Ravi is the founder of fun and energetic bhangra inspired fitness class Pungra Fit. He is fascinated by digital technology and the potential of this medium to support learning. Pungra Fit strives to be a leader in bhangra inspired fitness and cultural learning. Ravi’s favourite digital learning medium is video, so it seems fit that his preferred educational platform is YouTube.
What inspired you to start Pungra Fit?
I started teaching Punjabi musical instruments, primarily the Dhol, in my teens. In a class of 30, it’s impossible for the class to be conducive to learning with any more than three or four Dhol drums being practiced at one time.
My class often attracted 30 people. To engage those waiting for their turn to practice, I started jumping around and dancing really bad bhangra. My aim was to make people laugh. Instead, something magical happened. Many people joined in. In a couple of classes’s time, we were teaching each other bhangra steps. Within a few weeks, the dhol drummers’ mums were coming to the class to learn bhangra! A class of 30 drummers soon jumped to nearly 100 (at times) people dancing.
From 2003 – 06 I thought that people came to learn dance steps to eventually perform routines. But actually, I was surprised that around 90% of people who came to my dance class did so for exercise. I decided I wanted to make my dance class the best exercise class it could be. So I completed the YMCAFit’s Exercise to Music qualification in 2007.
By this time Zumba was really taking off in the UK. I couldn’t help but think “If Beto Perez could take Latino music and make a workout community around it surely someone could take bhangra music and create a workout community for that too?” From 2007 – 2012 I researched bhangra teams across the Midlands and London, in the hope to find some people to work with. I found constant closed doors. It seemed as though no one who was in the bhangra fraternity could understand the vision of a ‘bhangra-inspired workout’. The people that understood and bought into it were from the fitness industry. Mainly those who currently taught Zumba and wanted to expand their offering to reach out to South Asians.
I found that many of those that were potential partners for the concept called it ‘bang-rah’, which is incorrect pronunciation. To which I then wondered whether my new endeavour could also encourage the correct pronunciation of ‘bhangra’. I proposed the name ‘Pungra’ to many people in 2012, who took to it. So Pungra Fit was born.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
There are a few important milestones, the first being a Pungra certificate that instructors can complete. I am working towards having this certificate ready in 2015. In terms of what we’ve been doing since 2012, we’ve made some great strides in getting the Pungra Fit brand out and about. The greatest achievement so far with regards to this is forming the team of Pungrafiers in London. Pungrafiers are the people that are the greatest advocates for what we’re trying to do, all with the aim of becoming Pungra instructors themselves. It’s great to have gone from an idea to a living, breathing and working team of enthusiastic people in a relatively small time frame.
How do you balance your day job with Pungra Fit?
My response is usually “Is your day job all that you do with your life?” I’m equally flabbergasted that many people invest their day in a profession and then go home and watch the TV with family.
I spend every waking moment communicating to others – whether it’s my day job, or my Pungra Fit endeavour. It takes many forms; videos, emails, web posts, Facebook, Twitter and more. I prioritise my professional communication in the day and my business communication in the evenings/weekends. Classes take place on weekday evenings with many Pungra Fit ad hoc events take place on weekends.
What have been some of your biggest challenges to overcome?
Trying to create a brand that people feel they can resonate with and educating people that Pungra Fit is not a performing arts team. You’ll be surprised how many times I get people asking: “Can you come and do a bhangra performance at this wedding/party/mela/festival?” This is similar to when people who come to a Pungra Fit class and feel they didn’t learn “enough steps.” When I ask our participants: “how much did you sweat?” they usually respond with: “I’ve never sweated or exercised so much in my life!” To which my response is often: “that’s what our class is about.” We’re getting there slowly but surely.
For many creative people, it is notoriously difficult jobs-wise and many of us lose heart in what we do. What keeps you going?
It’s knowing that what we are doing is truly unique. Sure, many people think “Pungra, another bhangra team”– but we’re nothing like a bhangra team. Others might think: “They’re trying to be Zumba.” This is very true: we’d love to be as successful as Zumba; but bhangra is very different. Bhangra is a high intensity workout, and many people who thought they could move with high energy, soon change their mind, after trying a Pungra Fit class. We appeal to those that want an almost Insanity like workout, that’ll they keep doing because they enjoy the music.
Do you think that the Internet, social media and digitalisation of the written word is a help or a hindrance to dancers?
The digitalisation of words, but also images (still and moving) is vital to reaching out to larger clients. But I feel most dance fitness instructors only use online technology to promote their in-person activities. We at Pungra Fit want online to be our primary fitness studio. Many of our classes are in-person, but our YouTube classes attract thousands; our London classes can only handle 20 people!
What has been the best bit of advice ever given to you?
When I shared my Pungra Fit idea with a few very tenured dance fitness professionals, they loved the concept and told me to go for it! They haven’t been proven true just yet, but this certainly gave me the confidence that I needed.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you take?
A satellite phone, how else am I supposed to be found? I’ll also make sure I have a knife for cutting fruit, hoping there is plenty of fruit on the island, I’m a big fruit guy. Finally, I’d use the time to do as much yoga as possible, so a yoga mat is a must – although I might be able to just practice my yoga on sand.
What advice would you to give to those who want to live out their passions?
Make a list of all the things that get in your way and ruthlessly annihilate them from your life.