They gather every weekday morning outside an innocuous looking house in an upscale neighbourhood of Karachi. As 11am approaches, women of all ages from six to 65 clamber in hurriedly through the gate, each trying to outpace the other. Every minute counts. The earlier you get in, the better front row spot you get; the closest you’ll be to the instructor.
The women are an interesting mix — some sport trendy designer sportswear, others wear figure hugging leotards under the abayas and chadars that they hang on a rack before they enter the classroom. The room’s walls are all mirrored, giving an illusion that the room is bigger than it actually is. Dot on time, the class begins. No nonsense and no delays. It is serious business to all the women — students, working women and home makers alike — who have come there after squeezing out time from their busy schedules. All are here to dance their woes away, get rid of flab, rediscover their femininity and have a rocking good time while they’re at it. This is ‘me time’ at its best, and the place for it is Fehmida Maskatiya’s “Bollywood Aerobics” class.
Maskatiya is a warm, pretty and gregarious woman who is incredibly fit for a mother with grown up children. Dressed in her signature black dance-friendly sportswear, her energy is contagious and she is a hard task master when it comes to dance. This is no place for the slackers and the morose. If your moves appear half-hearted and bored, rest assured Maskatiya will notice and will make sure you give it a hundred per cent.
That’s because teaching dance isn’t just a business for her, but a passion. A natural born dancer, losing herself to the beats and steps always made her feel alive and happy, along with keeping her enviously fit. But three years ago, a point came when she realized that many of her friends needed to feel the same way. The women she met in her daily life had gotten so sucked into the whirlpools of responsibilities that they had forgotten how to have fun and take out some “me-time”. Her classes began some three years ago. That’s when she decided that she needed to share her passion with others. But before she could teach, she first had to learn.
Maskatiya then went off to Mumbai. “I learnt at the famous choreographer Saroj Khan’s institute, not how to be a dancer, but how to be a dance teacher, how to share with students the moves that come naturally to me. Here I learnt how to bring out their natural talent and help them shed their inhibitions, how to help them get into the groove,” she says. Once back in Pakistan, she wasted no time in starting up her classes. The trend of Bollyfit, as it is called, was a fairly recent idea at that time, but one that caught on pretty quickly in the fitness world. That’s not surprising when you consider what else was available at the time. After all, Yoga spells peace, but requires a regimen and a degree of discipline. Gyming is a great way to stay in shape, but less fun and, according to Maskatiya, it “does not give women the feminine curves and shape they are looking for. Most women want to be toned, slim and fit, but do not necessarily want manly biceps.” Bollywood aerobics was an answer for many women — fun, fitness and femininity all rolled into one.
While her own niche is semi-classical dance form, Maskatiya incorporates many dance forms into her classes, including steps borrowed from Middle-Eastern belly dancing for which her students even got coin belts for that extra bit of jingle. The choice of songs will vary from the raunchy “Halkat jawani” to Jennifer Lopez’s “On the floor” for faster moves that can burn up to 300 to 500 calories per session. As grace-builders, more delicate numbers like “Tere bina” from the movie Guru and some more vintage classics are included. More recently, the Colombian dance form called Zumba has been included for variety. Maskatiya keeps reminding students throughout the moves and shakes exactly which muscles they are working on. Stretches and cardio make it an energetic and fun moderate intensity workout. The only thing that seems missing, though, is regular warm-ups and cool-downs, which are optional and sporadic.
Regular workout shows results, with both flexibility and agility increasing. “My energy level has gone up since I joined Fehmida’s classes. I’ve not just lost weight but also am more curvy. Clothes look better on me. It’s exciting. I had given up that I could look this good again. More than anything, the woman inside me feels alive again,” says 56 year old Shabana Ali (name changed on request). Her daughter-in-law also dances alongside her, in a fun bit of female bonding. What’s really cute is that they’re sometimes joined by the little granddaughter too.
She is not the only youngster at the classes either. Mothers send their little daughters to the class for two reasons: to fight the increasing trend of obesity among children, and to help develop grace and a feminine touch while helping improve their postures. That grace, say some parents, is being lost and needs to be rediscovered.
As Maskatiya aptly says, “My greatest achievement is not just the fact that I see my students slimmer and fitter. What’s most exciting and gratifying to see them rediscover their confidence. Women multi-task and work and devote their lives to their families. My class is their emotional detox. A time for stress release. They walk out as happier women.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 30th, 2012.
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