Just wriggle till you jiggle

Hippie fitness is taking over the States. LUCIE ROBERTS gets in touch with her karma

Nathalie Levy-Koffler shouts at her class in a heavy Israeli accent while vigorously shaking her buttocks. "If it doesn't jiggle, you're not doing it right!" Behind her, lycra-clad women with red and blue scarves slung low over their hips are trying to mimic her delighted abandon, with varying degrees of success.

The shimmy travels to Nathalie's upper body with a mesmerisingly rhythmic side-to-side shuffle. "Shake the boobs!" she whoops, arms outstretched. "Yes, that's right. Really shake them." She grasps women by the shoulders to demonstrate this unfamiliar motion that is key to the belly dancing class she is teaching.

Given the emphasis on trim perfection that is the objective of so many aerobics classes, it is hard to believe that these words are being spoken in an American gym.

In a different part of town, two drummers are furiously banging out African rhythms. The room is packed and steamy, full of arching, stamping bodies gyrating and shaking with a dynamic energy. Atito Gohi who teaches the class as well as drumming, beats faster and faster until, defeated, the dancers dissolve into raucous, endorphine-charged laughter.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the current thirst in the US for things ethnic. Perhaps it is merely representative of the diverse range of nationalities that populate American cities. Or maybe it is sheer boredom at the mundane idea of yet another step-aerobics or spin class. Whatever, Stateside gyms are increasingly supplementing their aerobics schedules with ethnic dance- based work-out alternatives.

The interesting - revolutionary even - thing about classes like African and belly dancing is their cultural roots, which bring with them new ideas about fitness. These dances focus first and foremost on celebrating the body. The idea is for people to get in touch with their natural rhythm; to liberate the body rather than shrink and sculpt it into a size 8.

But given the energetic nature of both classes - especially African dancing - a sculpted body is often a speedy side effect. Atito Gohi's class is a prime example. It was last year voted the most popular class at New York Sports Club.

"A lot of people appreciate the fact that I break up this look of being slim with small boobs, flat abs, and that I just use the beauty of my body," says Nathalie. As you can imagine, she is pleasingly voluptuous. "People feel comfortable to explore the belly in my class," she says, caressing her rounded stomach. "Women love it, they love themselves."

She attributes the enormous success of her class to two things: "People are bored of normal classes. And they are sick of looking at skinny people teaching them all the time." African dance seems to have the same liberating effect. "There are no aesthetic guidelines - it's come one, come all," says Sophia Clerk, the trainer. "It's actually more welcoming if you have more of a derriere."

Other US gyms are following suit. Classes like Latino groove, (combining aerobics with Cuban dance), Brazilian/African dance, and capoeira rhythm (based on a Brazilian martial art) are all taking off. "We work all the muscle groups," says Dwayne Earle, a veteran aerobics instructor who teaches African dance. He estimates that one of his African dance classes burns 800 calories, compared to about 600 for step aerobics. But more than calorie- counting, the class is all about uplifting the spirit, he says: "It brings about a joy - a lot of people have compared it to a religious experience. They become more in touch with their bodies, freer with their bodies, more flexible, stronger and toned."

Belly dancing bodies, too, become more lithe. "It uses everything," says Nathalie, 31, who has been a personal trainer and fitness instructor since leaving the Israeli army, where she was a sports teacher. Since the body moves in a circular motion during belly dancing, rather than the linear movements involved in step classes or kick boxing, many more muscles are engaged. And in addition, the dancer becomes much more flexible.

Ninety-five per cent of men and women who try it return, she says. And by the end of the class I attended, even the most inhibited women have loosened up. Timid, awkward little shakes have turned into proud, majestic sways and swoops. Shoulders are shimmying, hands are twirling, and hips are provocatively flicking. "Yes, yes" yelps Nathalie, clutching her hips. "This is the part that we hate, so shake them; that's the shimmy - do you feel it jiggling?"

For information on similar classes in the UK, contact Pineapple Studios (tel: 0171 836 4004).

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Geography Teacher

    £130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

    Do you want to work in Education?

    £55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

    Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

    Day In a Page

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players