Nia is a fusion of dance, martial arts, and mindfulness practices. I've had the great pleasure of practicing it for almost 20 years.
Yesterday's celebration was live-streamed from the Nia HQ located in downtown Portland, Oregon. It was incredible to get to honor this space with one final dance class and also to feel what it's meant to so many people.
It was more than just a beautiful space to dance with bright shining wooden floors and big windows, it was where so many of us learned how to trust our bodies, ourselves, and our ability to find the rhythm inside of our hearts and souls.
My journey with Nia has been a long and meaningful one.
I started taking classes while in college in Boulder, Colorado in the early 2000s.
Since then, I’ve taken Nia classes in every city or town I've ever lived in: in my hometown of Durango, Colorado; in many different studios in the San Francisco Bay area; on visits to Santa Fe, New Mexico; in New York City; in Portland, Oregon; in Naples, Florida; and now in Athens, Georgia via Zoom.
And when I really feel into it, Nia has played a massive role in my life.
Taking Nia classes gave me a place to let go of all the thinking, to just flow with the music.
To reconnect with my inner 5-year-old who absolutely loved to dance with her reflection in the mirror.
To remember that I have a strong, intuitive, joyful body and that living from the neck-up ain't no living at all.
It was after a Nia class in 2013 in the Manhattan Jewish Community Center locker room that a woman first told me about Mama Gena and a free weekend workshop she was hosting. Without this interaction, I’m not sure if I ever would’ve come across Mama Gena's work. That one conversation changed the trajectory of my life forever.
That first Mama Gena workshop led to me becoming a student in Mama Gena‘s Mastery class in 2014. During Mastery, Debbie Rosas, the Founder of Nia (and Mastery graduate herself!) was one of our guest speakers.
After Debbie's presentation, she handed out little postcards to all 300 of us with details about how to enter to win a free, week-long, Nia belt training at the Nia HQ in Portland. I was excited to enter the raffle but wasn't sure I'd be eligible to win since I had already earned my White Belt in Nia a few years before.
While I was a Mastery student, I was working for a human rights nonprofit and starting to realize how burned out I really was.
I had spent the last 13 years working or volunteering for social justice nonprofits pouring my energy into fighting against the dynamics I was trying to stop. Fighting against sexual assault, domestic violence, warehousing prison inmates, homelessness, joblessness, and human rights abuses.
I had spent so much time fighting against what I hated, I hadn't spent much time or energy fighting for what I loved or what brought me joy.
On May 1, 2014, I received an email from Debbie congratulating me for winning the raffle for the free belt training at the Nia HQ. I remember re-reading the email probably 30 times that day. In the back of my head I worried that it was “too good to be true.“
I wondered if maybe I wasn’t eligible because I already had my white belt in Nia and I emailed back to ask. Debbie responded in a warm and friendly email saying I could take the Blue Belt (the next training level) with my winning ticket.
All I had to do was get to Portland.
I was completely blow away by the serendipity! I’d been curious about Portland for many years.
I flew to Portland in two months later.
From the moment I got off the plane and smelled the fresh Pacific Northwest air and saw the lush greenery of trees and plants all around me, I had this feeling in my body that I needed to move to Portland.
I got so much out of my Nia Blue belt training that week, and it was such an incredible treat to dance in the Nia HQ on the same floor that so many of the teachers that I'd respected and admired completed their belt trainings and created the choreography to my favorite routines.
It was that week that I knew my feeling after my plane from NYC had landed in Portland was more than just a hunch: it was my next step.
I got back to New York City and within a week, I gave notice at my job and told my Brooklyn roommate that I’d be leaving.
It was finally time to create a life where I was fighting for joy, beauty, playfulness, and fun.
I wanted to work with flowers again, and I ended up finding a job in a small and loving little retail shop on Craigslist.
I found a place to live just 550 feet away and around the corner from the Nia HQ. The apartment building was called The Arthur and I loved it because my late Grandpa‘s name was Arthur. A promising sign!
I signed the lease sight-unseen and I began planning my move to Portland.
My mom drove with me from Colorado to Portland to make the big move. I’ll never forget the look on her face when it was time for her to leave.
I think she was gobsmacked that I had left my well-paying New York City nonprofit job to work a retail job in a city I’d only visited for a week while I was still paying back my student loans for a Masters degree in Nonprofit Administration.
I couldn’t explain the feeling I had in my gut about the rightness of this decision and for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t even try.
“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it's a cha-cha.”
― Robert Brault
My time in Portland was so fulfilling.
I filled it with dance classes at the Nia headquarters and flowers and wonderful people.
My first year there, I juggled a few different part-time jobs.
One day I remember checking my bank account and realizing I had all of 19 cents in my checking and savings combined. I was poor but happy, following only the breadcrumbs of what lit ME up. I no longer felt like I had to blow off steam after a long work day because I'd earned it, I felt genuinely happy while at work!
I held a few different jobs during my Portland years, and I'm so grateful to all of the wonderful friends and coworkers that I met when I lived there.
A few years later, I left Portland to head back to New York City after accepting a job offer from Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts. Yes, that same one where I had once been a workshop participant and then a Mastery student with the far-fetched dream of someday joining their staff.
None of it would've happened without Nia.
Nia has taught me to find joy, delight, and magic in different cities and towns both on and off the dance floor.
Nia has taught me to trust myself and my intuition.
Nia has give me so many beautiful connections to friends from all around the globe.
Nia reminds me again and again what’s possible when I get out of my head and back into my body.
I am deeply grateful to Debbie and Carlos Rosas for creating Nia 37+ years ago and for all of the amazing Nia teachers I have had the joy and pleasure of dancing with in the last 20 years.
Seeing all of the smiling faces of teachers and students that I've danced with on Zoom yesterday reminded me of the unexpected gift of connection across distance that the quarantine has sparked.
660 people could've never been part of a final dance class and ceremony in that studio together.
What a gift to get to be there.
What practices have played a big role throughout many seasons of your life? How do you stay connected with them today? I'd love to hear about yours (share in the comments below).
Photo taken at the Nia HQ by Sandra Caldwell, September 2017.