Posts Tagged ‘Nia technique’

Trying out the movement forms: Contemporary Dance.

Nia is based on the energies and movement forms of the dance arts, healing arts, and martial arts.
I have been curious if trying out some of these movement forms individually would help me gain insight and more body awareness in my Nia practice, and possibly help me on the whole. The dance arts include modern dance, jazz dance, and Duncan dance. In January, I tried a contemporary dance class.

I had taken a few modern dance classes before, but it was more of a sampling: a few in sixth grade, a lesson as part of my Dance History course in college, and a class with my expressive arts movement teacher.

The contemporary dance class I took over a month ago was the first I’d taken since before I started taking Nia classes. I vaguely remembered my experiences before: it was sometimes challenging for me to feel fluid and present in the moves. I remember feeling self-conscious as I moved across the floor.
This time around, I was in better physical shape and could keep up better. When the teacher talked about the 8-count, I could hear it in the music. I have more body awareness.

We started with a 20-minute warm-up. I realized then that while I could keep up to a certain extent, I wasn’t in that kind of shape. I haven’t done that kind of intense conditioning, at least not consistently. Also, a big part of the class was learning a section of a routine. Since it was a mixed-level class, there were varying degrees of skill and experience. I felt like I was straining to keep up.  Also, I’m still not that familiar with modern dance/ballet terms.

Nia allows more freedom; this dance class required more precision. Having to learn parts of a routine within a short period of time also makes it feel more performance-based. Nia involves more simultaneous leading and following; this class involved a demonstration, trying it out, more demonstrating, and trying it out again.

Overall, I care less than I did before about whether I do things right or wrong. I know from my experience in learning Nia routines that repetition is key, and sometimes I will repeat movements again and again and again until I get it, and sometimes that’s after many times of fumbling. I have to throw away thoughts of good or bad and be with what is. My perfectionist tendencies can get in the way of moving freely, so I often acknowledge the thoughts and then push them to the side and continue moving. Overall, this meant that I was less hesitant about trying the movements. I was still somewhat self-conscious, but I went into it and did the best that I could.

I would say that that particular class wasn’t the best fit for me. If I could find a beginning contemporary/modern dance class, that might be more my style. It would be ideal for me begin closer to the beginning, to be able to keep up more easily with others in the class. What I did take away was that more warm-up and conditioning could be helpful for me in my regular movement practice.

Stepping through and past stuck-ness.

I remember taking Intro to Drawing in college. I went to a college with a block plan, which meant I took one class intensively for three and a half weeks. That meant my mornings were filled with instruction and demonstrations, and I spent my afternoons and evenings doing homework.

At some point in the middle of the course, as we were working on drawing boxes with dimensions, shading, and foreshortening, I began to feel stuck. I wasn’t the only one; the professor commented that many of us seemed stuck within the technique. We weren’t necessarily having fun. I know that I was focused on getting it “right,” and there wasn’t a lot of joy in it.

So my professor gave us a creative assignment, to draw whatever we liked, to draw without a subject, be abstract, whatever we needed to be. For me, it had the effect of shaking off the previous weight and allowing me learn the techniques while being a little less attached to the final result, and most of all, enjoying the process of working with the materials, such as ink and charcoal.

Sometimes, as I continue to deepen my practice of Nia and learn how to teach, I get caught in getting in wanting to be accurate, precise. I’ll get some feedback, I’ll think about it, I’ll take it into my movements. And maybe, as I practice, my movements will become more precise. But sometimes in this process, I lose the sense of pleasure in my movement. And since White Belt Principle #1 in Nia is the Joy of Movement, and Nia is something I genuinely enjoy, this feels problematic and counterproductive. During these times, I feel stuck in a similar way that I did in my college drawing class — in short, creatively stymied.

The other night, I went searching through emails from Nia Headquarters, trying to find a specific phrase that another teacher had referenced. Instead, I found this, a section from a newsletter written by Debbie Rosas, co-founder of Nia:

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, know this – feeling overwhelmed comes from believing that you have to perform a certain way and at a certain time….Learning Nia has never been about performing. It is about connecting, relationships, joy, meaning, purpose, health, and well-being. And about saying what you sense and know. The result of doing Nia has always been the gift of self-healing and conditioning.

