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 US-led invasion that toppled their rule in 2001, and now Afghanistan is home to numerous TV stations, beauty parlours, sports stadiums and wedding halls.

Still, most Afghan society remains conservative, with women wearing head coverings or even the all-covering burqa outside.

However, at a secluded gym in the Afghan capital, young Zumba enthusiasts wear their headscarves with loose tracksuits, as they practise moves from an instructional video.

Zumba is a new arrival in a country where dancing was once forbidden under the Taliban’s ultra-religious rule.

The South American dance fitness craze first landed in Kabul two months ago and has attracted enthusiastic followers.

“It’s been almost two months since Zumba came to Afghanistan and attracted many people. I hope Zumba spreads all over in the country. When someone (new) comes to this sport and that gets encouraged, it brings three or four other people from the family to this sport,” Zumba trainer, Atina Mohammadi, said.

“I know when people get sick in Afghan society, they go to the doctor and then doctor advises them to exercise. My suggestion is to come and exercise so you avoid sickness, this sport is the best for your health,” said Zumba trainer, Atina Mohammadi.

For 18-year-old Muzhgan Ahmadi, it is also a form of relaxation.

“Although it is for body fitness, it is also relaxing for the mind. So whenever someone wants to relax his/her mind, he or she should do Zumba as this is the best way to relax your mind,” she said.

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. – Reuters

Note: The original raw video from Reuters was without narration. Captions were inserted by Star2.com from a transcript provided by Reuters. We apologise if they do not synch with the soundbites.