Some of Houston’s most passionate movers and shakers, including belly dancers, Bollywood dancers and Nia lovers, came together on May 20, 2012 to raise funds for a tiny yet vibrant cultural center half a world away.

Part Nia, part belly dance, part Bollywood, the single event was designed to make the world a better place–one child and one dance at a time. All together, four Nia teachers, 30 students, 12 different performers, several generous patrons, and many volunteers and local Nia artists raised more than $2,300 to benefit the Mohanam Cultural Centre in the village of Sanjeevi Nagar in southeast India, nearly 10,000 miles from Houston.

The web of connections bringing Sanjeevi Nagar to the attention of two Houston Nia teachers could form the premise of an adventure travel book, or at the very least, a sister relationship between the two communities. In the web’s center is Nia and the Houston-based Studio NiaMoves, owned by Nia Trainer Helen Terry and Nia Black Belt Teacher Kristie Bryant. Studio NiaMoves sponsored the fundraising event.

Bryant learned of the Mohanam Cultural Centre when she attended a Nia retreat in Auroville, India in 2011. The two-week retreat, called Nia in India, was hosted by Nia Trainers Sabine Zweig and Philippe Beaufour, and by Nia Black Belt Teacher Danielle Woermann. This year, another Houston Black Belt and local belly dancer, Yvonne Myles, attended and learned of the center’s purpose: to preserve the traditional Tamil Nadu Indian cultural heritage through language, art and dance instruction, while inspiring young people to become catalysts for positive change in the world.

“The work of the center and its dedicated staff instantly resonated with me,” said Bryant, who was a co-organizer. “Dance and art are powerful ways to build a strong sense of individual awareness, pride and self-esteem, which become building blocks for well-rounded individuals and healthy communities.”

In Houston, the Nia and belly dance communities often host fundraisers to support worthy causes. “Nia practitioners and belly dancers are as generous as they are passionate,” Myles said. “It simply made sense to connect two areas of my life that bring me such joy–Nia and belly dance–in support of artistic and cultural self-expression for others who long for it. For me, using those modalities to promote something truly worthwhile was the right thing to do, shortly after returning from the meaningful Nia in India experience.”

The web of connections extended well beyond Houston and Sanjeevi Nagar. As a Nia Belly Dance Jam Hafla, the effort inspired contributions from Nia lovers in Scotland, California, Virginia, New York, Minnesota, and of course, Houston. A Nia jam kicked off the evening and culminated in a belly dance and Bollywood performance that brought people to their feet, applauding wildly. Several generous patrons donated goods and services for a charity auction, while a dedicated group of Nia students from a 6:00 a.m. morning series demonstrated their creativity and compassion by donating original artwork for a silent auction.

Nia Black Belts Yvonne Myles, Kristie Bryant and Laura Haley, and Nia Green Belts Isabel Ferry and Karoline Mueller, taught at the Nia jam. Beaufour, co-host of the Nia in India retreat, noted how the success of the event symbolically links India with Nia, as a partner with which to dance through life. “You can imagine how much this fundraiser will help the school and teachers to manage the 60-plus kids on their way to greatness,” he said.

In India, Mohanam Center team member Balu Ponnusamy expressed gratitude for the gathering, saying “We deeply thank all the people following different paths who are coming together in a spirit of unity to benefit our center."

According to Myles, event co-organizer, the fundraiser was a huge success. “We raised nearly twice what we had hoped for,” she said. “We owe so much to the generosity of the contributors, performers and volunteers. We couldn’t have done it without them. It was such a fun and rewarding experience, there’s a good chance we’ll do it again next year!”

For more photos, visit the Studio NiaMoves Facebook page.

About Studio NiaMoves

Studio NiaMoves offers a diverse mix of class offerings promoting health and wellness, including Nia, belly dance, Bollywood Shake, Zumba, hoop, yoga, Pilates, Feldendkrais, meditation and other health and healing related options.

About Mohanam Cultural Centre

The Mohanam Cultural Centre is a project supported by Auroville International USA, a 501c3 organization.

About Auroville

Auroville is an international township endorsed by UNESCO and dedicated to promoting unity, peace and diversity. In 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1983, the General Assembly of UNESCO unanimously passed resolutions of support to Auroville, inviting "member states and international non-governmental organizations to participate in the development of Auroville as an international cultural township designed to bring together the values of different cultures and civilizations in a harmonious environment with integrated living standards which correspond to man's physical and spiritual needs."