“I’m here to tell you: I don’t care if you miss the music cue or you cue between the three and the six. It is okay if you can’t do all the moves perfectly. It is okay if you can’t find the beat. What is not okay is if you deny what you know and don’t know. That keeps you down and stops you from getting where you want to go and be…”

I read this and felt relieved almost instantly. Yes, it’s important that I continue to learn and improve. It is absolutely essential that I continue to play, be creative, and enjoy what I do. Yesterday, I danced through a routine and focused only on finding and sharing what I sense. I gave myself permission to Free Dance through parts of it, too.  Afterward, I felt both more grounded and more joyful. It was good reminder for myself that I don’t have to tackle a bunch of approaches at once; one or two at a time can be more than enough, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to look a certain way.

And some more encouragement for me: Today, I talked to a studio owner about teaching Nia there, and I’m planning to teach a series (likely in April!) to try it out. So here’s to taking steps towards what I want to do.

 

Beginning.

The Fool card

The Fool card from my Oracle Card deck

The Fool: Beginner’s Mind. Stepping into the Unknown. Spontaneity. Trusting the process.

It’s challenging for me to be a beginner. To acknowledge my mistakes and use them as learning tools, instead of weapons. I’m a recovering perfectionist with high standards. While I have generally learned to adjust my standards to a more realistic level, I still sometimes find myself doubting my abilities when I’m learning something new.

I step into teaching Nia and I am determined. I practice often, I watch the DVD to review the moves and cueing. When I don’t get something the first or fourth time, I listen, watch, and try again.

I step into teaching and I am vulnerable. After class, I sometimes have this feeling like I’ve just shared an important piece of myself. It’s vulnerable to show where I am in the learning process. I’m not exactly polished; there is a rawness to some of my movements. I I stumble at times, which sometimes causes the students to stumble or pause. In those moments, I make a mental note and keep going.

I’ve been given a gift: One of my Nia teachers, who teaches three classes a week, needed a little bit of a break. She offered me one of her weekly classes for the next two months, which is most of my remaining time here before my wedding and move. Yes, I have to pay rent to the studio, but I don’t have to promote my own class. I can still dance with my regular early morning Nia community – I get to teach people I know.  While subbing for my teachers, I appreciate the experience, and it’s not consistent enough. In order to learn to teach, I need to teach regularly. For the next two months, I’ll be teaching every Monday.

Now, I have the opportunity to practice. I get to practice being a beginner. I get to practice hearing my doubts, the voices that speak to frustration. I’m learning to hear what they have to say, take any useful feedback, and keep going.

I’m learning. I’m beginning. There’s something beautiful and raw about a time where not knowing gradually becomes knowing. Where doing something new slowly becomes an intentional practice. And hopefully, where teaching Nia becomes a vital and regular part of my life.

Natural Time

As I mentioned in this post, I’m currently focusing on one Nia White Belt principle per month as part of a self-study/continuing education process.

This past month, I focused on Nia Principle #2, Natural Time and Movement Forms.

I’ll start with Natural Time.

Natural time incorporates measurement – the measurement of time and space, of movement.  It calls to attention the 13 main joints of the body and the 20 digits (fingers and toes). It involves one’s pace and staying true to what feels natural (for that particular day, period of life, etc).  We live in a world where time is often rigidly scheduled and regimented. Natural Time gives us permission to let go of that when we can.

When I think of natural time, I think of my own internal rhythm.  I think of slowing down when I need to; not rushing.  I think of being out in nature, where time is relative to the position of the sun and the amount of light.

I think of noticing my pace, how fast I am moving.  How far can I leap?  Or how little?

Rushing does not necessarily help but being conscious and present does.

Natural time helps me be more aware of my joints, how they bend and stretch.  It gives me a better since of the distance between things as I move across the dance floor and through life.  It allows me to become more aware of my own nervous system, and how it needs its own time and space to adapt.  Natural time gives me permission to move, learn, and heal at my own pace.

Stepping in: Teaching my first Nia class

I taught my first full Nia class today. One of my main teachers had a work-related training and asked me to substitute for her. Over the past week, we had gone over the steps of opening and closing the studio, how to hook up and turn on the music and the microphone. As for the content of the class…well, I’ve been learning and practicing for months.

And so this morning, as a hint of snow fell from the sky, I walked into the studio. I was fairly calm as I set things up. There was time to breathe and wait for people to come. Four students came. It was a small class, and enough. 

We stepped in; my focus was play. I asked them shake off anything they didn’t need to keep with them during class. I switched on the music and began. 

Sometimes I felt out of sync, leading with imperfect steps, and I kept going. I know my enthusiasm, my playfulness, my love of Nia came through. Sometimes, I felt so incredibly present – the steps were there and they mattered, but the experience was about so much more than the steps of the choreography. It was about being with myself, being with others, being in the moment,

The body and movement are sources of inspiration, wellness, vitality, vibration, connection. I know that doing Nia as a student helps regulate me; as a teacher, it stretches me to the edge of my capacity and allows me to hold more, even if just for the duration of a class. 

