experience has forced them to re-engineer their software. In the early days of mobile catching up, and then overtaking desktop uses, think the early 2010s, the companies' desktop versus mobile experience was different, fragmented and confusing. But by the late 2010s, they evened up. Ten years ago the mobile experience took their cue from the desktop experience. Today that concept has turned on its head, meaning that when they developed new software they think about the mobile experience first, and then engineer for the desktop experience. This means that they will not allow the mobile experience to be jeopardised, over the desktop experience.
In the same way, Pungra is different to bhangra, spelt the conventional way, types of fitness programs. Those ask the question, "how do we take what we do in bhangra, spelt the conventional way, and add fitness elements to it?". This bias is the same as developing for desktop first, and mobile second. My approach is to think the other way, with the question, "what makes a fantastic fitness format, and how do I add elements of Punjabi music and movement to it? But importantly without jeopardising the fitness experience?".
There's something about Punjabi movement
The way Punjabi people move is unusual, and that's a good thing. Compared to many other dance and movement styles, it's high in velocity and intensity. How many movements styles can you think of that are as bouncy, use up as much space, or have as many moves with arms high in the air? I'll cover this in more detail in a future lesson, but suffice to say that as much as many people may look at this type of movement and first think, "these people are a bit weird". Over time, I hope they'll recognise that it doesn't matter how you look whilst doing the movement, what matters for exercise is the difference the movement makes to your health.
How Pungra is different to bhangra
Most people that I speak to about bhangra, describe it in a single dimension. In their mind it's simple. But when I challenge them with a few questions to consider “is bhangra music?” or is it “dancing” or is it something people do “at parties?”, or is what people do at parties “the same as on stage?”. Many respond with yes to all these questions, willingly. Occasionally, my questions encourage people to reconsider, and perhaps ponder the question, “if bhangra is all these things, how is bhangra anything?”
It's in 3D
Let's move away from this one-dimensional thinking, and recognise that there are at least 3 dimensions, which I call:
- Social bhangra - meaning it's doone it as part of a social event.
- Performing bhangra - meaning it's done to entertain.
- Exercise bhangra - meaning it's done to improve one's wellbeing.
The thing is, there are grey areas in between these, and especially between number 2 and number 3. It is my proposition that many people are claiming to be providing exercise classes, but in truth are providing performing classes. I like to call them the dancers, masquarding as fitness instructors, or even the WTFs. Short form for What! That's Fitness? Or the Barry Sugars of this world. It's not their fault though, the idea of exercise classes is a relatively immature concept and gradually as people adopt industry-standard techniques for running fitness classes, there will be overlaps and areas of confusion.
How do we simplify the confusion? I think I have the answer. When I am asked questions like, “is there a difference between bhangra, spelt the convention way, and Pungra, the concept I am pioneering” the answer is this.
Bhangra is performing, that's a bit "exercisey". Pungra is exercise, that's a bit "dancey". Here's a snapshot of the differences.
- Is Punjabi performing arts
- Goal = Serve an audience
- Sector = Arts
- Professional standards governed by = Informal
- Attire = Costume
- Venue = Stage
- Suits = People with lots of time
- Problem trying to be solved = Not enough entertainment
- Is exercise to Punjabi music
- Goal = Serve the exerciser
- Sector = Physical Activity and Sports
- Professional standards governed by = UK Exercise Register, EMDUK and CIMPSA
- Attire = Sports clothing
- Venue = Anywhere suitable for exercise
- Suits = Busy people
- Problem trying to be solved = Obesity, heart disease and other sedentary health conditions
Standards, come first
The fitness industry has standards. Just dancing, so-called bhangra, spelt the conventional way, the way it's done around the world, adding the word "fitness", wearing trainers instead of barefoot, and rehearsing in gyms, is just not good enough. These are not standards.
Using my analogies, this is like cyclists using their mountain bikes and riding around a tiny room. Or gardeners making a wonderful flower bed, and adding a couple of random tomato plants on the end. You know these are strange things to do. Yet in the fitness space, there are hundreds of performers masquerading as fitness instructors.
Very few of them are thinking about the fact that the fitness industry has standards and decades of experience of understanding what makes good, and what makes poor group exercise classes.
