March / April 2014 Beauty Supplement
Mississippi native Kajal Desai combines aerobics with Bollywood to create one of the fastest growing workouts in America
Move over Zumba, there are a couple of new girls in town.
Eight years ago, fate would change the life of Kajal Desai forever. A small town Mississippi girl raised in Ellisville, Desai was living and working in Washington D.C. as a consultant for the U.S. government. However, her real passion lay in the Indian folk dances her mother taught her as a child.
While Desai was born and raised in the United States, her parents hail from Gujarat, India. As a way to help her stay close to her family’s heritage, Desai’s mother taught her the traditional folk dances from her village. Desai perfected her moves by watching Bollywood movies, which is the largest film producer in India and one of the largest film producers in the world.
By the time Desai was an adult, she already had a deep-seated love for dance and a desire to do something more with that passion. It was then that mutual friends suggest she meet Priya Pandya. Over a cup of tea in 2005, the two women realized they had the same vision and decided to launch a business venture that would combine their love of dance with fitness.
The pair started offering a dance class once a week to residents of the DC area and doing local performances on the side. By 2007, their following had nearly doubled in size and Desai and Pandya decided it was time to take the plunge. They quit their day jobs and devoted themselves full time to the new company they named Doonya, after the Hindi word for “world.” After that, the craze seemed to take on a life of its own spreading from DC into New York City.
Exactly what is it about Doonya that makes it so popular? For starters, it involves a lot of high energy aerobic movement that gets the heart pumping and the muscles moving. Then there is the music. The beats are infectious, invigorating, and after a few minutes, your body wants to move. It’s that perfect combination that keeps a person motivated, even during the most intense parts of the workout, and coming back for more.
“The music and the movements might seem foreign at first, but it’s about letting go of your inhibitions and having fun,” Desai says.
Over the last eight years, Doonya has managed to garner a huge amount of publicity. The workout has been features in such notable publications such as Cosmopolitan, Shape, Elle, and The Huffington Post. The women have also appeared on Dr. Oz, Kathie Lee and Hoda, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
After all that success, where do you go next? Desai and Pandya wanted to make Doonya accessible to more people and knew a DVD would be on the horizon. However, they wanted it to be more than just a dance video, they wanted it to have some credentials behind it. Desai earned certification as a group fitness instructor with the American Council on Exercise, while Pandya became a certified yoga instructor. As plans for the DVD began to take shape, both women devoted a lot of time researching the fitness aspects of the workout and developed dance moves to incorporate it. The attention to detail paid off. Within the first week of launching in February 2013, the DVD made it into the top 10 fitness videos list on Amazon.com.
Desai and Pandya continue to bring their workout to more people. Currently, they are setting up new classes at fitness centers across the U.S. and are even working with Weight Watchers to make the workout accessible to online members. However, despite all the success, Desai hasn’t forgotten that she’s a Mississippi girl at heart. Frequently during her visits home, she will offer a few classes at fitness centers across the state.
“We are really bringing to life the spirit of Bollywood,” Desai adds. “In one hour, you might start out feeling a little silly, but you’ll also start to feel a little sexy and you will smile a lot. That’s what health and happiness is really all about.”