There’s a spiritual element in teaching, too, that feels somewhat akin to leading a centering exercise or a blessing/prayer. I remember being in my White Belt training and realizing that the best way to feel grounded and safe was to be fully in my body; that  through being connected to my body, I could also be more spiritual, emotional, and connected with the energy around me. This connection feels stronger to me when I teach. 

Today, I found my breath at points where it became ragged. I found spaces to step to the side and take sips of water. I found spaces to soften when I needed to. Still, it is a different kind of workout to move while using my voice while my heart is beating quickly, and I have to be very conscious of my breath. I now feel a little stiff, a little more winded than usual. I also feel strong. 

After we were done, after we stepped out, one of my friends – another Nia morning class regular – came up to me and gave me a hug, telling me I did a good job. “I remember when you first taught a song; you seemed unsure and a little unsteady. And now…what a difference.”

I felt exhilarated afterward, and that energy carried me for at least an hour more until I felt the waves of tiredness hit me. This was a big step for me. It is the first full movement class I have ever taught. And it is the first full class of any kind I have taught since I last co-facilitated a class in San Diego nearly two years ago. 

Although I am tired now, I can still feel the sensations of the experience in my body and spirit. I know I want to teach again. I want to continue strengthening my Nia practice as a student and teacher. This practice feeds me, brings me a joy beyond words. 

This language of dance

My breath: ragged. Heart beating quickly. Navigating a new city is a question mark. I try to plan ahead: which lanes turn into right turn only lanes? I ask. My love writes out the route on a piece of lined paper.  As I drive, I realize I can only anticipate so much.

Despite my thoughts, in the midst of my nervous system crying out at the newness of it all, I get there. From the outside, it might even have looked relatively smooth.

I take a deep breath and walk across the parking lot, up the stairs, and I open the door to the yoga studio where the Nia class is held. Breathe. Open. Introduce myself, allow it just to be a simple greeting, allow myself to answer the teacher’s questions.

When I step in, I still feel my system on alert. In time, as I dance, I find my feet and calm my thoughts. I remind myself that while I may have a a future in this city that involves teaching Nia, in this moment, I am mostly here as a student and dancer. I am here with my feet on the ground, and I want to allow myself to be. And in time, I do: finding the rhythm, the movement, my voice.

It’s like finding a piece of home in this city, where the familiar steps of Nia bring me back to myself. I know, even if I feel anxious about putting myself out there, that there is a community waiting for me in the people who speak this language of movement, this language of dance.

Dancer, teacher, energy holder

 

The Nia Technique logo – this necklace was a birthday gift

Another milestone: Last Sunday, I taught at my first Nia dance jam.

The energy at these jams is always high.  Since there are several teachers (6 at this one, including me), there are students from many of the classes, so it’s a greater reflection of the local Nia community.  Although I somtimes attend larger classes, I’m used to my small morning classes, which maybe stretch to 8 people at most.  Larger classes require more body and spatial awareness: how close am I to the person next to me, if I turn or take a step back, how close will I be to them, and will I run into them.  Smaller classes allow more freedom of movement, stretching, taking up space.

Also, each teacher has a different energy and teaching style.  In this case, one teacher is fiery and athletic; another is soft and playful; another is energetic and empathetic, and so on.  We each bring ourselves to the dance floor, and the combination raises the energy of each teacher’s personal style and weaves them together.

When I teach, I have to be aware of the people around me and also give myself permission to take up space.  Put on the headset, use my voice, calm and steady.  Notice if the volume of the microphone on the headset is loud enough in contrast to the music, or if I need to make any adjustments.  Be present, be in the movement, and be with everyone else.

I made a request before the jam: that we, the teachers, connect and set intentions beforehand. We did, and I think that moment helped us move and teach together with more ease.

I was slightly out of breath when it was time for me to teach the cool down songs.  I gradually found my breath, slowed myself down; encouraged everyone to pause, to sense.  The cool down songs in Nia often have more free and softer choreography; there’s an open invitation to rest, to give your body what it needs as the routine winds down.

I had a moment where I made a joke and was able to laugh, where I followed the energy as I led the class from one yoga pose to another. I ended with sending gratitude to the pulse of each person’s heart, to the pulse of community, and to the pulse of life all around us.

I had this great sense of relief and accomplishment after, and a sense of sinking deeper into my Nia teaching practice. I was tired but also high from the energy of dancing in community, and from being an active holder of that energy.