The ideology of Pungra isn't just Punjabi movement, with a bit of fitness techniques sprinkled on top. Instead, I've taken the principles of fitness industry practices and sprinkled Punjabi music and movement on top. My approach is unparalleled and I believe this way of looking at the design, on its head, is what will allow me to influence the fitness industry positively. Perhaps you understand a little more now why when my class is compared to any other activity that vaguely uses the same music and thought to be similar, as an insult. I have worked for 2 decades on the standards to be world-class.
The Principles Of Pungra
With nearly 20 years of experience in dance and fitness, I have isolated the essence of a good group exercise to Punjabi fitness program. Every class must:
- One, be Easy To Follow. Beginners through to those with advanced levels of fitness should all feel the activity is worth their while. This is easier said than done, but following my techniques it's achievable.
- Two, be possible to Join Any Time. No courses. Come when you can, and as often as you can. People have other things going on. Creating courses that they must join to learn routines, that if they miss may result in them not coming back, or even not signing up in the first place, is bad design.
- Three, have No Choreography. Light preparation for the coach who uses techniques on-the-fly. The class should be easy to join, but also made as easy as possible for a coach to lead so that it can be copied and the number of coaches can increase.
- Four, be Legal and Above Board. So it meets fitness industry standards for techniques, formats, insurance and use of music.
No one else does this in the Punjabi music scene.
Why Pungra is the best name
I know that many people compare what I'm doing at Pungra, and others who are using bhangra, spelt the conventional way and adding terms like fit, workout, exercise, or similar before or after that. So bhanga fit, or fit bhangra, or bhangra workout, or workout bhangra, or bhangra exercise, or exercise bhangra. It's my aim to convince you that these are not very good names, for the following reasons.
Reason 1. I'll cover this in more detail in future lessons, but the word bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is very restrictive. Suppose it's true that bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is a genre or style of music or dance. This is typically referred to as the music that is folk or traditional, such as with lots of dhol, the percussion instrument, tumbi, the string instrument and even pags, or turbans and ramals, or handkerchiefs. This style is known worldwide, it's bouncy, energetic and vibrant. But here's the problem. It's not suitable for warming up or cooling down during a cardiovascular workout class. A cardinal rule of a good warm-up is that there must not be any bouncing for at least 8 minutes. But bhangra spelt the conventional way, type movement, is essentially bouncy. So for the warm-up, cool down, stretching and any plyometric sections, this conventional music, typically known as bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is not suitable. We need to use music that uses non-conventional rhythms and that is more globally normal. By this, I mean Punjabi lyrics on top of music that could have been produced anywhere in the world and is not so easy to distinguish as being from a geographic region.
Reason 2. Leading on from the last point, about what I'll call more globally normal music. This type of music being produced using Punjabi lyrics is growing. Just in the last 20 years, there has been a shift in music treatment. I estimate that in the year 2000, 75% of Punjabi music was dhol, tumbi, and dholki another percussive instrument. By 2010, just ten years later, I estimate it was still 50%. However today in 2020, the number of tracks produced with traditional beats, what we call bhangra, spelt the conventional way, has come down to somewhere in the region of 10-15%. I hope it doesn't reduce any further, but suffice to say that probably in the next 10 to 20 years, most people that listen to Punjabi music will not be listening to dhol and tumbi. Music made with traditional beats will increasingly become an oddity, rather than the norm. If I am right, this means that any fitness brands calling themselves bhangra, spelt the conventional way, with fit, workout, exercise or similar, are setting themselves up for a very short life span. If they still exist in 2035, they will only really be able to play 10 or more year old music. I see this already happening, with many of those organisations playing popular music from the noughties, i.e. created between 2000 and 2009. Put another way, what I am saying is that many of these teams are already out of touch, and going to become increasingly out of touch unless they think differently about their branding.
Reason 3. For years to come, people will have perceptions of what bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is. The very same people who many of us are trying to help to become more active, have their minds made up that bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is something you join in with at parties, or otherwise sit and watch people who can do it "better than you". How do we bridge that gap and make that connection? As to say "join in with this exercise program" I think that for as long as the brand has the word bhangra, spelt the conventional way, in it, people will automatically assume they know what it is. This may not work in the brand's favour much of the time. Yes and it will take some time for people to see my brand Pungra has a focus on fitness, but we can achieve that together through marketing.
