From a central spot at the front of a mirrored room at the Towson Dance Studio in Timonium, Kathy Graham scans her class, two dozen students bouncing to the beat as Britney and will.i.am sing about screaming and shouting and letting it all out.
"Are you ready for an 'L'?" yells Graham.
"YES!" the class responds, throwing in a few "woo-hoos" and "oh yeahs."
Graham isn't leading her class in a cheer and she isn't echoing Sesame Street, either. She's teaching Bokwa, a new cardio workout that replaces traditional choreography with the shapes of numbers and letters.
Founded by South African native and current Los Angeles resident Paul Mavi, Bokwa has been adopted worldwide by workout fanatics of all ages but it is relatively new to the Baltimore area. Graham is a Bokwa education specialist trainer — someone who teaches classes and trains instructors — and an evangelist for the workout.
"I love the fact that everybody can do it," she says. "It's extremely unique. It makes you think a little bit, but it's a lot of fun."
The most basic Bokwa step is simple: two steps forward, a heel-tap, two steps back and a double bounce. "It's all about the bounce-bounce," says Graham.
More advanced steps involve stepping and bouncing in the shape of a letter — L or C, for example. Classes start out by focusing on one letter until everyone gets it, then add combinations. In front of the class, Graham demonstrates the combinations and uses visual cues, including a version of American Sign Language, to remind students which letter to trace with their feet.
It sounds more complicated than it is in practice. "It's hard the first time," says Shwetha Gandhi, a student with a couple of classes under her belt. "But once you get the alphabet, it's easy and continuous moving. It's fun."
Gandhi, like many other Bokwa students and instructors, also takes Zumba. Most say that Bokwa is somewhat easier than Zumba, since it doesn't require learning choreography. "It's a nice complement to Zumba," says Valerie Thaxter-Grant, a Bokwa instructor. "Regardless of where you go, an 'L' is an 'L'. With Zumba, there's more choreography."
However, Janine Culotta, a recent Bokwa first-timer, notes that Zumba incorporates short breaks, while Bokwa is a continuous hourlong workout.
"It's a hard workout," says Culotta. "High-octane."
But it's fun, too. "You don't feel like you went through a big, heavy crazy workout," says Graham. "You have fun, then look at your heart rate monitor and realized you burned 700 calories."
If you go
Where: Bokwa classes are taught at several locations around the Baltimore area including Towson Dance Studio, Maryland Athletic Club, A Step Ahead Dance Center, The Athletic Club in Columbia, Genesis Arts and Atlas Fitness Center. Times and cost vary.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun