Getting Fit, One Letter at a Time

Getting Fit, One Letter at a Time

By Tracy Moran


Because there’s a dance class that’s loud, fun and doesn’t require you to move like Jagger. 

By Tracy Moran

“What is so wrong with wanting to be perfect?” asks Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in Perfect, defending her obsession with aerobics. For many, the answer would be “two left feet.” 

And even those who can sway, shimmy and slide deftly enough for fitness classes tend to look robotic, like they’re auditioning for a Thriller remake. 

Cue Bokwa® (pronounced “Bō-Qua”), a high-impact, dance fitness regime that tosses out traditional eight-count sequences in exchange for steps based on letters and numbers that people draw with their feet.

Conceived by Paul Mavi, a Los Angeles-based trainer by way of South Africa, Bokwa combines “Bo” for boxing with “Kwaito,” which refers to South African house music. In dreaming up the system, Mavi says he wanted something loud and fun for dancers and non-dancers alike.

It was all about having loud music and making a happy club environment.

Michelle Gauci, an instructor in Huntingdon, England, believes that tapping into a party vibe and love of chart music is key. “Bokwa has a strong street dance element to it, which is one of the reasons why it’s becoming so popular,” she says.“It was all about having loud music and making a happy club environment,” Mavi tells OZY. 

But Mavi also wanted to provide easy, all-inclusive classes that would appeal to any culture, in any country. “I wanted to create something that was culture-less,” he adds.

Paul Mavi in green shirt dancing and sweating

Paul Mavi

Thirteen years ago, discouraged by seeing his students go through classes looking like robots, following him but not owning any of the moves, Mavi began developing steps for people to draw letters and numbers with their feet. 

The steps are so simple that participants of any or no skill level can join in. Set to popular music, folks can embellish the moves however they wish, turning classes from strict, follow-the-leader routines to rooms bursting with individual expression. Best of all, participants burn up to 1,200 calories an hour.

So far, four levels of about six letters or moves each have been developed. Newbies start with Level 1, mastering moves like the One and One, L, C, O, J and B, and incorporating signature moves — like the Superman — for added difficulty and fun. 

Best of all, participants burn up to 1,200 calories an hour.

The loud beats and easy moves were an instant hit, and Mavi watched his numbers grow five-fold in just a few months. After its official U.K. launch in 2011, Bokwa arrived in the U.S. a year later. Since then, tens of thousands have trained to become instructors, and classes are cropping up at community centers, fitness clubs and spas around the world. 

While its popularity grows, Gauci notes that there are still plenty who have never heard of Bokwa. She hopes marketing efforts will help spur momentum but pinpoints a problem when it comes to advertising: “It’s a very difficult class to explain in words.”


Mavi kindly spoke with OZY but is reluctant to give many interviews for fear of being misrepresented. He’d prefer that the classes speak for themselves. Word-of-mouth, therefore, may prove the most effective campaign for Bokwa.

“If you want to know what it’s about, you’re best giving it a go,” says Gauci.

So whether you find yourself in Los Angeles, Budapest or Brugge, Bokwa is happening somewhere nearby, pumping up the volume with easy-to-move-to classes that boost fitness one letter at a time.