Reason 4. Although bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is inherently about movement, this doesn't mean it's about fitness. Like the example, I gave before about the difference between cycling and Spinning. Where Spinning is 100% about improving the participants' health and fitness, cycling is not. Cycling has multiple purposes, including commuting or sightseeing, or reducing travel time. Sure, it's probably better for one's fitness than driving a car, unless we get into pollution levels in many cities, but of course, that's another story. And if we have more people cycling, than driving cars, our world would be a much better place to live.
However, we should look sceptically towards people who add words like fit, or workout or exercise to cycling, without looking further into their credentials and standards. Perhaps David Andrews runs a brand called Cycling FIt, and upon further research, you discover that David Andrews is qualified to fitness industry standards and is a registered exercise professional. On the other hand, you might meet Barry Sugar, who runs an organisation called FitCycle. HIs web site and social media content look reasonably legit, but upon further investigation, you discover that Barry Sugar doesn't have any fitness industry related qualifications. He's just one guy who likes cycling and has come up with a plan to make some extra cash. Worse still, he created his own certificate and offered FitCycling Instructor Training, and dozens of people who know no better fell for it. and are all teaching FitCycle to hundreds of people. None of the participants are wise to how much malpractice is taking place, and that they are supporting with their hard-earned cash. Barry Sugar has manipulated hundreds of people, whose hopes and dreams for a fitter lifestyle are being taken advantage of. Because after all, we all inherently think that cycling is good for us, right? Cycling might be, but Barry Sugar hasn't proved that he knows what he's doing. Why I am talking about Barry Sugar's FitCycle brand? Of course, I don't know of any Barry Sugars in cycling. But there are many Barrys in so-called bhangra, spelt the conventional way, fitness and exercise.
Reason 5. Bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is not a thing. I am sure many of you by now are thinking, "Ravi is off his trolley, of course, bhangra is a thing". I'll explain this in more detail in a future lesson, but let me ask you a question. If you ask 5 different people to define what bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is, do you think you'd get the same 5 responses? The answer is that you'll get enough variation that will convince you that no one really can box it up. Some will say "it's a dance style from India", others will say "it's dancing done during harvest celebration", others will say "I saw a bhangra show on Diwali", others will say "there are some bhangra videos, where people do a performance and the rest of the class is clapping", "oh it's done at weddings", "oh it's a type of music", "it's Bollywood", or my favourite, "it's when people screw the light bulbs". I am sure that most people on earth don't have an answer ready, but those that do will range through these and more. And you might be thinking bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is all of these things and more. I say that's nonsense. When a name can have so many meanings, so many different ways of doing it and no established or set standards, it's not a thing... meaning it is not a noun. Instead, it's the result of lost in translation and many people just not challenging what has happened. Even when it comes to geographical places like a city, some will argue that it's not a thing. For example, we widely accept that the United Kingdom, United States of America, Sri Lanka, Australia and many other places are accepted as a country, a thing or a noun. But other regions are disputed, such as Palestine, Taiwan, and Jammu and Kashmir. Bhangra, spelt the conventional way, is essentially disputed territory, without the violence.
Reason 6. For as long as we keep perpetuating the written form of bhangra, spelt the conventional way, we are missing an opportunity to teach the world about its authentic pronunciation. Suppose my brand, pungra, is not effective at educating the world about how this word should be said authentically. And instead, Bhangra Shape, spelt the conventional way and run by Barry Sugar, is successful, we will have a future in which the mistake made by English speakers will continue long into the future. I hope like me, you hope this will not happen.
I implore you to help me for all these 6 reasons to adopt the use of pungra spelt with a P, rather than bhangra spelt in the conventional way, for the use of Punjabi music in the physical activity, sports and fitness sector. This will only be possible if you agree with my 6 reasons and feel it's a problem that needs a solution. Pungra, just Pungra, P, U, N, G, R, A, is all we need. A single thing, a noun, a set of standards, and brand to get behind to get more people active to Punjabi music to world-class standards. That's the dream. That's the vision. That's the goal.
Pungra feels familiar to many people, but it is my hope to have illustrated to you how what I do is different. In the same way as cycling is different from Spinning, and gardening is different from farming. Ultimately we need to have standards and techniques for exercise to Punjabi music. And it is of paramount importance to dealing with the obesity pandemic.
This concludes this lesson. I hope you found it insightful. I have even more to share in the next one. Until then, keep being mindful, remember your purpose and exercise with intent.
The key events that shape what Pungra is today.
Clear up misconception
I know what you might be thinking, "another one of these bang-rah classes?" Right? Well, why wouldn't you? But please stay with me, Pungra is new, unparalleled and different. To understand why it's important I explain the story.
