As If | #nianow

A blog by Nia teacher, Beth O’Neall.

When I first started dancing Nia, I wore a large black cotton t-shirt and baggy purple pants. I wore this to every class, three times a week, for months.

I’ve seen Nia change people’s lives. Sometimes we lose weight or, even better, lose old and unhelpful stories about ourselves.

In these early months of dancing, covered up in my baggy armor, I often felt powerful emotions while dancing, so strong that I retreated off the dance floor and went into the bathroom where I sobbed for a minute. Then I dried my eyes and returned to the dance. There were lots of classes like that.

It seemed quite natural to me that dancing should be so cathartic. I began to consciously seek out transformation while I danced, and it was on the dance floor, in the middle of a class that was perhaps quite ordinary for everyone else there, that I realized I was ready to forgive my father and, even better, I was all right. This may not sound like much but for me it was huge. It meant that I was not overwhelmed or damaged or defeated by whatever I had already survived in my life. In fact, I was healthy and whole. That’s what I was ready to tell my father: ”Hey, Dad, you know, I’m okay now. Let’s move on.”

Some months later when I became a Nia teacher, it was clear that students needed to see my body while I moved, so I switched from my baggy ones to form-fitting fitness clothes. The first time I got in front of a group was difficult not just because I had to know the moves and teach them, but because I had to expose my body’s shape. I also had to declare: “I know what I’m doing and I deserve to be here.”

I did not know what I was doing, and I was not certain that I deserved to be there. But I loved Nia, so I kept teaching.

Nia taught me to feel good moving in my body. Then Nia showed me that I could have fun with the clothes I wore. This may seem like a much smaller discovery, and one that had much less import than the one that I described above. Discovering pleasure, however, is possibly the most important of the revelations we make in our Nia practice.

Somewhere in those first few years of teaching, I realized that my Nia clothes could become a form of play. I found amazing things at second-hand stores: pants with sequins and a pink leotard with a tutu attached. I was 40 years old and finally — finally — I got to wear a tutu. And I owned it. Every piece of glittery, fluttery, or rhinestone covered apparel that I could find and that I loved got its day in class.

Often, it was only a day. I didn’t really want to dress up all the time. My drawers became clogged with fancy clothes just for Nia classes, and I wasn’t interested in them much anymore. Once I turned 50, I realized that I didn’t want to dress up very often at all any more. I thought perhaps that I was being a party pooper. Why didn’t I want to play dress up?

What I wanted — what I want — is to dress authentically.  Yesterday I wore a black top with black capris to teach, and I felt fantastic. If I wear clean lines and black every day, I’m pretty happy.

I’ve been going through my closet and letting go of what I think of as my aspirational clothes. These are clothes I wanted to love or wanted to look good in, but they’re just not for me. I aspired to be the person who could wear those fabulous leggings, but, honestly, on me they look only okay. I have powerful, short legs and those leggings call for the long, lean variety.

My beautiful not-for-me leggings, my fluttery tops, my rhinestone bra (damn, that thing is uncomfortable for dancing) — I’m happily ready to let go of these. I was giddy with joy and freedom when I first bought them. They made me feel free and daring. Now I feel free of those aspirations.  

Clearing out space in my closet and drawers feels fabulous. I am giddy with release. I am free to move on.

With certain clothes, I Act As If. I may move differently with sequin shorts or flapper fringe shorts. I’m keeping those flapper shorts (jealous? I also have full-length flapper pants). It’s good to host dress up days so that others are encouraged to explore. I have a basketful of scarves and a half dozen tutus, both of which are easy for students to slip on or off during class. My students should be inspired to play and dress up; then maybe they will choose to be more playful and daring in their every day clothes as well.

That’s part of loving our bodies and loving being in our bodies. Dressing up is Life as Art. We use the power of Play to release us from fear and expectations. We take pleasure in being in this body, right here, right now.

Beth O’Neall, Nia Teacher

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