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Will I Get A Workout?

by Melanie McFarland
Nia Seattle Core Team Community Communicator

This is the first question people have asked me when they're deciding whether to sample Nia. Or the second, right after “What is Nia?” The movement form celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013, but most people have never heard of it.

For now let’s speak to the workout query:
Will you sweat? If that is what happens when you dance the electricity in your soul, yes.

Will you feel “the burn”? If you want to experiment with your most athletic intensity level -- holding strong in sumo stance, sense your core muscles lending power to your outward punches – then, yes. Your muscles may feel saturated with strength, energy and satisfaction right after a class, a feeling that is likely to extend into the next day.

Will it hurt? If you're moving in your body's way, never.

Will you feel better at the end? More than you may imagine.

For people who live with high stress, anxiety and emotional issues, this practice can work miracles. The routines are designed to flood the body with endorphins and serotonin, not just from the movements themselves, but by infusing each dance step, each martial arts block, punch and kick, with a special magic born out of music that uplifts the spirit.

Keep doing it, and the practice eventually teaches you how to take everything you gain, those empowered sensations of flexibility, agility, mobility, strength and stability, out of the dance space and into your daily life.

So, what is Nia anyway? The simple answer is that it’s a movement form that blends dance, martial arts and healing arts, done to eclectic music from every genre, from all over the world. But that doesn’t really tell its story.


For me, Nia is my soul’s ignition. A person can tell I’m switched “on” by the blazing smile I wear on my face every time I dance. It’s a gorgeous way to shatter any weighty frustrations I’m carrying from a day at the office by channeling the power of Tae Kwon Do, Aikido or Tai Chi. Its healing movement nourished my weak back muscles, which had been a source of excruciating pain for most of my adult life. Today, I can touch my toes. I can run to catch the bus with ease without gasping for air like a beached carp. None of those things seemed possible to me five years ago.

Nia is the reason that I finally shed 30 pounds from my frame after years of experimenting with various fitness regimens and giving up out of frustration. Did I fast? Cleanse? Adopt a no-fun, “let’s live off of celery and air” diet? Nope. I decided that I’d rather dance, and eat dark chocolate every night, in fact. Often with a glass of wine. Why not?


This is the experience and the promise of this practice: whole body, systematic fitness realized through the gateway of pleasure. Yes, pleasure.

The next time you walk past a gym that has windows, look at the faces of the people you see on treadmills or lifting barbells. How many of them are smiling?

Somewhere along the way, somebody decided that repetitive cardio or pushing through uncomfortable weight-lifting are the best way to build muscle and improve cardiovascular health. If you associate working out with a "no pain, no gain" ethos, the idea of seeking joy and moving to feel good being the guiding principles behind a fitness practice may seem counterintuitive.

Or, maybe you don’t feel fit and coordinated enough – or “cool” enough – to join a Zumba or hip-hop class. Any dance class, for that matter. The dancer inside can’t seem to overcome the person who isn’t ready to let him or her out into the world. Yet something inside you aches to surrender to melody and rhythm.

Do those scenarios sound familiar?


Now, consider the invitation of Nia’s seven cycled workout, starting with setting a focus and intent – not perfecting a step or striving to look a certain way. Answer that invitation by stepping in, leaving distractions behind, releasing tension in the muscles, bones and joints, and gently warming up.

Then music – groove-heavy, soul-stirring music - calls you to move, to dance your dance, not caring how it looks but choosing sensation. How does it feel? Not like other workouts that hurtle the body from zero to “Burn Burn! Burn!” without properly coaxing the system into readiness. Rather, feeling the blood move, the heart pump, the tingle of endorphins seducing playfulness out of the body are the keys. Perspiration and heat spice up your motion, and the body celebrates, vibrates with joy for a while before a gentle descent into the cool down cycle, eventually coming to the floor to play and heal, to foster strength and flexibility, even to meditate.

So yes, Nia will give you a workout. But what you get out of it depends on what you put in to it.


Will you give Nia your awkwardness? Your frustrations with the job, relationships, with life? Your fatigue? Your imperfection and perceived lack of coordination? Nia wants all of that. Nia is alchemy; it transforms the leaden aspects of the heart and the ego into gold. It is a doorway to loving yourself as you are, as you transform. It is a road to sharpening your mind and boosting your confidence. You simply have to step in.

Nia may not be for everyone, but it is for every body. What will you get out of it? That depends on what you give.

Melanie teaches in West Seattle.