What, another dancer?
You're forgiven for thinking that I am a bhangra dancer. That's not how I identify myself.
I'm a Learning Consultant
I took up learning Punjabi music and dance in my teens, but most of my life's work is as a Learning Consultant, helping companies modernise their use of technology and modernising workflows. This means it's an occupational hazard of mine to help people identify problems that are preventing organisations from evolving.
My Pungra story
I started teaching Dhol drum classes in 1999. Before long, many of the people joining the class started dancing to the drumbeat, well it's difficult not to. But something happened that I didn't expect.
The drummers' mums started attending too. By 2002 my class was often packed with nearly 100 people.
Meanwhile, I was on my journey. Having struggled with being overweight, and various health conditions in my childhood, dance had become my life, and it generated the desire in me to want to take better care of myself.
I was an overweight teenager
Exercise changed my life
By dancing for many hours every week, it put pressure on me to think about my eating and sleeping patterns. But, I was also spending hours working on choreography, and the administration associated with performances.
What class participants didn't want
A few years passed and I noticed a pattern in my classes. Many people were not coming back. Although the class continued to remain busy, my business mind considered "why is there such a high turn over?".
I decided to interview dozens of participants from regulars to those that never came back. I asked them one question, "why did you come to my class in the first place?". I was expecting dozens of different responses and variations. But to my surprise, I heard the same thing from everyone.
"We came here for exercise, but it doesn't really feel like an exercise class".
I felt like a train had hit me. Here I was investing hours of my spare time creating new choreography for dance routines and trying to arrange for people to appear in shows in the local theatre or other cultural events. But overwhelming, most people didn't care about all of that.
My mind was blown
They were busy mums, professionals or students. Very few had any interest in being in the limelight, or even being great dancers. But they inherently knew about the health benefits of exercise. They loved Punjabi music and hoped to make some connections with similar minded people.
Why was my class not meeting their needs? What were the sources of my mistakes teaching a class that most people that tried, didn't want to come back? It took me just a few months to realise that I was just parrot-fashion copying class formats that I had seen elsewhere. Who taught those people? It seemed to me that almost everyone was just making it up on the spot. Then this question hit me. What **qualified** me to teach an exercise class?" Other than I knew some dance moves, nothing at all.
Transition to fitness instructor
By 2007 I made it my mission to learn as much as I could about what it means to lead a great **exercise** class. What I learnt taught me that I'd been wrong about so many things.
Over the next few years, I experimented with different brand names and ran my ideas by others teaching dance classes. Over and over again I felt ignored, and even rudely dismissed.
I asked to work with many people, who repeatedly invited me to "come and do a performance to audition as one of their teachers".
It just seemed that everyone I spoke to didn't see things the way I did. After many years of trying to form partnerships and failing, I decided to go it alone.
In 2013 I thought carefully about one simple question, "what type of fitness program could I create that's new and people would feel pride for?, And "what are my strengths in dance and exercise?"
Inspired by other dance fitness programs
I've been a fan of Punjabi music for most of my life and I have regularly told that the way I move to Punjabi music is impressive. In my late 20s, various dance fitness styles such as Zumba were increasing in popularity. Zumba's slogan was "ditch the workout, join the party". Something about this struck a chord with me.
Pungra is different
I thought Punjabi people party too much. We need to "ditch the party, and do the work out".
I had been a DJ for 10 years and had the first-hand experience of just how much Punjabi music got people moving.
I thought, what if I could take people's passion for Punjabi music, and bring it to fitness centres in a similar way that Zumba has brought South American music to fitness centres?
By then many people, not just South Americans were teaching Zumba. I imagined a future where people of many ethnicities might teach group exercise to Punjabi music. And before you know it, it started to happen anyway.
People need to know
But to my horror, people with weak roots to Punjab were making mistakes, that most Punjabi people would think is not only weird but offensive. For example dancing to religious songs, confusing Indian movie music, a.k.a. Bollywood, with Bhangra, or the out of control incorrect pronunciation of the word bhangra as bang-ra.
From performing to fitness
At the same time, on the other side, I observed growth in watching talented dancers to Punjabi music toying with fitness concepts. But not going all out with a focus on fitness.
