Dance/Movement Therapy & Nia: More Than Just Dance

This guest post is written by Lori Lynn Meader and Teresa D’Angelo, and was first published in American Dance Therapy Association's newsletter.

Have you ever wondered what dance/movement therapy (DMT) and Nia have in common? Here in New Jersey, we recently had the opportunity to find out for ourselves by teaming with practitioners of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Dance Therapy Association for a workshop on "Dance/Movement Therapy and Nia–More Than Just Dance." We opened with the basic principles behind dance/movement therapy and Nia, and then experienced movement with each modality used by Nia.

Dance/movement therapy is defined as ”the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of individuals” ( We participated in a DMT experience, both with and without music. First, we were asked to "tune into" our individual bodies and emotions, which gradually shifted to a group focus. We explored different types of movement that evoked a range of feelings, and props helped us to express ourselves and encouraged interaction with other participants through metaphor and play.

We were invited to write or draw after the DMT experience. Some of the comments were:

  • I was able to access different emotions that have been buried [through dance/movement therapy].
  • At first I felt like an outsider, and then found that I was fully integrated as a participant.

We described Nia as a self-healing and conditioning fitness practice and spoke of its history and technique of using 52 Moves, 9 Movement forms and energizing each class with a difference focus. We playfully adapted the movement forms using songs from the Nia Routine ZenSation (what a blast it was to mix it up, using different songs for different movement forms!).

We heard comments like these:

  • With the safety created in the group, I felt comfortable expressing the sexiness of jazz [in Nia], when typically I would feel shy.
  • I loved the flow and permission to move in the way my body wants to move.

What we found most interesting are the similarities and differences between DMT and Nia. 


  • There is an experience of moving in unison, or synchrony, with others that creates the sense of being part of something larger than oneself -- a sense of community.
  • Nia's freedance expression and “sharing what we sense” is similar to the dance improvisation found in DMT.
  • Feelings that are difficult to put into words can be expressed through movement.
  • There is no right or wrong way to move in DMT and, with Nia, we encourage moving "The Body’s Way" and "Your Body's Way."
  • Similar to dance/movement therapists, Nia instructors are taught to "tune into" their own energy and the energy of the group.
  • Like DMT, special populations such as people with Parkinson’s disease, eating disorders, and cancer enjoy Nia.


  • Although Nia may feel therapeutic, it is considered a somatic fitness modality, offered in venues from YMCAs to wellness centers.
  • Nia is based on 52 Moves that are part of every class; in DMT there are no pre-determined steps or dances to teach.
  • Nia classes have a focus, yet the energy and style of the instructor and participants makes each class unique.
  • DMT sessions begin not knowing what will unfold, with no expectations, and being open to what the group members bring to the session to develop movement themes.
  • DMT is a form of psychotherapy; Nia is a self-healing sensory fitness practice, with specific routines and the ability to freedance.

During our wonderful Q&A segment, what seemed clear was the wish to know more about the experience of healing emotional places through movement, whether through Nia or DMT. As one woman said, “I am going through feelings of grief and loss in my life right now, and I know I need to move these emotions. This type of movement feels so necessary, so deep and so genuine.” As she spoke, she cried.

Being therapists as well as Black Belt Nia instructors (Teresa is a Polarity therapist and Lori Lynn is a psychotherapist), we are attuned to picking up on emotional shifts that may happen during and after class. When students approach us and wonder, “Why am I crying? What is happening?”, we reassure them that moving their bodies in this new, integrated way with their core may evoke emotion that has been blocked/stuck for quite some time.

Without being a "therapy," Nia helps move emotion in a way that feels safe. We support our students by offering “volume up/volume down” as a method to deal with what may arise, or helping them breathe through it and ground by connecting to their bodies and to earth.

What an amazing body of work (and play!) Nia is. It is true integration of body, mind, emotion and spirit. So, the next time someone asks you, "What is it about Nia that brings up so much emotion?" you can say, "Your body is speaking. You are experiencing the gifts that moving in 'Your Body's Way' provides… you are healing and becoming whole!" 

About Lori Lynn Meader and Teresa D'Angelo:

Lori Lynn Meader is a Nia Black Belt (as well as Nia 5 Stages and Nia 52 Moves certified), where she has developed a thriving Nia community of inspirational practitioners. She is also a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC. Lori Lynn works with those who struggle with eating disorders/body image disturbances, depression, anxiety, grief and trauma. Integrating Nia philosophy with a psychodynamic approach has helped her clients move emotional blocks in meaningful and lasting ways.

Teresa D’Angelo is a Nia Black Belt (as well as Nia 5 Stages and Nia 52 Moves certified). She loves teaching Nia classes and creating workshops to help people personally transform through movement. Teresa is also a Registered Polarity Therapy Practitioner, an energetic healing modality to help people find balance. She is also a project manager and consultant in change management for the world's largest professional services firm.

DMT presenters:

Tina Erfer, President of the NJ Chapter of ADTA, Sue Cohen, Vice President of the NJ Chapter of ADTA, and Joan Berkowitz, Treasurer.