It has been a lot of years since I was in a traditional dance class (ballet, modern, jazz, ballroom). In my twenties I was practically obsessed with dance – it even defined my future as I met the guy I married through my ballet class buddies.

Then I dropped out of dance completely. Part of it was that as a full time university student I didn’t have the money or time to take 2 or 3 dance classes a week, and part of it was, well somehow the format seemed unsustainable as a long term adult fitness pursuit. The format was designed for children with a semester of dance and an end of term recital so the parents could see their little ones being adorable in tutus. And while I personally enjoy performing I wished for more choices – the only option was to sit out 4 or 5 weeks while the rest of the class worked on a performance piece. I wanted another model for fitness and personal expression.  

In the years after dance I did yoga. I was pretty serious about yoga, even teaching classes myself, but then during one of my yoga teacher training intensives I got a sacroiliac joint injury. Afterwards, however careful I was, I kept re-injuring that hip and it wasn’t until I stopped doing yoga completely that my damaged hip joint healed.

I tried other fitness modalities too, including aerobics (I took teacher training before realizing that I couldn’t stand doing aerobics!), shallow water fitness, t’ai chi (which I liked, but after learning the complete form I quit – I can’t remember why now). Nothing ‘stuck’ and I could never recapture the feeling that dance gave me. It came as a big surprise that as a ‘50-something’ I would discover Nia (nee-ah) and be drawn right back into the world of dance. I was hooked from the very first class.

Nia is sneaky fitness. It is all about the Routine. Where traditional dance classes focus on conditioning muscle groups in isolation (for example the barre work in ballet), Nia mixes the fitness in with the dance moves. Each Nia class is a choreographed routine done to beautiful and diverse music styles. And although each Routine has a theme or focus, the moves are varied so that by the end of the one hour class it feels like there is no body part you haven’t moved.

It is so much fun it is difficult to appreciate exactly how much conditioning is going on. In Nia we stretch, tone and build muscles; we develop endurance and strengthen our cardiovascular systems; we revitalize internal organs, and as we work out where hands and feet are supposed to go, our brains have a field day creating new pathways.  

Nia satisfies my need for personal expression because each class takes me through a story that can be read on several different levels. The music chosen for each routine often tells a story, as do the movements chosen. Then there is the personal level, — me, my story, my life, whatever has just happened on my way to class that I am carrying with me. In the warm-up portion of Nia, I begin to ground my energy and remember to breathe! With each song I am invited to let go a little more. Often at the peak of the cardiovascular song movements I enter into a kind of walking meditation – a state of being very present and letting go of whatever dramas are going on in my life.

When I was a Nia beginner I struggled with letting go. As my body began to tire I’d find myself compulsively looking at the clock every few minutes to see how much longer there was to go. That is a kind of drama too and by persisting with Nia I learned to become more comfortable with letting go of the need to control; to allow my body to get tired, sweaty and messy. Then of course what happens is the body gets stronger and develops more endurance.

Engaging fully into Nia, suddenly the story is no longer about me. My energy field expands. I look around and see the same thing happening to other dancers. We all loosen up and enter a world of play and imagination. And as the routine winds down I return to myself, grounded, softer and energized, in love with Nia and life.  

© Deborah Redfern 2011. All rights reserved.

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