Instead, they taught what they often called beginner's classes meant for people who didn't want to be dancers but wanted exercise. I've been in this game long enough to know that these teams aren't in the business of fitness. They use these beginner's classes to get people into the door, to then try to convert them to performers. Entertainment is their true business, that's where they make their money. I decided that I needed to be 100% focused on fitness and the health of class participants and 0% on audiences with their cups of chai and plates of samosay.
In summary, the fitness industry has multiple problems. Most people that have decided to take up a physical activity that is Punjabi dance-based, are met with unqualified dance enthusiasts. Meaning they could be teaching with very little understanding of human anatomy. This also means participants are potentially wasting their time, or even risking injury from unsafe movement. Or otherwise met with instructors with little to no cultural understanding of Punjabi music, so using movement that is naff, or using tracks that are celebrating being drunk... Like that makes sense in fitness. Or just plain saying bhangra wrong.
We need a solution
I decided that to solve these problems I need to create a name, something simple, catchy and that would instil pride within people that agree with the problems that I see. It needed to be accessible in English, but maintain cultural influence from Punjabi. It needs to be unique enough that people can search for it, and know what to expect. Finally, I wondered, if I'm going to teach people how to incorporate Punjabi music into group exercise classes, what's the first lesson they need to learn? I landed on, the authentic pronunciation of bhangra.
Up until then most of my teaching experience had been in community centres. But surely proper fitness classes need to be in fitness centres, right? I had no idea how to teach there. I realised that I need to have insurance, music license and other qualifications before fitness centre managers would even talk to me.
Early uphill struggles
I contacted many fitness centres in central London to find out if I could teach my Pungra class. Many invited me to fitness auditions, I was told things like "wow that's intense", and "you're a fantastic teacher". But then to be told, "we don't think your style will be popular with our regulars".
What a strange thing, why would they not think we could attract new people? I also realised that many fitness managers were very unimpressed with most dance fitness training organisations. They mostly felt that dancers are coming in, doing a dance show at the front and think this is a good class.
They also were concerned about offering me a space on their timetable, they'd say "well you're the only one, what if you're sick or go on holiday where do I get cover?" All valuable insights that I needed to contribute to resolving.
The YouTube experiment
I found attending these auditions time-intensive and thought there must be an easier way. So I decided to record my teaching, publish to YouTube and share these videos instead. To my surprise, people all around the world started following my videos. Fitness centres loved my concept
I could only teach at a few fitness centres, and two invited me to run taster classes. One was Virgin Active in Ilford, which later changed to Nuffield Health. My taster was going to be a few days before Christmas and that on a Friday evening. I did ask "shouldn't we wait until the New Year? The fitness manager insisted this is my only chance for the next 6 months or so. I placed some posters, turned up on Friday 20th December 2013. Having had some experience of turning up to empty classes, and just doing a solo workout, something very different happened. 20 people showed up.
I continued to lead a successful class for 2 years until I moved from central to West London and journey times to Ilford became prohibitive.
In 2014 I spoke about this with Ealing Council in west London. I met many people working within the community especially in Southall. They secured funding from the Mayor Of London's Office to run 9 months of free Pungra classes. They were consistently popular. I continue to teach in Southall, where I've been experimenting and refining the class format for years.
Recent history, changing perceptions and norms
The YouTube channel is growing, but I still get trolls saying things like "It's not spelt Pungra, it's bhangra", usually followed by "you idiots" or something worse. Also, I'm intent on having people in Pungra videos that are not dancer types, because I want to communicate that everyone can join in, I get occasionally comments from faceless profiles criticising my classes' dance capabilities...
In both cases demonstrating that what I'm doing is going straight over their head. Highlighting to me just how much work Pungra has to do to change perceptions, mindsets and conventional thinking. Somehow I want to lead the way towards seeing everyone with the inclination to joining in with physical activity that they enjoy, to combat lifestyle conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and so on. This is where the Pungra slogan comes from, "move for a cause, not applause".
I've refined my techniques and started working with authority bodies in the fitness industry to ensure Pungra standards are the best in the world. This is all to keep the movement about movement going.
Many people talk to me as though I was born able to do what I do. But I hope you can understand the trials and tribulations of trying to invent something new. Something different. It's said that necessity is the mother of invention. We need mindful, purposeful and intentional activities, designed to benefit multiple people, including exercises, fitness centres, instructors and more.
This concludes this lesson. I hope you found it insightful. I have even more to share in the next one. Until then, keep trying new things to find what sticks and works for you, your loved ones and the world around you.