By Dorene Internicola
NEW YORK, March 25 (Reuters) - Group fitness classes are taking an ethnic turn, experts say, celebrating diversity by reaching across cultures for inspiration and combining diverse disciplines to keep workouts fresh and exercisers inspired.
First there was Zumba, the Latin-based dance craze, then Capoeira, a Brazilian blend of martial arts and dance said to have originated with 16th century slaves.
Tabura, a high-energy class that pairs West African dance moves with military-style punching, jabbing and kickboxing drills, is one of the newer hybrids.
"I'm excited to see fitness embrace our American cultural diversity and bring benefits of Latin dance like Zumba or African dance like Tabura with martial arts from Asia into the mainstream," said Shirley Archer, an American Council on Exercise spokesperson.
Dance fitness classes provide a aerobic workout that can improve heart health, burn calories and fat and improve mood and endurance, according to Archer, a fitness and wellness expert based in Singer Island, Florida.
Reign Hudson, a fitness instructor at Crunch in New York City, said she created Tabura, which means drill and endurance in Swahili, by fusing her two passions.
"I'd taught West African dance, and then I got certified in tae bo," she said, referring to the blend of aerobics and martial arts exercises developed by American Billy Blanks.
"Those were my two favorite classes so I decided to bring them together."
The class, which is fired by live conga and junjun drums or African house music, provides a cardio workout and toning. It also includes stretching, intervals of dance and drills, leg work and running in place.
West African dance is about storytelling, Hudson explained, and different dances have different names and action. A dance called Cuckoo is performed to celebrate a wedding or birthday.
Archer explained that integrating kicks and knee lifts can increase the toning effects for the muscles of the lower body, while punches and blocks tone the upper body.
"One-legged moves improve balance and combination moves improve coordination, rhythm and timing," said Archer, who has trained in shotokan karate (Japanese style) and tae kwon do (Korean style).
Another benefit of martial arts moves is that the training is very balanced, requiring equal repetitions on both sides of the body, she added.
Neal Pire, a strength and conditioning specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, said Tabura shares the high-energy aerobic exercise of other dance fitness classes, like Zumba and Capoeira.
"It reminded me a lot of those old simple aerobic classes: you're on your feet, it's total body, there's kicking. African drums add a little oomph, a little fire," he said. "It's a style. It works for you if it gets you up off your butt and moving."
Archer said the beauty of dance fitness classes is that they're so much fun that people forget they're working out.
"And you can make friends. Research findings show that the single most important factor to sticking with any exercise program is social support," she said. (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)