What to Expect in a Nia Class…Music, Movement, and Magic

Nia classes are done barefooted. That’s the first thing you’ll notice. Class begins with a focus or intention which could be anything ranging from the placement of the feet to sensing Universal Joy in your body when you move. Next, we step into class and the space we’ve created together, a space to seek pleasure and expression through movement. We breathe and fully inhabit our bodies as much as is possible, letting our minds explore, our emotions play and groan, and our spirit…well, dance.

Nia is an integrative practice that doesn’t just make you sweat and work your body in ways it doesn’t experience in other exercise regimens, it challenges every bit of you according to the level of dynamic ease that best suits your body and what it needs.

The MUSIC comes from every corner of the world, and often from independent artists that may be new to you. The music itself is an uplifting and energizing celebration of various cultures. When the movements begin, the variety of steps and stances, arm motions, and use of the natural body weights of the pelvis, chest, and head challenge the students to find their own freedom of expression within the form that is offered.

Nia draws from 9 different MOVEMENT forms to create a balance of linear and circular movements that use masculine and feminine energies. Wisdom and practices are taken from each of these forms to create an integrated neuromuscular fitness program called Nia.

The Dance Arts

  • Jazz Dance: The Dance of Fun, Showmanship, and Expression
  • Modern Dance: The Dance of Creating Shapes in Space
  • Isadora Duncan Dance: The Dance of Free-Spirited, Honest Movement

The Martial Arts

  • T’ai Chi: The Slow Dance
  • Tae Kwon Do: The Dance of Precision
  • Aikido: The Dance of Harmonious Spherical Motion

The Healing Arts

  • Teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais: The Dance of Conscious Awareness of Sensation
  • Alexander Technique: The Dance of Movement from the Top
  • Yoga: The Dance of Conscious Alignment of Bones and Joints

Previous training in any of the above isn’t necessary because the choreography of Nia is crafted to weave the movement forms together seamlessly in a dance that can be modified to any fitness level. Whether you run marathons or you’re limited in your motion, you can work at the level that works best for you.

Your dance is your dance, and you’re free to move in your own Body’s Way. Everyone is welcome.

You may sing in a Nia class or make whatever noises you like. “Ha!” “Ooooh.” “Grrr.” “Mmmm.” “No!” “Yes!” Bringing the voice into class adds a new dynamic of breath, vibration, and emotion. For new Nia students, this is one of the more challenging parts of the class and can become quite emotional for people when they’re given the freedom to express themselves through their voice and their body at the same time. But we keep dancing and breathing and playing and laughing. That’s when the magic happens. When your Whole Beautiful Being is on the dance floor interacting with the other Whole Beautiful Beings. That’s when we stop being black or white or brown. That’s when we stop being whatever kind of work we do the rest of the day. That’s when we’re kids again, playing together without a care in the world. That’s when we experience the Joy of Movement that is right there waiting to be danced with in that moment in time and space.

Yes, you’ll sweat. And you’ll probably move your body in ways that you haven’t moved it in a long time, if ever. Be sure to wear comfy clothes and bring water for this one hour class. But the part I love most about a Nia class is the laughter and the sense of community. Where else do you go in life where you get together and consciously decide to play? Play in a way that is healthy, refreshing, and meaningful? In a way that fills your heart and makes you want to dance? That’s why I keep coming back to Nia.

Nia may stand for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, a mouthful to be certain. But when I’m dancing in a Nia class—as a teacher or as a student—I am free. And so are the others around me. We are boundlessly, MAGICALLY free.

See http://www.nianow.com/cdawnmccallum to find my class and event schedule and to learn more about Nia. There are dozens of FREE articles to browse and download plus Nia Sample Dance Videos so you can see what it looks like and try it at home.

What to Do When Bears Return Unexpectedly From an Outing (a Poem)

We packed your bag today.
I told you the stories of when I went to where you are going now.

The deep, dark woods of life.

I told you about the night I got cold and hungry and found a bears’ house to sleep.
About the time your uncle and I left breadcrumbs to the old witch’s house.
And about what I found in grandmother’s bed while visiting her in my red-hooded coat.

