Samantha Whitaker investigates the latest exercise class to hit the UK

Bokwa has arrived. A sweat-inducing, high-energy combo of ‘BO’ (from light BOxing) and ‘KWA’ (from the traditional South African dance KWAito), this intense cardiovascular workout helps to build muscle strength and endurance, and maintain flexibility.

I was expecting something like Zumba – only more tribal, with drums – but no. ‘People are saying it’s the new Zumba, but it’s not,’ says instructor Lauren Thompson, ‘there’s nothing like it at the moment.’ So in a light, spacious studio at the Nuffield Fitness & Wellbeing Centre in Covent Garden, I gave Bokwa a go.

First we learnt the ‘basic’ – a simple combination of forward and backward steps with a couple of jumps, signalled by a two-fingered drumroll. Then, over the next 45 minutes, we added several other combinations of steps that create, in a roundabout way, the outline of a letter, cued by the instructor with a hand signal based on American sign language. ‘I created the Bokwa sign language to make it simple for people to follow routines,’ says South African street dancer Paul Mavi, who devised Bokwa and launched it in the US. ‘People learn the moves quickly and easily understand the hand signals, which gives them time to put the most into their workout.’

However, as we were all newbies, Lauren relied heavily on the microphone to explain what we were doing. We didn’t really stop: the music rolled from one commercial track to the next and, once we were comfortable with the steps, Lauren began to move around us so we were forced to listen out for the letter and remember what to do. The idea is a good one: if you go regularly you’ll build up a vocabulary of movement based on the hand signals and there are four levels, so once you’ve learnt one alphabet you can progress to a more complicated one.

Although some might find Bokwa a bit repetitive, the morning after my thighs were grateful for the burn. Music-wise, there was a distinct lack of drums. I was a bit disappointed and asked Lauren about it at the end. She agreed. The music and steps are set by Mavi, and at the moment there’s little room to play. In time, she hopes, they’ll relax a bit and allow instructors to incorporate their own choreography and music. So watch this space.

Keen to keep their classes up to date and inspire members, Nuffield Health is the first to offer Bokwa in the UK (it has already been very successful in the US) – but I imagine it will only be a matter of time before it starts to appear on other gym’s timetables. There are also independent instructors running classes from non-gym-based studios.

If you fancy trying something new – which is always a good idea when it comes to keeping fit – go to www.bokwafitness.com to find out more, and www.nuffieldhealth.com to find a class at a Fitness & Wellbeing Centre near you.