Nia: More Than a Cardio Dance Workout

March 28, 2015
Katherine Austin Wooley


If You Can Walk, You Can Dance

Twenty-one years ago I walked into my first Nia class on two stress-fractured legs.

The teacher was a tiny woman with smiling eyes, and before the class began, I dutifully reported my injuries.

"I was running," I said. "Both my shins are stress fractured. I'm not sure I can do this class."

"If you walked in here," she said, "You can do this class."

I must have looked incredulous because she smiled again.

"If you can walk, you can dance."

By the third song, Madonna's Vogue—Come on, let your body move to the music—I knew I had found a way of moving my body that spoke to my soul. I was hooked.

Two years later, I certified to teach Nia. This year is my nineteenth year teaching.

Nia is a cardio dance workout—but to say just that leaves unsaid what Nia actually is—a beautiful, freeing and uplifting way of moving to music that feeds your body, mind, emotions and Spirit.

The music varies: from tribal beats, to current pop, to world music—it's impossible to classify. Even the current Target commercial song, Groove is in the Heart, is a Nia choreographed song.

And yes, there is choreography. And it's simple and organic and designed to move the body in the way the body was actually designed to move.

So there's no jumping up and down or marching in place. There's no impact. A participant doesn't even need shoes—we dance barefoot to ignite the messages of the 3000 nerve endings in the feet to keep us safe.

And, in my long experience with both, Nia is the perfect compliment to yoga.

My yoga practice is more meditative than strenuous—more Yin than Vinyasa. And while I love yoga's physical strength and mental focus, breathing in and allowing my Self to reside in the present moment while I mindfully move on the mat is my yoga.

So, for me, it's the combinations: the fluidity of Nia and the stillness of yoga, the circles and turns of Nia and the angles and alignment of yoga, the focus on expression in Nia and the focus on elevation in yoga—all strike a perfect balance.

And yoga is already designed into the Nia experience.

The original fusion fitness, Nia masterfully blends nine movement forms: modern dance, jazz dance, and Duncan dance, taekwondo, tai chi and aikido, and Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique, and yoga.

That was evident last Tuesday at my 9:45 class in West Bloomfield, when ten dancers at the end of class, spontaneously took various yoga poses to stretch, breathe and cool down. Beautiful.

The afternoon I walked into my first Nia class, I had no idea that I had stepped onto a path on which I would dance for my entire adult life. But Nia, like yoga, is that satisfying. More than a cardio dance workout, Nia has fed my heart and being for more than 20 years.

EveryBody can do Nia, no matter your fitness level or your dance experience. You can even come to class on two stress-fractured legs, and I'll tell you the same thing my first teacher told me:

If you can walk, you can dance.


Patricia Scott

Certified Martha Beck Life Coach
Nia Technique Black Belt Instructor
Karma Yoga Instructor

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