You dug around on the floor of your closet, searching for your favorite pair of shoes.
“What about your boots?” I asked. “The waterproof ones.”
You emerged with a pair of pink flip flops and dropped them into your bag.

You sigh, asking, “Can’t you tell me the glass slipper story instead?”
“That one again?”
Now I sigh.
“To be honest, I made it up when I wanted you to be okay
with scrubbing the floors.”
“But I like it.”
I breathed deeply and looked around for what else you will need.

“Do you have sunscreen? Bug repellent? A tent? Trail mix?”
You packed several scents of lip gloss, some that sparkle.
Around your neck, you placed a small vile of glitter, your amulet.
I draped you in chicken bones from my altar.

Then your sweet voice:
“You know the story I want to hear?
The one with the apple
and the prince.”
“Yeah…I made that one up, too.
Just trying to get you to go to sleep one night.”

We moved things around in silence for a while,
A quiet battle raged in the bags we were packing.

I considered telling you the story
I want you to remember most of all.
The one where…
Never mind.
You were texting.

Then just when I thought I had lost you, you looked up.
“You mean, how you met daddy was a lie?”
“Well, I twisted things a little.”
“So how did you meet him, really?”
“At a bar. We were drunk. Really.”

You sat stunned for a moment,
then read a Tweet and smiled;
“Justin Beiber is in Bangladesh.”

I tried to be satisfied
with what geography you were learning and
slipped a few things in your bag when you turned away.
Ten thousand band-aids,
A map, a compass,
And a loaf of bread so you can make your way back to me.

Your bag packed, I handed you a flashlight and
watched you walk through
the gingerbread threshold a final time,
whispering spells in the dark for your protection.

The Name of Woman (Part 1)

“I may yet be worthy of the name of woman, in the purist and noblest sense. Yes, I will be if resolution and perseverance can accomplish anything.”
Alice Marshall Finch, May 1866

This is a line from my great-great grandmother’s journal. She was 18 or 19 when she wrote this and living near Richmond, Virginia. The Civil War had recently ended, and her family—whose business was tobacco—would be moving later that year farther south to Monroe County, Alabama.

I’ve spent a great deal of time with her journals that she dutifully wrote in 1866 and her later journal that she sporadically kept when she was a mother of six children in the 1880s. She was about my age when she died, early forties. The 1880s journal she wrote in her thirties came to me when I was a young woman of about 19.

For about two decades of my life, I often pondered the entry where she sat under a tree writing while her children played in the sand. She seemed like a prisoner to me, and I was afraid to have that life. I had often heard women profess to the joys of motherhood, but Alice spoke more of the woes and worries. The strain and defeat. She was honest and eloquent, and I admired that about her writing. I related to her laments about not writing more and could feel the distress of her overwhelming life that ended so soon.

Around my fortieth birthday, my mother told me of another journal of Alice’s, her 1866 journal. If I had heard of or seen that journal before, I didn’t recall it. But a photocopy of it came to me at the perfect time. I was on the lighter side of my second divorce and still not a mother. My body craved tiny bodies and tiny voices that sprung from my own, but there was only silence.

The 1866 journal, the musings of a young woman on the other side of a war, with Alabama/Marriage/Motherhood/Texas all still ahead of her, was a different Alice than the one I read about before. Young Alice, living with her family, attending Academy and receiving tutoring in Latin, Logic, World History, and the Classics was opinionated, had a passionate curiosity for life, and more than anything wanted to contribute to the knowledge of the world. I’m told she did become a teacher before she married (as did I). In this journal too she laments of not taking more time to write. But instead of only writing a line or two to satisfy her need to know and to be known through the pen in her hand as she did in the journal of her Wife and Mother Years, her youthful words and ideas overtook her. In one of my favorite entries, the one that made me fall madly in love with her, was the entry where she begins:

“Tuesday Morning, June 27th, 1866
I have only a few moments to devote to my dear book this morning, and indeed this, not my proper time for writing, still I have so many things to commit to its leaves that I cannot refrain from the pleasure even if my time is limited. I am reading a book called “Scenes in China” and as I have gained a good many facts worthy of my attention, I will note them down before reading further.”

