The following interview features Allison Rivers Samson, who is a Brown Belt certified Nia teacher and the creator of Allison's Gourmet.

What is your background?

I live with my husband, David, who recently earned his Nia Blue Belt, and our vibrant, nearly 6-year-old daughter, Olivia, in northern California, where I dance, garden and play in the kitchen while concocting new, delectable goodies.

In 1997, I was awakened to the myriad of benefits of veganism, including optimized health, compassion for others, and care for our precious planet. This inspired me to create my award-winning company, Allison's Gourmet, the first-ever vegan sweets boutique online.

Since 2008 I've authored a much-loved food column, “Veganize It!” in VegNews Magazine. I delight in creating great food and sharing it with others, either directly through my vegan sweets business or indirectly through my recipes. Comfort foods touch a deep place of joy and fulfillment within all of us, and by creating healthier, animal-friendly versions of classics like Mac 'n' Cheese and (Save the) Tuna Salad, I am able to share my reverence for great food, excellent health and the animals, all at the same time. In 2011 "Veganize It!" won “Favorite Column” for 2011 in the popular Veggie Awards. (My business and I are also nominated in the 2012 Veggie Awards, which are open for voting right now through August 31!) My goal at Allison's Gourmet is to create food that even omnivores will enjoy as the best they can find, and to show that deprivation need not exist in the vegan dictionary.

How and when did you first try Nia?

I began dancing at five years old and continued until I was 15. When I moved with my mom from Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle, I went into a depression and gave up dancing. A few years later, I started taking yoga classes and continued in that practice for another 15 years or so. After my daughter, Olivia, was born in 2006, I found myself needing deeper physical activity and a broader outlet for self-expression. I remembered hearing about an interesting class called "Nia" some years prior and decided to give it a try. From my very first class, I felt a spark of aliveness that reminded me of when I first discovered veganism. It was as though my whole life had been waiting for this moment for me to be reborn. I am now thrilled to be part of a vibrant community of Nia dancers, as one of two regular teachers offering ongoing Nia four days per week or more.

Where do you live? Who is your Nia teacher(s) and/or trainer(s)?

I live in the small town of Nevada City, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and dance at Core Movement Center, both as a teacher and as a student. Our Nia studio was founded by the amazing goddess of all things energy, Linda Burquez (Black Belt), who has since moved from our area and sold the studio.

As a student at Core, I take classes from the deeply dedicated Aimee Retzler (Blue Belt) and our White Belt trainer is the fabulously slinky France-Laude Gohard. My trainer for Green Belt was Carlos Rosas, for Blue Belt was Helen Terry and Debbie Rosas, and for Brown Belt was with Ann Christiansen and Debbie Rosas. After Brown Belt, I noticed that the internationality of Nia shows through the various accents of each of my trainers!

Why did you decide to take Nia trainings–as opposed to sticking with classes?

I had been practicing Nia for about six months when my husband started coming to class with me. One day, after class, he remarked that he noticed that I was more myself when I was dancing Nia than I was doing anything else. And he was right! Nia brings out my authentic self and inner joy. From the beginning of my Nia rebirth, I knew that I wanted to follow that joy as far as I could, and the belt intensive trainings seemed to lead the way down the path.

The White Belt surprised me; I had no idea the foundation of Nia was so rich. Each consecutive belt has impressed me even further; I am truly in awe of the depth of Nia and of how well this profundity is communicated and artfully presented. I never expected, when I stepped into that first Nia class, that there was so much below the surface. I also didn't expect how much this journey would metamorphose my life. Through teaching Nia, I have gained great confidence in teaching cooking classes, which I hadn't done very much before. I find it an easy and natural expression of my joy for life and for vegan food.

Describe your recent experience taking the Nia Brown Belt Training.

I met Brown Belt with eyes wide open, receiving, utterly astonished and heartily grateful for the keys that grant access to the next level of my transformation. Being better with food than I am with words, let's go with an analogy here: for me, taking Brown Belt was like swimming in a great pool of warm, liquid chocolate and recognizing that each molecule of that silky brown sensuality is at once myself and all others. We truly are connected–through dancing and chocolate!

What is one tip you'd give to someone who's trying Nia for the first time?

Above all, have fun! Most newcomers seem concerned about being able to follow along and keep up with the steps. I like to encourage first-timers to trust that they'll get it and to open to the pleasure and joy that movement provides by letting go of getting it "right."

Anything you'd like to add?

When I choose potent authenticity in food and in movement, I feel gratified. With the scrumptious triad of Nia and vegan sweets and comfort food, I get to have parties in my heart, body and soul. Here's to living in the joy of delectable chocolate and empowered self-expression!