Alternative Sante - Now I Am: Je Danse Le Nia
By Laurence Pinsard | Alternative Sante :: November, 2009
"For me, Nia is about reconnecting to the intrinsic pleasure of dancing, and feeling free, sharing, without judgment. Letting go and improvising, challenging myself, without being afraid to allow others to see me. I can let go but I can also soothe myself and even meditate."
Sophie S., Nia Student
Read the translated version of this article in English below:
A new technique, taught in over thirty-eight countries, Nia combines dance, martial arts and body awareness. Fun and joyful, this discipline releases physical tension and stress.
Now I am: I dance Nia
At first glance one could think that Nia is just a new form of Modern Jazz. But this eclectic technique brings together nine different movement forms, taking the essence from each. In Nia one discovers moves from Tae Kwon Do, Aikido and T’ai-Chi-Chuan, aspects of Jazz, Modern Dance and Free Dance, as well as influences from Yoga, Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique.
For adepts of this delicious combination of martial arts, dance and body awareness is so pleasurable that it becomes a way of life. Three letters, Nia, for Now I Am, I exist, here in this moment, in the joy of the dance. “Nia, it’s the joy of movement. It gives me a dynamic energy that is in my life every day. When I leave class I am in tremendous form,” enthuses Carla T., who has been dancing Nia for two years.
Choreographed as well as very free
Barefoot, the class begins by warming up, increases intensity and then cools down with gentle stretches. The music is very varied and reflects these stages. The technique comprises fifty-two different movements, combined in an infinite variation throughout the class. “There is a structure, a connecting thread, with very simple steps and gestures for the student. Within this framework each person is invited to choose their own movements,” explains Regine Petit, the teacher who first popularized Nia in France. “One has a huge amount of freedom for personal expression, while still following the rhythm of the music and being a part of the group.” Because improvised movements are a part of the choreography, they arise completely naturally. Each person moves in their own way, as they choose, the important thing is to find pleasure and to listen to your own body. Unlike other dance forms, where there is a tendency to compare oneself to others and to perform, Nia is free from all judgment of the self or others. “One feels completely free to move as one wishes, and this is what gives such power to this dance,” says one of Regine’s students. “This freedom brings joy and surprises. Each class is a journey of discovery, in dance and self knowledge.” This freedom and spontaneity comes essentially from the dance of Isadora Duncan. Modern Dance offers the opportunity to explore movement, making different shapes in space and offering changes in dynamic intensity. It’s a dance that develops introspection and imagination. Jazz, the dance of showmanship, demonstrates the sparkling side of Nia. “For me, Nia is about reconnecting to the intrinsic pleasure of dancing, and feeling free, sharing, without judgment. Letting go and improvising, challenging myself, without being afraid to allow others to see me. I can let go but I can also soothe myself and even meditate,” reveals Sophie S., a Nia dancer.
The power to make sound
One of the surprises in Nia is the use of the voice. In order to let go of negative energy, one shouts, “no,” while punching or kicking. One recharges the positive by shouting, “yes,” or making vowel sounds, “ah, ah, oh!” One can also meow like a cat while clawing the air. “Sound combined with movement frees the breath. The use of vowels and onomatopoeia allows one to let go and express. We dare to say “no” and “stop”, but we also dare to say “yes”, “yes to life” and this allows us to affirm ourselves,” explains Regine Petit. Many of the movements that are accompanied by sound come from the world of martial Arts, most notably Tae Kwan Do, which is well know for developing strength and power. Series of kicks and punches satisfy a need to release pent up emotions, to let go of aggression in a healthy and safe atmosphere. “The Martial Arts ground us. They teach us to draw from our inner resources to find power,” explains Philippe Beaufour, who teaches Nia with his partner Sabine at Auroville, in India. T’ai-Chi-Chuan, with it’s slow fluid movements, allows one to work with energy and grounding, while Aikido is distinguished by movements that are graceful but no less powerful. The three techniques of body awareness develop attention to posture and teach one to sense correct alignment. “Yoga, an ancient Indian discipline, is well known for cultivating breath, alignment, posture and grounding. Feldenkrais and Alexander technique develop awareness of correct body mechanics, to avoid injuries and find more pleasure in one’s body,” explains Regine Petit.
The interesting thing about Nia is that everybody can do it, 7 or 77 year olds, no matter their degree of fitness. Each person is free to increase or decrease the tempo or level of intensity, the scale of their movements and gestures, by following their intuition, inspiration and by listening to their own body. Each person participates in the class according to their own rhythm and mood in the moment; the important thing is to find pleasure, pleasure and yet more pleasure. Because the objective of Nia is to let go of physical tension and stress, to build confidence and self-esteem and to connect to the happiness of life through the joy of dancing.
Nia, from its origins to today
Nia was created in California, in the United States, during the 80’s, a time when the New Age movement was at it’s height and Aerobics reigned. Debbie and Carlos Rosas, fitness professionals, were trying to develop a technique that provided physical conditioning as well as taking care of the body, spirit and emotions. Martial Arts amateurs, they had the idea of combining three Martial Arts, three Dance Arts and three Body Awareness techniques. Today, Debbie and Carlos Rosas continue to develop Nia. Apart from the “Classic Nia” classes they have recently developed classes that combine Nia and Meditation, as well as Nia and Voice. Teacher training is available in France (at the beginners level) and in California. The stages of teacher training are represented by five different color belts, from white belt to black belt, as in martial arts.