Nia Testimonial: Shelley Angélil, Nia Teacher

Nia Testimonial: Shelley Angélil, Nia Teacher

M.Ed
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

About me:

Nia has ushered in big changes in my life. I have gone from being an unhappy gym bunny to a joyful dancer, from being an English teacher trainer and textbook writer to a passionate Nia teacher.

Why do you practice and/or teach Nia?

The further I go in my training, the more my respect for Nia as a body-mind-emotions-spirit discipline deepens. There is nothing else that so fully nurtures all-round well-being and health. It feeds my brain, muscles, joints, heart, lungs, bones, emotions and spirit. Being a Nia student and teacher is an endless journey of discovery, full of rich learning and much healing.

Where and with whom do you take Nia classes and/or trainings?

I dance with Kathy Wolstenholme in Cape Town and have trained with Kathy, with Ann Christiansen in Hamburg and with Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas in Portland at StudioNia.

What is one thing most people don't know about Nia?

Nia is a patient teacher of how to be in the world.

What tip can you give someone who is considering trying Nia for the first time?

Nothing matters except finding joy in moving your body in its own way.

What have you felt and learned through doing Nia in nature?

A few years ago, I looked out into my garden and thought, “I could do Nia in this garden.” I had a storm of whispering fears in my head that went something like this: “Dance in your garden? Who would come? What about the weather? What about furrows on the lawn where the border collies run? What about the neighbors? The dogs? What would you use for sound?”

In (southern hemisphere) spring last year, soon after I returned from the Black Belt Training in Portland, I skyped my Swiss friend, Alexandra Kunz, who has been my close companion through several training belts, and told her that I was thinking of doing Nia in my garden. Alexandra, who had just opened her own beautiful studio, knows about jumping into the river of the unknown (a teaching of the Black Belt) and she said, “Just do it!” So I did. And doing Nia in my garden, once a month through our long summer, has been a very beautiful, rich experience, with much learning for me.

So what has been so beautiful about it? Well, I have become totally captivated by my garden, sensing it differently, as I see it through others’ eyes, and as I dance in it and on it and with it. How caring the wind feels on my skin, how lovely to be soothed by the soft, ever-moving green of all the trees. How gorgeous to feel the gentle setting sun on my face, to see it light up the faces of others. How wonderful to place my feet on the earth, to feel the soft prickliness of the grass, to touch the palms of my hands onto the earth. Principle 5 of the White Belt, Awareness, has come alive for me in a new way! The triad from this principle, Dancing through Life, Living Meditation, Life as Art – has come together in a space of acute awareness through the senses. I have come to love my palm tree (which I had been begging my husband to cut down!).

I had never noticed, until I lay in silence with others in a circle at the end of the class, cuddled in my blanket, watching the clouds moving across the sky, that the leaves of that palm tree have a lot to say, and that their murmur is soft and soothing. I had never noticed how tall and strong it is, how majestic and powerful, until I stood beneath it, arms outstretched towards its faraway fronds, palms up, looking at its magnificent height. I have now adorned my palm tree with sparkly little solar lights to atone for my wanting its demise! And then to heal my body by rolling like a child on the grass, to look up at the racing clouds in the fading light, to finish in a silent circle with senses heightened, listening to the birds in the trees settling in for the night, watching a hurrying hadeda ibis soar across the sky – pure, quiet bliss.

And what am I learning? That leaping into the river is easier than I think, that dreams do not become reality until you just do it – it’s the leap that matters. I am learning to do battle with my perfectionist drama, as I fuss about flowers and fruit and iced water. At the same time I am seeing "Life as Art" on my patio and in my garden, and realizing that nature is perfect and there is not much that I have to do. I am learning (over and over) to trust the practice of Nia, and know that it will work its magic on those who need it, in spite of me, and with me. This poem, written by Nia student and soon-to-be White Belt Gabby van Heerden (thank you Gabby!) after an experience of Nia in nature, captures the experience beautifully:

"I danced in the garden with my fingers entwined in the sky and my feet rooted in the grass my body moving with the pulse of the earth my spirit flying with the subtle wind that moved my hair and heart each foot perfectly placed in the journey of the dance grounded yet free earth connected to heaven body connected to sensation I am more me when I place my feet so and as my fingertips touch the sky so does the dance touch my heart Find a way, as you dance, indoors or out, through life or in a Nia class, to 'move with the pulse of the earth,' to be 'more you,' placing your feet 'just so.' Allow your dance to be 'grounded yet free, body connected to sensation.' Let your spirit fly with the subtle wind, and the dance will touch your heart.

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