Tag Archives: Free

Why Work when You can Play?

PlayWhen I started teaching Nia in 2003 there were some who would take class (or part of class) and leave. Every now and then they would tell me why: they “felt stupid”.

At first I responded to this comment with deep discomfort. I’m pretty sure there was quite a bit of blushing involved. Once I got past that (a moment of two) I began to notice how the message was delivered. Once or twice it was thrown over a shoulder as someone was leaving. It would be spoken with eyes down and head down and maybe an uncomfortable laugh as the messenger was moving in the opposite direction as me. The most interesting was when the message was delivered in a head-on confrontational way. When a student would look me in the eye, square off and spit the words. For whatever reason it was that delivery that was the easiest for me to manage. I always wanted to ask them why, but after asking once I discovered that my concern is not appreciated one bit!

 I think about what “appropriate behavior” means.

I observed my kids, who were 13 and 9, as I went through the process of learning to teach Nia and then teaching regular Nia classes. There was quite a bit of snickering. That passed. I can only guess that they figured out that Nia was going to be around for awhile and that I was very happy teaching Nia. At 22 my son tells me that while he appreciates the work I’m doing he just doesn’t gravitate toward moving that way. My daughter at 18 prefers the structure of a ballet class, though now and then will take a walk on the wild side and come to class or a Nia event. Free dance is not a favorite.

I often consider the demographics for my classes, labs and workshops. Who are the people I will or want to be teaching/sharing/guiding?

Then I think about if what I’m doing is group appropriate. Is it hard enough? Is it accessible? Is it interesting? Will it connect with them so that they can get the full benefit? How about the music? Am I keeping it fresh? Is it fun?

Carlos AyaRosas (who co-created Nia with Debbie Rosas Stewart) referred to play quite a bit. The routines he designed and much of the music he chose had some element of play or playfulness.

Are we playing?

Are we too dignified to play?

What will happen if someone sees us? Sees us doing something outside of our carefully prescribed “adult” play?

Like actually playing… with no children present… doing something that isn’t painful or competitive…

Is play supposed to be painful? Do kids look like they’re in pain when they’re playing?

If organized sports comes to mind, often it is us, parents or the adults that insist they “suck it up”, “man up”, and tell them “no pain no gain”. Children don’t choose to invite and endure pain in play. (Yes, I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it until it changes.) Somewhere along the way, “winning” and “success” got wound up in all sorts of pain.  Even our attempts at fitness, health and wellness are resulting in chronically painful, damaged and even broken bodies.

Hopping off the soapbox (for now)

Play is Play. It’s a place where we don’t mark time. A place in which we don’t need a reason for being there in the first place. And we do it because it genuinely feels good. When we’re finished, we feel energized. We’re not over-wound, nor are we so exhausted that we need to go right to bed. Our spirits are high and light and we can hardly wait to play again.


why work out when you can play?!

Fearing Ourselves

When was the last time you laughed so hard milk came out of your noseFree dance is in my thoughts often these days – more often then in previous periods.


During one of the Nia intensives I participated in I overheard another quip, “Free dance is not free!”

According to Dictionary.com, “free” is defined as the following:

Adjective: Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

adjective.  loose – open – gratuitous – vacant – independent
adverb.  gratis – freely – for nothing – loosely – free of charge
verb.  release – liberate – deliver – set free – rid – disengage
(verb used with object)
to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize: to improvise an acceptance speech.
to compose, play, recite, or sing (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment.

to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available: We improvised a dinner from yesterday’s leftovers.
Don’t we all want to be free?
Don’t we all want the space – emotional as well as physical – to do as we choose?
Do we, after all?

What are the obstacles that stand in my way to knowing myself? In my world, to know my Dance is to know myself. When I dance, I dance as no one else.

My Dance doesn’t often (perhaps never does it) resemble that of another. Why should it? I am not another. My path has been the one I took and it is the one only I continue to take.

Should all of our faces be the same?

Should we all be the same sex?

(This would certainly make for a stimulating conversation if nothing else!)

Should we all favor the same color?

Should our voices sound the same?

Should we all have the same gift?

Should we all have the same illnesses, accidents and die the same way?

My Dance is my Voice. I may or may not tell you who I am but when I Dance you will know it is me. My entire life up to this moment is my Dance. It is my expression and nothing feels as good. I am at home when I dance my Dance.  I am safe because it is truth. Even when I don’t know what to do, I’m safe as that is also truth.

