Confessions of a 32 year old dance student

Dance clubs are interesting places, kind of like high school. There are those muscley jock types, the hip and trendy, the beautiful, the not so…

Dance clubs are interesting places, kind of like high school.

There are those muscley jock types, the hip and trendy, the beautiful, the not so beautiful and that guy.

You know … that guy.

He’s that gawky dude who can’t hear the beat, flails his arms around like a wounded John Travolta, shuffles his legs likes he’s gotta pee and is usually way off in the corner by himself.

I’m that guy.

At least, I’ve always felt that way at dance clubs — and weddings, parties, bars and just about anywhere where bopping to a beat is required.

I’m either moving apologetically or I’m the perpetual wallflower.

I guess that’s why I was willing to check out Nia.

Ever heard of it?

I hadn’t either.

But, after listening to local Nia teacher Susie Anne Bartsch talk about it, I felt something strangely foreign — the willingness to dance.

I was willing to take part in neuromuscular integrative action, or Nia.

Basically, as Bartsch put it, it’s a combination of techniques that help people learn dance in classes that are about 45 minutes long, are pretty forgiving in structure and are designed to be fun.

It’s is about connecting yourself to the earth, the sky and the world around you, she said.

“Some people want to dance but they don’t want to be in a disciplined, structured dance form where people are worried about technique.

“This isn’t about technique, this is about moving your body.”

So far so good.

It was a good explanation, but I decided to put it to the ultimate test — I Googled it, and found the Nia International Inc. website.

It seems two Californians, Debbie and Carlos Rosas, developed Nia in the early ‘80s by combining martial and healing arts with dance to form something that kind of looks like Bruce Lee meets Gandhi.

The pair created Nia by developing 52 basic moves drawn from T’ai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Jazz, Duncan and Modern Dance, the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais, Yoga and the Alexander Technique.

The moves involve a variety of speeds, style, ranges of motion and are done in bare feet.

Apparently, a lot of people like it.

It’s spread to 32 countries, has 1,500 certified instructors and is used in fitness clubs, college dance and theatre departments, drug and alcohol rehab centres, and spas.

So, after taking Nia 101 via the web, I went to Shanti Yoga, where Nia is currently offered, dawned my Salvation Army sweats, took off my socks and got ready to get down.

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous.

I had visions of a Grade 8 dance gone wrong with all the other kids surrounding me in a circle, pointing their fingers at me and calling me chicken man.

That didn’t happen.

What I found at the introductory class was a room full of people, including Bartsch, her partner Morris Lamrock, Shanti owner and Nia instructor Juliette Anglehart, and veteran Nia student Tanya Van Balkenburg.

Lamrock’s green moose-patterned pants made him easy to approach, because it didn’t really look like dancing is his thing either.

As it turns out, it isn’t.

“I heard from others that someone who doesn’t have a lot of co-ordination, like myself, can come and not feel totally self-conscious and embarrassed,” he said. “It sounded like a welcoming environment.

“I’ve never had any formal instruction — ever. I like to throw myself around and people call it Morris dancing.”

So, I stuck next to him in the hopes of looking good.

An intention I held until speaking with Van Balkenburg who assured me she had felt the same way before starting Nia a little over two years ago.

“I was terrified of dance. I mean, I’ve always had good rhythm, but my whole upper body was completely motionless when I danced.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

That changed. And it changed by letting go of expectations in a “pressure-less” environment where no one really expects anything of you, she said.

That change was easy to spot once the class started. Van Balkenburg had moves.

We all did.

In 45 minutes, Bartsch and Anglehart had us moving with purpose.

We got a base of standard arm, leg and body movements and were encouraged to toss in our own spice.

And we did.

I saw my arms and legs moving in the mirror, next to the graceful moose-clad limbs of Lamrock, who was doing his own thing.

I was Nia-ing, and it was cool.

After class everyone talked about what they did and how they felt.

There were encouraging words, invitations and registration information for free Nia classes at the Canada Games Centre this Saturday and next week, and answers to some pretty enthusiastic questions.

I’m not sure, but I may just Nia again.

It’s a lot different than nightclubs and high school sock hops.

In fact, it’s a relatively painless way for a rhythmically challenged wallflower to stop lurking in the shadows and start leaving some marks on the dance floor.

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