A Powerful Act: The Integration of Nia and Therapy

The following post is written by Erika Ruber, who is a Black Belt certified Nia teacher and LCSW in Portland, Oregon.

Today I experienced a beautiful culmination of my paths as Nia teacher and psychotherapist. Witnessing my client/Nia student courageously and gracefully share her “60th Birthday/Transition Dance Ritual” that we co-created was indeed a gift and a blessing.

The seed was born in a therapy session we had about a year ago. We were discussing her powerful transformation from a victim to a powerful woman choosing her own destiny. As we discussed the feeling of choice, I asked her to stand up and show me a gesture to symbolize how she felt. She began to use her hands, fingers, and eyes to demonstrate the action of very gracefully and consciously selecting what she wanted in her life. We called this shift “consciously creating her own palate”. It hit home for her in a way that simply talking about it never could have, because through this action, she felt a shift from a victim to a woman manifesting her own destiny on a cellular level. And over the next couple sessions, she would continue to cite the power of this experience.

Around the same time, she began to talk about her upcoming 60th birthday, her twins' graduation from high school and their leaving home; she wanted to honor this transition. Also, during that time, I co-created a body of work with Jillayne Sorensen, Psy.D, Nia Blue Belt, called “Dance you Story – A Nia Workshop Exploring Choice and Change.” I also held a Nia workshop on letting go that my client attended. Again, she felt the power of her release on a somatic level.

Shortly after this, my client attended a Nia 5 Stages workshop with Laurie Bass and Carol Gonzalez. She came into session that next week saying that she had a very profound experience where she felt connected to old parts of herself. She committed to herself at that moment that it was never too late to be present for her kids, and through her actions and choices, she could decrease the amount of regret in her life. At that point, we began having our therapy sessions in my movement studio, and we began each session with the Nia 5 Stages practice.

We began to put all these pieces together and our creative process was born–to create a personal dance ritual that she would share with her community on her 60th birthday to honor and celebrate her journey and healing–and to publicly let go. She suggested we use the Nia 5 Stages as a format of some sort, and we began to discuss five themes or chapters of her life. She would come to session talking about grief and loss and I would have her FreeDance those feelings. Then we would discuss what emerged.

I gave her an assignment to have her current self write a letter to her “younger self” and when she read the letter to me, I could sense the therapeutic benefit of adding language. That is when she told me she had about 40 years of journals on her shelves. I suggested she begin to re-read them. This assignment took on a life of its own, and her writing process began to parallel her movement process.

Week after week, month after month, this creation gained clarity. And I could sense the process was going to be just as therapeutic as the final ritual. My client began to feel anxious about dancing by herself, as she was used to following me and other Nia teachers. We worked with with the practice of RAW (Relaxed, Alert, Waiting), FreeDance, the Nia 52 Moves, the Nia 7 Cycles, etc. Little by little, she began to let go of watching/elipting and began to connect to her own dance. Still, there were moments of stress about forgetting the moves or not finding the beat, and we focused on letting go and trusting that whatever needed to emerge that day would come through her, as she had put in a tremendous amount of time and energy. This was the practice itself–letting go.

On the day of her dance ritual, which was held at the meditation garden in my space, I arrived to see life as art. She had arranged the space artfully and with purpose. She had created an alter and had small placards representing the themes that she was going to express through dance, music, and writing. I became a witness as she shared from her heart to her children, family, old friends and colleagues.

I watched as she danced like I have never seen her dance in six years of her being a Nia student. She was in RAW, completely and fully present–to her body, to her community and to the music. She shared her story, which was, in fact, everyone's story–a universal story of birth/family/ home, adventure/freedom, grief/loss, frenetic, and letting go. I danced together with her for the letting go dance. I had no idea it would feel so symbolic. We shared this dance as teacher and student, therapist and client, human and human–and it became a culmination of all our efforts, her years of therapy and dancing.

The morning felt like a moment of time when everything would be okay. The potential for healing was potent in the air as we all bonded together through the witnessing of a tremendous act of beauty, humanity, and courage.

In the words of my client/student, "Every cell in my body is grateful for self-healing that I have gained through dancing Nia. Nia has allowed me to let my wild self go... to be seen, be heard, to be witnessed."