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Adding Culture to Exercise

Hip new exercise classes incorporate ethnic themes.

Martial Arts Go Mainstream

Like Latin music, traditional martial arts are inspiring some of the hottest fitness trends in the country. Tae bo and kickboxing, for example, are popular right now and about as different from the Jazzercise of the late 1970s as you can get. "It's a lot of fun and an amazing workout, judging by the amount of sweat in my hair," says Sandra Milan, a biotechnology executive in her 30s in the San Francisco Bay area.

In recent months, Milan has become a regular at her gym's cardio kickboxing class. "It teaches you to focus on what you are doing and to channel your breathing," Milan explains. She says she might even risk seeming "too California" and try a more traditional martial art such as tae kwon do.

Milan is not alone. Many students of hybrid workouts wind up seeking out more traditional exercise programs, Alan says. And as for cardio kickboxing classes, "they are more and more like the real thing now."

Messing with Tradition

Some fitness instructors, though, say they've been criticized for tampering with traditions. "There's a lot of snobbery in the fitness industry," says Summer Autio, who teaches at Del Mar Workout near San Diego, California. As the inventor of a class she calls Yoga Dance, Autio says she knows firsthand the downside of being on the cutting edge.

Yoga Dance mixes traditional yoga postures created in India centuries ago with spontaneous dance moves to the rhythms of world-beat music. But some teachers of traditional forms of the ancient practice, says Autio, frown upon doing yoga to that sort of music.

But Autio points out that both dancing and yoga are traditions that have offered people ways of "reaching a higher level" for ages. "The important thing is to help people feel better," Autio says. "As long as you're not being offensive, you should use whatever works."

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