Listening to Dance Through Life

This post is written by Black Belt Certified Nia Trainer Holly Nastasi. Holly has been facilitating fitness and wellness for others since 1982. She transitioned towards a holistic approach to health, through Nia, in 1993 while receiving a BS in Kinesiology and a MEd in Health Education from the University of Texas. Her insight and wisdom, along with her education and experience, helps others to go deeper into themselves. Holly currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is the program director at StudioNia Santa Fe.


One of the things that makes Nia such a unique practice is its beautiful blend of music, movement and magic. When a trainee comes to the White Belt Intensive, our first level of training, they are introduced to these three topics through the 13 White Belt Principles – the foundation on which Nia was created. These principles explore a variety of sub-topics from anatomy, to Nia's philosophy on movement and the body, to techniques for living a body-centered life with awareness. One of my favorite principles is White Belt Principle 3: Music and the 8BC System. Through this principle, I have developed a keen sense of connection with the music we move to, which inspires me to dance and feel more.

A driving force in the healing and conditioning I receive when practicing Nia comes from musicʼs ability to move me, both physically and emotionally. Music arrives as sound waves through the atmosphere to stimulate my whole being. With intimate listening, my movement echoes the music as I connect to the sensations that move along the fibers of my body. Once hooked into the sounds, my body rides them, through melody and rhythm, along harmonies and chaos. The energy of the music blends with the energy of my body, mind, and spirit. My being joins the composition of the song, adding its own elements that can be felt and seen as I move.

One of the tools I use to actively facilitate this kind of experience is called the Art of Listening. The Art of Listening has two components: Being Seduced by the Music and RAW (an acronym for Relaxed, Alert, and Waiting).

Being Seduced by the Music is a practice of listening to a song and hearing all of the instruments play at once. As I listen, I identify the instruments and notice how they weave together to create the tapestry of the song. When I can distinguish the sound of the oboe over the flute, the snare drum over the bass drum, or hear all the nuances of electronic sounds, I am truly "listening" to the quality of all the vibrations collected in the song. Being Seduced by the Music stimulates my sensory awareness by providing me with a greater array of sounds to dance to.

In similar fashion, RAW is the Nia practice of tracking the silence and sound of an instrument as it plays. In RAW I identify the unique sound of one instrument and follow it as it comes and goes. Following an instrument's silence and sound requires my listening to go deeper, helping me condition my ears to "hear" more. With practice, I can track the silence and sound of more than one instrument at a time; think of it as "musical multi-tasking." By listening to silences, as well as the sounds, I calm my nervous system and find relaxation as I do Nia.

Both practices enhance my listening, help me heal and condition my body, and are necessary to achieving the intimacy of listening that touches me so deeply. When I follow a melodic sound, my movement is fluid and healing. When I follow an upbeat rhythm, my movement can be strong and solid. Sometimes both options are available in a song, allowing me to choose how to dance in the way that feels best for me in each moment.

The Art of Listening has helped me hear the sounds of the world. I notice the wind whistling through the air, or the sound of the traffic in the city, pierced now and then by the honking of horns or the boom of a bass, barreling out of the window of a car nearby. I also hear the song of birds, the rustle of the leaves, the murmur of voices, and the sound of my own breath. I recognize my entire life as a song, a sound landscape within me, built around the memories of all Iʼve ever heard and comprised of all the elements of music we explore in Nia. The closer I am to receiving sound with purity, distinguishing the parts over the whole, the closer I am to the quiet of my soul. By listening intently, I access parts of myself that I often donʼt hear. This kind of listening eliminates many of the mental distractions that often rule my life. Listening happens in the moment when I give it my full attention.

Music is listening. Listening is receiving. Receiving is healing.