Just when we thought Zumba was the fun way to work out - while burning 500 calories in one burst - along came KONGA!
And one hour, plus a 700 calorie defecit later, our writer Ellie Ross was sold!
“Now we’re going to pop it, drop it, shake it, then finish with a sexy body roll,” my Konga instructor Danielle Satsias demonstrated, arching her back and swirling her hips in one fluid, sassy motion.
“I want to see your best music video moves.”
This wasn’t going to be pretty.
There’s a reason I was always put at the back of the few dance classes I have ever attempted - I don’t have the moves like Jagger.
Channelling my inner Beyoncé, I jolted my hips haphazardly, bounced about a bit and finished with an epic body lurch.
It was less Crazy in Love and more plain old crazy, but Danielle gave a big, encouraging smile from the front of the studio.
“Good work, everyone, keep it up,” she urged. “Just four more of these to go!”
WHAT IS KONGA?
I had come to Fitness First at Tower Hill in London to test out this high intensity blend of dance and fitness, known as Konga.
The name had conjured up an image of merry people shuffling along together in a line, all singing “do-do-do, come on and do the conga”.
But Konga with a K is tough. A one-hour class claims to burn 700 calories. In comparison, an hour’s zumba will only see you work off around 500 calories.
Invented by an Australian called Tara Simich, Konga fuses jazz, hip hop and pop with boxing, pilates, cardio - and everything in between.
It’s already a huge fitness trend Down Under, but is only just being discovered in the UK despite arriving here 18 months ago.
Danielle, 28, a Greek Cypriot zoology graduate, is one of just two Konga instructors in central London at the moment, with only a handful of others nationwide.
But she predicts a boom after the next instructor course in November.
“People need to know about Konga,” she told me as I arrived at her Monday evening class.
“It has a bit of everything and the routines are simple - anyone can do it. It’s much easier to follow than zumba, which only uses Latin beats and has some tricky steps.
“Konga is also hardcore. I finish every class exhausted and dripping in sweat.”
So, did she have any tips for a first-timer like me? “Don’t panic,” she said. “Try to enjoy it - and go hard.”
GIVING IT A GO
The class included around eight women, and a guy called Martin. He has been coming to the classes for six months since moving to the West End for work.
“I used to be a ballet dancer,” he told me as we took our places. “The mixture of music and routines reminds me of those days that I loved. “Danielle is great, too. She makes it a fun workout.”
We warmed up with some gentle shoulder rolls, punches and sidesteps to Lady Gaga’s 'Applause,' and I just about kept up.
But it soon got harder.
“Keep those knees up! Duck down to the floor!” Danielle said, doing the moves with us. “Kick to the side! Put some aggression into it! Come on!”
Within minutes, I was purple-faced and raining sweat.
I drained my water bottle and wiped my face with a towel as Danielle demonstrated the next routine.
We were soon running on the spot and high kicking in time to Michael Jackson’s 'Black or White' and by the end of the track, I was heaving for air.
Danielle explained each routine between songs, and, like interval training, the short break was a much needed respite between bursts of aerobic exercise.
Next, we moved onto a series of squats. My thighs were screaming as I attempted to sink deeper into the position, pressing through my heels at Danielle’s instruction.
“Feel that burn,” she urged, holding the perfect pose. “Now take it lower, lower!”
At the same time as maintaining the excruciating pose, we were meant to be shimmying our upper torso from side to side, then touching the floor with our hands.
But the mixture of routines, each targeting a different body part, coupled with the constantly changing music, meant that it never got boring and the time whizzed by.
TRYING THE HARDER MOVES
For the last ten minutes we moved onto mat exercises.
Ah, I thought, this must be the pilates part.
But it was the worst. My body was protesting before I had even laid down to start my sit ups as Kanye West rapped 'Jesus Walks' in the background.
Moving from stomach crunches to the boat pose, my core wobbled with the effort of balancing on my seat bones while suspending my legs and arms in front of me.
“OK, time for bums,” Danielle said, pausing the music to explain the routine, which included a fetching “dog peeing” position.
On all fours, I cocked one leg, held it there, then lowered to the mat again. Repeating the sequence again and again, I felt more and more like a canine marking its turf.
But the pangs in my glutes were all the proof I needed that this was a toning exercise.
As I grimaced pain, Danielle was constantly smiling, energetic and graceful, despite doing the entire routine with us.
“The music keeps me going,” she told me when I asked for her secret. “I pretend it doesn’t hurt.”
We finished with some stretches, and I felt the lactic acid pulse through my muscles, spreading from my shoulders down to my toes.
It had been tiring but fun - with moves that even someone who was once banished to the back of the dance studio could grasp.
Still, I might need a few more classes before I’m ready for my music video.
WHERE TO FIND KONGA
Danielle teaches Konga on Mondays from 7pm-8pm at Fitness First in Tower Hill (EC3N 2LB) and on Thursdays from 7pm-8pm at Pulse Dance Studio, North London (N1 0RW), £6 per class.
Classes at Fitness4Less, Canning Town, from 6-6.45pm, are £8.
Do YOU think Konga could overtake zumba any time soon? Let us know in the comments!