Dance First, Think Later

A friend of mine likes to say, “When you show up for life, life shows up for you.” The universe is funny that way. Once it knows it has your attention, it starts throwing signs at you, and all you need to do is notice them, and you can be led to magical places. My own trail of breadcrumbs started with a little postcard for a fitness class called Nia. The card was vague, some kind of movement, not exactly dance, but something like it, a body-mind-emotion-spirit experience. Sounded like just what I needed so I went home and immediately googled it. The website, Nia Now, said that Nia is a “sensory-based movement practice” that leads to health, wellness and fitness. Sounded like just what the doctor ordered for me. I found out that Nia is a fusion fitness technique created by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas that blends martial arts, healing arts, dance and spiritual self-healing to create a synergistic workout. I watched a few YouTube videos and thought it looked intriguing. Not too scary and I thought I could do it.  That night, my massage therapist friend told me she had done it before and it was fun. She said it would be good for me to do some kind of movement exercise in addition to my walking. Movement, I said? You mean, like dancing? Yep, she said. You’ve been boxed up so long in that body in front of a computer, you need to get out and move it around in ways you haven’t done before. So I told her I would try it. I would go to the class scheduled for the next morning. Cool, she said, approvingly.

I have to confess that new things scare the hell out of me. I don’t like doing them. I talked myself in and out of it five or six times that morning before I finally settled on going, but even then, it was only because I told my friend the night before that I would go. I committed. I’m like that. If I say I’m going to do something, then I will do it. Plus, if I didn’t go, I’d have to admit I was too chicken and that was worse than not going. So I went.  Our local community center is in a historic building, established in 1909, and the Nia class was held in the ballroom, a gorgeous large and airy room with a fabulous wood floor and mirrors on the north wall. Mollia, the instructor, greeted me when I arrived. I quickly confessed that this was my first class and I was terrified. Mollia just smiled and nodded in a totally accepting way and gave me the basics of how it worked. No shoes, dance in your bare feet. No special equipment needed, just clothing that feels comfortable to move in. It turns out I was the only student that day. At first, I thought, great, because I wouldn’t have to worry about making a fool of myself in front of other people. But then I realized that I would have the instructor’s undivided attention, and that made me nervous. This makes me laugh in hindsight, because in addition to being a beautiful fluid dancer, Mollia is one of the most gentle, nonjudgmental and accepting people I know. Nia is not about being perfect or doing it right. Nia is about doing it your way.

It’s not about perfecting the form. It’s about having fun and getting in touch with your body again, just like when you were a kid, when you instinctively moved and danced and skipped and didn’t give a damn what people thought because you were having fun.  And the more you do it, the more you remember who you were before the demands of our culture set in, when you were told that you had to be perfect and thin and beautiful. Your body became the enemy then, forced to submit to a relentless battery of hardcore exercise that left you feeling exhausted and injured, and most likely scratching your head over why the effort didn’t result in what you wanted. You can’t exercise your way into perfection. You already are perfect, just as you are.  Make friends with your body. Come out and play with it. You’ll get the same health benefits without brutalizing your body, and your spirit, which avoids the treadmill like the plague, will certainly come and join you.

I’ve been doing Nia for almost a year now, and when a new person joins the class, I see myself in them, all those months ago. I see the stilted tentative movements, especially during the free dance section of a routine, when there are no forms to follow, just total improvisation, letting your body do what it wants. The trouble is that when you’ve been confined to a chair for eight plus hours a day, staring at a computer, your body isn’t sure it remembers how to come out and play. It takes a while for those barriers to break down and for the real you to come out. And once it does, sometimes a lot of emotion comes out too. Where I think Nia does a fabulous service to us all is that it breaks down the compartmentalization that we’ve done to ourselves over the years in order to survive, and it integrates all of us – body, mind, emotion and spirit – into one whole entity, living and breathing and alive. In Nia, you will hear terms like natural time, awareness, and dancing through life. It’s all about the joy of movement.

From the NiaNow website, this is what it says about why Nia was created:

“Nia’s purpose is to grow a worldwide community of healthy people who are empowered to do great things. We believe every person can discover, explore, unleash and enhance their individual potential to live a fulfilling and meaningful life – by engaging their senses and listening to their bodies. With the right tools and education, we can increase our confidence and happiness. We can become connected to others to shape a consciousness that extends beyond our own. Together we will unearth possibilities never before imagined.”

What could be better than that?

I was already prepared to be empowered to do great things and unearth possibilities never before imagined. But now I didn’t have to do it alone; I had a community of people to join me in the effort, and I met a group of women who were ready to stand with me and support me in my endeavors.  From them, I received one of the greatest gifts you can get as a human being: friendship.