dance classes attract a variety of age groups and ability
There is nothing
quite like breaking you out of your comfort zone than finding yourself
prancing around a studio, fluttering your fingers, being told to
embrace your "inner butterfly."
precisely the impasse I found myself in one recent Saturday morning.
While my immediate reaction was to politely decline the puerile
request, I knew I had a job to do. My editor, Amy, had given me clear
directive ó to experience the art of Nia dance, firsthand ó and
bring back my tale to share with our readers. Shouldering that
intimidating responsibility, I swallowed my pride, thrust my jazz
hands out to the side and flitted on. Natch.
Before I trekked
to Core/El Centro at 130 W. Bruce St. to partake in the class, I gave
myself just one rule: no research. I didnít have a clue what Nia
dance was, and I didnít want to carry any presagements into the
studio. Naturally, I began fretting about walking into an ancient New
Age ritual. In a fit of anxiety the night before, I emailed the classí
instructor, Barb Wesson, who first brought Nia dance to Wisconsin in
I wear to class?" I asked, hoping her answer would lend me a
hint. "Something you can sweat in," she replied. Clearly, I
was on my own.
gathered outside of the studio, I introduced myself and tried to gauge
their conversations for clues. Before Wesson calls everyone into the
studio, one woman hushedly raves: "Nia gets me out of my head and
into my body."
what Nia is all about. The fusion fitness class combines dance,
martial arts and healing arts into 52 simple steps. Performed
barefoot, the dance form centers on low-impact and "mindful
movement" and can be adapted for a variety of body types,
abilities and age ó in fact, most of classí participants during my
visit are over the age of 50.
While we begin
the class with slow, purposeful stretches and body rolls ó this dayís
lesson is about connecting to our bones ó we quickly transform into
a mix of salsa, tíai chi, yoga ó you name it ó grooving all the
while to an eclectically cool array of New Age Electronica jams.
moves, Wesson instructs us to release stress tension through
vocalization. We coo like kookaburras as we wiggle and let out
exasperated sighs for "drama." After my initial hesitation
with the whole butterfly experience, I finally feel myself letting go.
Much to my
surprise, it doesnít take long for me to break a sweat. By the end
of the hour-long class, Iím beat ó and can scarcely imagine
teaching 12 of these classes a week like Wesson.
Wesson and I sit down to talk. She says she discovered Nia while
working as a weight management counselor and hasnít returned to step
aerobics since. I ask her if people misconstrue Nia dance as a hippie
pursuit. She laughs.
New Age ó itís just about stopping people from hurting their
bodies when they workout." During the days of Jane Fonda, she
explains, working out was all about pushing bodies to the limit and
high impact. Nia seeks to provide the same health benefits without all
of the strain. In fact, in addition to providing cardio, Nia offers a
natural approach to everything from stress, to arthritis, to brain
this alchemy to Nia," Barb says. "This thing happens. Itís
based on ancient concepts, so itís not new, but it brings about
mindfulness, consciousness and is truly accessible to everybody. Thatís
what I like seeing: the athletes with the grandmas."
So, what does
"Nia" mean, anyway?
before it lived on as an acronym: ĎNeuromuscular Integrative Action,í"
laughs Barb. "Now, we just use the Swahili meaning: ĎWith
I think Iíll
just take Nia dance for what it is: a little bit weird ó and a whole