Then—deliciously—she writes 15 pages in her beautiful longhand writing of “a good many facts” about China culminating in a climax of her Reconstruction-era rant about the treatment of women on the other side of the world. It’s clear from the quick strokes of her pen, by the intensity of the lettering in this section that she was impassioned by the thoughts she was writing about … the “cruel custom of compressing the feet” of Chinese women.

She wrote:
“By this act of inhumanity the poor creatures are made cripple for life. The females of China are very degraded & neglected. Seldom can a Chinese woman be met who can read the simplest book in her own language & while much money is spent in education of the beloved son, the daughter is suffered to grow up in ignorance…. She is disposed of by her parents for that sum of money which they see fit to request. She is conveyed to the house of the man to whom she is to be wedded & perhaps sees him for the first time in her life. And though separated from her parents, she shares not the pleasures or privileges of a wife. Her husband looks upon her as far inferior to himself & she receives from him corresponding treatment. By all classes of males in China, females have been regarded with contempt. Religion is denied them. Rise, run, work, eat little, spend little, be silent, kept out of sight, obey, bear, & rather bleed & die than complain, is the language of the rules laid down by their treatment.”

Are you in love with her now too? I know I couldn’t write like that when I was 19. I’m still trying to write like that. It makes me wonder about Alice’s parents—John Robert and Frances Cunningham Finch—and how they viewed and treated the woman in their home. Clearly there was some expectation for the education of girls.

My mother and I researched the family to further satisfy our own curiosities. There’s a special lineage of mothers to be traced there, to know one’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s, etc. From womb to womb we are linked, a string of pearls through time and space.

Alice had two younger brothers, we found, Louis and James Finch. Both boys had daughters of their own. Louis had a little girl named Louise Finch, who I’m told was quite a character. James had two daughters, Frances and Alice, named after his own mother and his older sister, both who had died not long after he married his wife. Frances had two extraordinary daughters of her own—Alice Finch Lee who practiced law in Monroe County, Alabama until she was over 100 years old; and Nelle Harper Lee who wrote the book “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

My Alice never met the other Alices in this story, but there’s no doubt that the tone that was set in the family of educating daughters has had a huge impact on the world. It makes me wonder about how the world would change if all the girls had a chance like them, if every girl was given a pen and paper and the charge to be free to write and explore her mind. What if every girl could freely use her power of expression to enlighten others of the unjust treatment of her sisters and brothers? How long after that until we are living in another world of a new level of consciousness?

From the perspective of a woman living now, I have my own home, I study what I like and create art every chance I get. But never enough to satisfy me. I, like Alice at 19, am unquenchable in my desire to create, to know, and to be known. I look at Alice from 19 to 40-something and see how she changed. She and I flip-flopped places in time and space. The older version of her spoke to my younger self; her younger self spoke to me as I am older. I can see the shift from the optimism of youth to her world-weariness, and the tragic loss of what she longed to become.

I do not accept that same fate.

I thank her for her journals and showing me that maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I don’t have children of my own, that I’m not trapped under a tree with only a few minutes to scribble and lament.

I visited Alice’s grave in Old Waverly, Texas. I visited the graves of her parents in Evergreen, Alabama and the graves of her brothers and their families. The Miss Lees, I’m told, are in ill health and unable to share any stories their grandfather told them. (Might there be other journals yet undiscovered?)

But Alice and her journals still tug at me. “Write,” they say. “Go! Do! Make!”

And nothing in those journals pulls at me more than the opening quote which I’d like to explore more:

“I may yet be worthy of the name of woman, in the purist and noblest sense. Yes, I will be if resolution and perseverance can accomplish anything.” 

