What Is Bokwa? A Certified Bokwa Fitness Instructor Explains

By Bethany Johnson in Healthy Feeling

Have you ever wondered why treadmills and stair stepper machines often come equipped with TV screens? Honestly, the same repetitive, mindless workout can be downright boring, and some juicy programming can only help for so many sessions. I'll be the first to admit: most cardio exercise routines lose their novelty for me within the first few weeks, adding to their likelihood of eventually being abandoned.

Not so with Bokwa! This simple group dance activity is unlike any other workout program to date. To learn exactly what is Bokwa, who should try it, and what a person needs to get started, I caught up with certified Bokwa instructor and president of Action Against Bullying Dr. Sairah Qureshi.

dance workout in a gym

What Is Bokwa?

Bokwa is a dance fitness program based in the South African musical tradition of Kwaito (which South African History Online notes is an intense blend of genres and traditions). Founder Paul Mavi designed Bokwa in 2002 in Los Angeles, and it has now spread across the U.S. and around the world. Unlike Zumba or BollyX dance fitness programs, Dr. Qureshi says, the dance follows no structured choreography. Instead, an instructor uses hand signals to keep participants moving by drawing letters and numbers with their feet.

Is Bokwa Cardio or Strength Training?

"It's both!" says Dr. Qureshi. "Bokwa dance utilizes every part of the body, so it increases muscular endurance, strength, and stamina with certain letters and digits, allowing for low to high impact. Punch-and-Strike (a variation) is cardio, but more intense and focused on jabs, strikes, and kicks. Tone-and-Core is much slower in pace, but follows the music, with focus on toning and strengthening the core, upper, and lower body resistance training." Not bad for a single activity!

Why Should I Try Bokwa Fitness?

Dr. Qureshi feels that Bokwa is "dynamic and unique," and definitely a good bet for anyone stuck in a ho-hum fitness regimen. She emphasizes that keeping an open mind (and not expecting it to be just like last year's Zumba attempt) is the only ability you need.

"I have taught [all] genders from ages six to sixty," she says. "People new to exercise or with injuries can still do Bokwa, because of the modifications and ability to go at one's own tempo...You don't need to worry about your body shape, being a good dancer—or even a dancer at all. Why? Because Bokwa is unstructured, and members quickly develop their own flair and personality."

Even instructors each have their own way of going about it, so drop your inhibitions on a yoga mat and go for it. Once you master some basic steps, you can groove in your own way.

feet in sneakers running up stone steps

The Benefits of Bokwa

It's well-known that exercise has plenty of benefits. The U.S. National Library of Medicine lists lifetime cardiovascular health, better sleep, and a decreased risk of depression, just to name a few. If you're looking for help maintaining a healthy weight, Bokwa is also an incredible calorie burner. Dr. Qureshi had one student record 1,250 calories burned on her fitness watch in just forty-five minutes! The instructor herself estimates that her step mastery lets her burn around 1,500 calories in a session.

Regular intense cardio can also improve your energy and stamina in other physical activities you enjoy, like running or biking. Dr. Qureshi recounted the time that she stopped running regularly after finishing training for a half-marathon, "as I was teaching Bokwa dance three times a week at gyms in Northern New Jersey. When I went back to England for the Christmas vacation, I ran four miles on uneven ground in just under thirty minutes!"

Anyone Can Dance

Given its adaptable nature, accessibility is also a key component of Bokwa. Dr. Qureshi knows fellow instructors and participants who are deaf. Since the course is based around its own sign language and signature moves, it can be adapted for different ability levels.

As you can see, Dr. Qureshi's enthusiasm for the Bokwa movement is infectious. Wondering how I could get started myself, I hopped online and was delighted to find an interactive class-finder on bokwafitness.com, and you can, too. There's no need to lug free weights or a yoga mat to your class. Simply wear a comfortable pair of shoes and bring an open mind.

Have you sweated it out in Bokwa? Tell us how it went! Use hashtag #GoodMatters so we can celebrate with you.

Image source: Unsplash | Flickr | Unsplash

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Why It’s Good

The only thing better than a good workout is a fun, memorable one. For those of us who don't exactly enjoy the repetitive treadmill, a Bokwa dance class could be the heart pumping, calorie-burning answer.