No standards.

No one else can possibly tell me how to do my Dance anymore than they might tell me what I’m thinking or what to think. And no matter whose dance I do, it will always only be a copy; like speaking someone else’s words or wearing someone else’s skin. I will only be a copy. A copy without my truth or the truth of the other – a copy is not truth.

Free? Safe? Honest? Authentic? or Fear?

Love and Be Loved.

Where did my Dance go?

Where is my dance? Where is my Dance? Where is MY dance?

Before I formally stepped onto the Nia path I danced for myself. It kept me sane-ish and my body from becoming totally mutinous as I taught fitness forms that were unsatisfying, uninteresting, inorganic and downright dangerous. Some of my dance came from shapes my body had been willing to receive from outside sources. Some of it came from my imagination. Most of it came from my heart and my body’s unceasing desire to express what I could not express anywhere else.

Two or three years ago I noticed that when I brought free dance into my Nia classes I felt restless; searching and frustrated. It was unsatisfying, dry, contrived, and separate – as though I was pulling away from myself in these moments. I’m still in this place to some degree but I’m beginning to understand how to move through it.

I sense, deeply, the importance of moving in a way that has not been structured, designed and fed to me by anyone else. The importance of movement that has not been processed through someone else’s body before I get it (think baby bird). As far as movement is concerned, we are never baby birds. We danced in utero and unless restrained, we continue to move organically has we continue the functions of life.

School constrains the dance. Adults constrain our natural dance with the premise that it distracts from learning the “important” things. We are taught to go against our nature. There are no options here. Our joy has squashed, our spirits broken and our bodies battered in order to make us “productive adults”. “Productive” for what? To continue the cruelty? To produce more “productive adults” who will tell me “my parents spanked me”, “our teachers hit us” – “and I turned out just fine” in defense of physical violence as a method to regulate and control behavior in children. It is not our children who need more “discipline” – it is us, the adults who need to become more present to our parenting. Spanking is easy – punishment is easy – growing loving, responsible, sensitive, strong, courageous adults who take responsibility for their behavior and understand their emotions and who they are – time consuming, energy consuming conscious work.

I’ve been teaching Nia since 2003 and feedback on free dance has been intermittent. There are some who perceive Nia as nothing but free dance. Generally my experience has been that those people may “try” a class long enough to – maybe – to get through song 1 before proclaiming that Nia is not for them and exit, never to return. The truth of the matter is that they have not experienced Nia at all and their decision is not based on accurate information. However, it is the best they can do in that moment. That is all I can ask.

I bring free dance into my classes every class these days. That wasn’t always the case. Since there are some routines that have no free dance designed into them there would be periods where there was little, if any free dance. After I learned and embodied those routines, I added free dance in.

Currently I’m getting a fair amount of regular feedback on free dance. While I rarely use the word in class, I purposefully include windows for free dance in almost every song in most classes. The exception is for a group who is new to Nia. The free dance is there, but it is my intention to offer it in a more subtle way so that the group has a foundation – an understanding of what they are doing and what to expect. An invitation to trust – me, but more essential – themselves. Then I throw them off the cliff!! I’m really kidding here, though I have students who readily throw themselves off every single class.

For a country constantly touting freedom, what we’re creating is conformity at the expense of health, wellness and happiness. Terror at the very idea of moving in a direction that has not been pre-determined and sanctioned. Paralysis at the very consideration that we do something that strays from the herd.

I witness students, from time to time, standing stock still, brow furrowed as the rest of the class is moving in some semblance of “their” way. As a teacher and human being, I give my students permission to be in the place of not-knowing-what-to-do and – doing-nothing. It’s part of the process.

To know, we have to first know that we don’t know.

To know who we are, we first have to know that we don’t know who we are. To know how to move in our design, we have to first know that we don’t know what that design is. Not knowing leaves us open to discovery. To think we know how things work, how to do this or that – is to close the mind to fluidly learning the new, the authentic.

Where’s my Dance? Mired in what I know. Wedged into obligation. Bound in habit. Constrained by fear of failure. The irony, is that in order not to fail, I have to slip, push pull, tear and release the layers that exist between where I am in this moment so that I may return to my dance. I alone stand in the way.