Questions for the Sphinx

The Sphinx of Lanuvium, British Museum, 120-140 AD

The Sphinx of Lanuvium, British Museum, 120-140 AD

I spent about half an hour gazing at the Sphinx that’s a part of the British Musuem’s internationally touring “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece” exhibition now at the Dallas Museum of Art (through October 6, 2013). I had seen the exhibit a few weeks ago and dutifully read all the descriptions and spent time with each piece, as I like to do. But when I awoke one day this week, one of the pieces was calling me back to spend more time with her—The Sphinx.

This marble Sphinx was at one time—it’s believed—to be a table, and from a distance just beyond the rope and under the watchful gaze of people seen and unseen, I feasted on her magnificence. Since I had been summoned by her, I approached without fear. As I circumambulated her curious body and sought out her secrets, I let the light reveal to me the perfect angles at which to stand to see all the places I missed at my first viewing. The back of her neck where it connects the loose bun of her hair would have been lost to me had I not taken the time to look for it. I love her lion’s body and the claws (part of one toe missing) and the hidden tunnel under her rump and tail. The joints of her hind legs have a beautiful bend where our human knees would be. Judging by her nippled underbelly, this Sphinx may have sublimely terrible cubs (eaglets? babies?) somewhere nearby.

And, ah, her eagle wings. I considered counting her feathers, making note of the layers of each. But instead I imagined how thrilling it would be to run at great speeds and ferocity like a lion then suddenly at will to lift up onto the winds. Could she fly as high as an eagle? Could she see the curvature of the earth? Could she soar above the clouds and storms? From her great height, could she behold a morsel of food (mouse, bunny, me) on the ground below?

No one could answer my questions, so I faced her head on with hope that I could hear the voice of the one who had called me there. I looked into her eyes—their paint long lost—and tried to hear her riddles. Would I know the answers to her questions? Would I survive our meeting if breath filled her lungs?

But she said nothing.

I tried speaking with the artist who made her over two thousand years ago, in case there’s something left of him in the ether to be heard and known. I wanted to ask him about the choice he made of giving her lopsided hair. I imagined this explanation: “If it’s too perfect, too symmetrical, it would seem like a lie, an impossibility, a Myth. I wanted her to seem real, perfectly-imperfectly real.” Then the thought came: it was the artist who was imperfect and unable to achieve symmetry in his attempt to create the waves of a woman’s hair in marble. I have these same problems with my own hair with which I have spent decades, so I am sympathetic to his challenge. I heard the artist’s voice again. “It’s just a table,” he laughed.

But still, I wish I had brought a flashlight and binoculars so I could examine her shadowed places. What did I miss that I could not see? The Sphinx keeps so many secrets, standing guard at the gates of graves. I walked and paused, walked and paused around her to find new things each time round. And as I got to know her better, I noticed my own limbs changing, becoming Sphinx-like. I prowled around her with these lion legs of mine; I fluttered my eagle wings and felt a little lift. But did I dare even try to fly? Certainly, it would be too much of a shock for the ones watching me on monitors and quietly in corner of the room.

Nonchalantly I walked, pretending to still be human. My belly rumbled, craving all the stories of all the Sphinxes (Sphinges, if you prefer) throughout all time. Not just the Grecian ones but the Egyptian, the Asian. Ones I have never heard of nor seen. “What have people said about her over time? What will they say?” I wondered.

Oh, Sphinx. Where have you been all of your life? Where were you 570 A.D., in 1066, and during the World Wars? Who else has gazed into your eyes and pondered your sinew and mysteries? How many places have you hidden, hungrily composing riddles in the dark? Where were you the day I was born? And all the times I needed you the most?

I try to adjust my thinking to the thought of you, the strange shape of what you are. I behold you, and I hold you in my being.

When I came here today, answering your call, I only knew your name and a rumor of you, but I leave you a sister Sphinx of flesh, pondering the structure of questions and how devastating they can be. Yet I walk away preferring questions that serve a different purpose; riddles that act more as flashlights and binoculars.

Before I left the side of the Sphinx, I looked again into her eyes and silently supplicated to ART. And when I no longer cared who was looking, I bowed.