What is Nia?

The following article is written by Laura Mabe, and first appeared on Swing Into My Walk Space.

On Friday I found myself back on 10th and Yamhill in downtown Portland. I was sent on a mission by Polaris Dance Theatre to pass out flyers about the upcoming event the Fertile Ground Festival's new dance hub, the Groovin' Greenhouse, which is hosted at the Polaris Contemporary Dance Center on January 28th and 29th. The Art Media store, located on 10th and Yamhill, was on my list of places to post a flyer. The dance studio, Conduit, also on 10th and Yamhill, was not on the list. However, I used to take contemporary and modern dance with the amazingly talented, Mary Hunt at Conduit back in high school, so I figured a flyer in their studio would be a great idea.

I entered the building where two lovely ladies were waiting for the elevator and as the elevator doors opened, I hopped in realizing I wasn't sure of the location of Conduit. It's been a while since I've last been there. One of the women, who I found out later is named Maria and is a Nia instructor, directed me to the fourth floor explaining that's where she was going as well. I arrived and headed towards the office with Maria where I met Siere, another Nia instructor. I, sadly, learned Mary Hunt no longer teaches dance at Conduit. However, Conduit and Nia share the entire fourth floor and are in the process of completing their remodel, which already looks fantastic. There are two amazing studios with vintage white walls, high ceilings, large windows looking out at Fox Towers and the new town square, and wooden floors. After speaking with Siere and Maria, getting a tour and spilling out my life story of movement in general, I left Siere and Maria with a two week free pass to come try their Nia classes. I have never heard of Nia before and was very curious and enthusiastic to take class at Conduit once again.

On Monday, I found myself back on 10th and Yamhill at 7:00 a.m., but to a completely different scene.  When I was in Conduit/Nia on Friday it was an off hour so no classes were going on. It was very quiet. On Monday morning, I squeezed into an elevator with super friendly Nia movers who all introduced themselves to me. I met a women named Loretta and told her that's what my dad calls me. She informed me Loretta is a saints name so now I want to change my name to Saint Loretta. Turns out, Loretta is also a Nia instructor.

I exited the elevator to a busy hallway. Eccentric women were surrounding me left and right. Somehow I missed the memo to dress like a uniquely energetic free spirit as almost everyone was in flowy spandex material where the dance pants also had a skirt, train and/or ruffles of some sort cascading down the backs of their legs. I arrived in my standard black spandex dance pants and matching black top. Black was not the color. Bright turquoise, yellow and pink were more popular.

Controlled chaos was going on around me as everyone knew each other and were buzzing back and forth between the two studios. Before I had time to get too intimidated and re-enter the elevator, multiple people came up to me introducing themselves and directing me in the direction I needed to go. I was starting to think either they thought I was a celebrity or were just unusually kind people. I was told I could pick either studio as they were teaching Nia in both this morning. I went with Studio II for no real reason at all.

It felt like there were 50 people in there and Studio I had the same amount if not more. These uniquely energetic free spirited group of people were all crawling on the floor or spinning around swaying side to side laughing, smiling and small talking with one another. I'm use to entering dance classes for the first time to find dancers small talking and warming up on their own, but usually doing normal stretching like a straddle. I didn't want to stick out too much though so I began crawling around like a snake silvering across the floor. I was met with smiles and looks of encouragement. Sure, it already seemed a bit cultish and I was easily the youngest person there (24 and the room seemed 30 to upwards of 60s), but everyone was so friendly and it was only an hour out of my day so I kept acting like I knew what I was doing.

Finally, class began. We went through a series of 52 movements by 5 different instructors who alternated taking the lead role. The movement was not overly complicated at all, but opened me up in ways I hadn't be able to accomplish quite as easily before. We worked on rotating the hip socket from parallel to turnout by simply letting our leg fall to the earth in either direction. We rolled our hips, knees, ankles and traveled around the studio in a "cha cha cha". We flicked our hands from the pointer, ring and index finger. The 52 movements were not overly complicated, but were instead fun. They were moves I don't usually affiliate with workout classes. Yet, I left Nia class more grounded, center, empowered, and ready for my day. After a solid hour of sweating, feeling alive and awake, class ended to which a women came in saying, "Don't leave! Stay in this room. The other studio is coming in and I already have the white board rolled out." To which I thought, "Oh man, this is a cult!" I knew it had to be too good to be true. Then they all looked at me and said, "Oh, well you can go. Thanks for joining us."

It turned out this was a special training class offered as part of the NGT program. I left, but couldn't get the movement and the energy of these women (there were also two men training to become Nia instructors) out of my head. I taught two dance classes that afternoon at Studio One Dance Academy and integrated some of the Nia technique's into my classes. The kids loved it. I told Diana, owner of Studio One Dance Academy, about my experience, to which she explained her sister is a Nia instructor. Now I was really interested in becoming a Nia instructor or at least taking another class. So what is Nia?

As explained on the Nia website, "Nia is a sensory-based movement practice that leads to health, wellness and fitness. It empowers people of all shapes and sizes by connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit." Before researching Nia, that was exactly how I felt after leaving a Nia class. Nia goes through a series of sensory-based 52 movements to accomplish connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit. As a dancer, I felt comfortable and amongst dance technique movers, yet, at the same time, I learned new techniques not usually practiced in dance. Nia takes dance, martial arts and healing arts styles and combines them to accomplish the 52 movements that work through your base, core and extremities. Did I mention it's currently taught in more than 45 countries worldwide?

Founded in 1982 by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas, Nia was designed with the idea "that fitness could feel better, be fun and cater to the whole person" (as stated on the Nia website). Debbie and Carlos co-created Nia and today Nia is bettering people's confidence, happiness and long term lifestyles. As a yoga instructor myself, Nia feels like a modern Americanized version of yoga without the religious aspect. Nia is the new wave of movement and has a fantastic hub in downtown Portland. How could I not become a Nia instructor?