I have always considered myself a tough guy, but I recently started Nia - and in the few short months that I’ve been dancing regularly, I’ve learned something new about being tough.

You’re probably asking yourself: “How does dancing make you tough? Dancing is all about being soft, gentle and flowing.” While I have spent my entire life being able to throw killer punches, lift heavy weights and hold my own at the bar, I’ve never been tough enough to face up to my gentle side. Nia has sparked a transformation within me that, through the discovery of my soft side, is making me a tougher tough guy than ever before.

I can rock a punch bag – I hit so hard I make the roof beams shudder. Okay, so I only make the roof beams shudder when I actually land a punch on the bag. Yes, for years my aim was best described as pathetic due to almost non-existent hand-eye coordination.

When I started Nia I always found the concept of following your hand with your eyes a little namby-pamby. However, once I got over my own issues and started following my hands I realised something: I was training my mind to be completely aware of what my hands are doing, even when I’m not watching them. The transformation in my bag training was almost immediate: I started landing punches on target, and now I can even hit the target without even looking at the bag.

Similarly, I kick with a lot of force. The only problem is that whenever I kicked high, I would fall over backwards. The overall effect was rather amusing to everyone except me. I’ve always blamed bad balance, but after starting Nia I’ve realised I keep falling because I’ve been totally unaware of my connection with the ground beneath my feet. Since I’ve started dancing barefoot, I’ve become more conscious of the surfaces I stand on, and the traction that exists between those surfaces and my feet. By shifting my body weight, adjusting my stance or dropping my centre of gravity, I am learning how to alter these forces – and by being able to do this I’m kicking harder than before and I’m staying on my feet.

Another aspect where Nia has made me stronger is with my core strength. I had never been able to figure out my core strength: mine would only engage when faced with high-stress “fight-or-flight” situations. Through regular dancing I have developed the ability to zone in and engage core muscles at will. I’ve been experimenting with this and by using my core while training, I am able to generate a lot more force when pushing, pulling, lifting, punching and kicking. By discovering my core and finally figuring out how to engage it, I have more power and control than ever before.

The most important transformation in my life, however, has not been the ability to punch and kick harder. It’s not the ability to land those punches and kicks accurately, or discovering the true potential of my core. Most important for me is the realisation that none of these things actually make me tough.

Strong shoulders, powerful arms, quick legs, hard knuckles and a thick skin: I’ve developed these abilities over the years not because I am tough, but rather because I’ve always been afraid. I’ve been scared of showing love and being loved in return, just in case I got hurt. So I became a tough guy. You can’t get too close to a tough guy, and if you can’t get close, you can’t hurt them. Nia has been teaching me how to strip away the tough guy veneer by facing my true fears: exposing the beauty of my soul; dancing with my wife; and telling my children honestly how much I love them. I’ve stopped hiding away from my fears – it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. Through that experience I’ve discovered that the toughest part of me is my ability to love unconditionally and accept love in return, without being afraid of getting hurt.