Editor’s Note: With the political climate of today being, well, what it is….I thought we’d bring a little food for the soul to DRIVEN by highlighting a woman whose mission is to immerse her rich Indian culture into the United States. Sarina Jain is a fitness instructor and creator of Masala Bhangra, a hybrid of Bhangra and Bollywood Dance with high-energy aerobics. Sarina is exceptionally talented, and when you speak to her you can’t help but notice the grit and determination she has to make Masala Bhangra a household name. It’s always fun, I believe, to peek behind the curtain to unveil the sacrifices women make to achieve such high success, and learn about the people that inspired it all. I assure you that her candidness and passion will make you sweat. And if that’s the ultimate outcome, then Sarina Jain has done exactly what she set out to do.
Sarina Jain was born in the USA to two Indian American parents, who migrated to the US in the 1970’s. Sarina’s father was, as she describes, a very open-minded man, and her mother was a devoted worker to both their family, her own education, and her personal career.
From a young age, Sarina’s parents immersed her and her sister into the local Indian culture, where Sarina danced Bollywood and Bhangra and taught fitness on the side.
“We had the best of both worlds, my dad introduced us to the culture slowly by watching Bollywood movies, encouraging us to travel to India each summer, and spend our weekends with our Indian Aunties and Uncles from the community. At the time I used to roll my eyes, but now I am so grateful because it made me an ambassador to the Indian culture."
Sarina’s family would remind her that she lived in the “best of both worlds”, having the opportunity to split her culture between traditional Indian and American customs.
In 1991, Sarina began teaching aerobics, encouraging her father to join a gym and follow her lead.
“He was with the mindset that if you came to this country, your job was to be successful, make money, and secure a future for your children. The last thing he wanted to do was spend his time after a long day of work at the gym.”
Sarina persisted, encouraging her parents to join a local gym and make fitness a priority.
“It got me ‘stuck’ on being committed to fitness.”
Several years later, Sarina’s world was rocked when her father passed away suddenly from cardiac arrest at only 47 years old.
“It was a huge blow, but it make me more determined and defiant to keep pursuing everything I believe in.”
Sarina made it her mission to share the benefits of physical fitness with her local Indian community.
“There are no guarantees of what is going to happen tomorrow, but I knew that pushing my Aunties and Uncles to get moving would give them something to work towards.”
Sarina’s two strengths were obvious: the gift of teaching and a passion for a healthy lifestyle. Quietly, she began working on an Indian dance workout that channeled the life-lessons her father instilled upon her throughout childhood.
“My father used to tell me, don’t ever be embarrassed where you’re from, embrace what your culture has to offer.”
She shot her first workout video and marketed it, on her own to anyone who was willing to watch.
"It took me years to knock on people’s doors to beg them to give me a chance, people would laugh at me! I had to convince them that I was legit and they should take this type of dance seriously. Now, I see the people who laughed at me teaching my workouts.”
Since launching her first workout video almost 20 years ago, Sarina’s Masala Bhangra has become an international sensation. She’s taught from coast to coast, planting her roots in New York City where she currently lives with her husband and newborn daughter.
While Sarina’s ultimate mission is to make Masala Bhangra a household name, she says that if the one thing that comes out of her videos is healthy living, her mission is complete.
“It’s a way of life,” she says. “Masala Bhangra promotes joy, celebration and community. It’s not just a dance anymore, it’s a lifestyle.”
You talk openly about your desire to saturate the Indian market and the challenges that came with that. What has been your approach? Has it worked?
“When I first started Masala Bhangra, it was my goal to get all the “Aunties” and “Uncles” moving. I thought they would be the only ones interested, but I was proven wrong when I did my first master class in LA. It was all kinds of people that came to my class, a completely diverse group of people. To me, that was an eye opener to go beyond thinking Masala Bhangra is just for the South Asians and it’s for the community of people that want to stay active, do something different, bond with others and sweat!”
You describe your mom as a woman who, despite enduring incredible sadness, marched on and continued to wear several hats throughout her busy life! What have you learned from her since your father’s passing?
“I have watched my mom go through so much in the last 22 years without a husband. What I have learned from her is not to give up, always poise myself as a classy lady, and keep learning new traits. She also taught me to stand up for myself and not let anyone bring me down. I grew up in a very loving home and despite us losing our father, my mom took on both roles and somehow ingrained love into us! She taught me that life is too short and we have to stand for each other no matter what. While I was very close to my father, my mom has slowly become my hero.”
You chose to get married and have a baby later in life. What were the reasons behind that decision?
“I chose to get married in life later than the average girl would, especially an Indian girl. When my father passed away, I was upset and driven to make a difference. In that mood, the last thing on my mind was to get married. I had met eligible suitors but no one stole my heart. I was also too focused on my mission and didn’t want anyone to come in between that drive. When I met my husband, maybe it was the right timing or maybe he was the one as he distracted me while I was working by making his presence unforgettable. We soon got married after we met. It was beautiful the way he courted me while dancing around my work.”
You have not only launched your own business, but you’ve created a fitness “culture.” What have been your major takeaways from this experience?
“The major takeaway has been – never give up. Never give up. Never give up! I am so happy that I kept going because today, people are aware of Bhangra and Bollywood and how it has influenced the fitness industry.”
What do you think it takes for a woman to succeed in this country?
“Drive. Hard attitude. Determination. Being clear on your mission. Persistence! Anything is possible in this country and one should always remember that. It is just a matter of being passionate about what you want to do and having people see that!”
Twenty years in, if you were to do anything differently, what would it be?
“I would have hired that one person that believed in me and help me grow.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The best advice I have ever received is to keep going and hire a team of people that believe in me to keep going.”
To learn more about Sarina and Masala Bhangra, you can visit her website here.