In a secluded gym in the Afghan capital, young women sways and jumps in time with music in a Zumba dance fitness class, a new arrival in a country where dancing was once forbidden under the Taliban’s hardline rule.
The South American dance fitness craze may have lowered in appeal in the rest of the world outside south america, but it has landed in Kabul and has attracted some very enthusiastic followers.
“Although it is exercise for the body, it also relaxes the mind,” says 18-year-old Muzhgan Ahmadi.
“So whenever someone wants to relax, he or she should do Zumba.”
Relaxation is important for Afghans living through the 15th year of war with a resurgent Taliban, whose bombs typically explode in Kabul on a weekly or even daily basis.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, they banned music, television, sports and dancing under their strict interpretation of Islam.
That changed after the U.S.-led invasion that ended their rule in 2001, and now Afghanistan is home to numerous television stations, beauty parlours, sports stadiums and wedding halls.
Still, Afghan society remains conservative, with women wearing head coverings or even the all-enveloping burqa outside.
Indoors, at the Zumba class in Kabul, the young dancers wear headscarfs with loose tracksuits as they practice the moves from an instructional video.
While the threat of attacks is rarely far from residents’ minds, Zumba enthusiasts say the dance provides welcome temporary escape.
“When I first came to this gym, I felt afraid that someone may enter,” Ahmadi said.
“But I ignored all the problems and fears and want to stand and carry on with this new hobby which I love!”