Nia creates community through dance

  • NiaDance1
Nia dancing has ordinary women from all walks of life doing the unthinkable: Enthusing about an “exercise regimen”.

Johannesburg-based proofreader Kim Hatchuel is one of them: “What I love most about Nia is that it allows me to get completely out of my head and be more in my body.”

Except, it’s more than a workout, she says. “It’s a holistic fitness practice that addresses mind, body and spirit.” Combining dance, martial arts, and the healing arts, and using 52 moves, Nia, she says, “tones the body and mind”.

“It also attracts like-minded people.”

Hatchuel says it’s become a lifestyle choice for her. “I have found a community of people who have adopted a certain way of looking at the world, at themselves, and dance.

“My Nia community worldwide have become close friends.”

Developed in 1983, a series of sports-related injuries prompted American aerobics instructors Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas to re-think the health mantra of “no pain, no gain”. They decided to research an alternative method of exercise. It had to be safe, non-impact, and body/mind based. It had to define a new approach to wellness, one that broke away from high-impact aerobics, repetitive movement, and mind-body separation.

As Rosas explained: “At the height of the Jane Fonda era, when aerobics meant high-impact and bouncing, we had a vision. It was to fall in love with our bodies, to learn to choose pleasure over pain, to take off our shoes, to feel our bodies, to express ourselves. To become conscious of what we do as a way to heal and enjoy life.”

Johannesburg-based Brown Belt Nia teacher, Michelle Raichlin, explains: “Nia is about sensation. I’ve watched as new students get in touch with the joy and power of it, and just relax. It’s deeper than an aerobics class. It’s well-structured and holistic. There are many levels to it, and people pick up on that.

“It’s about plugging into universal joy. There’s form, there’s freedom, and there’s fun,” she says.

Of course, when anything is based on something as intangible – and magical – as “universal joy”, there are unforeseen consequences.

“A connection,” Raichlin says, “seems to occur between all the participants in the class”. This connection, she says, “has helped to build the sense of community.”

Blue Belt teacher Eleni Shatenstein agrees, “Nia is a universal language. Because life, from as early as in utero, is expressed through movement, people dancing together are expressing their innermost essence.

“This language of movement bonds and binds us on the dance floor. I have taken and given classes in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Israel, and I experience that same sense of community, connection and sharing life that crosses all barriers whether its language, culture, ethnicity, age, or gender. Nia connects me to the people I dance with in a way that defies logic and erases boundaries.”

Across the world in Queensland, Australia, Lisa Silverstone, a Black Belt teacher expresses the same sentiments. Writing a blog on, Silverstone described how she had planned to backpack around the world and drop into an occasional Nia class, but turned her trip into “a Nia tour of the world” instead.

“I really started to get it when taking classes in a language other than my own while in Germany and Switzerland. It was the language of the teacher’s body that spoke to me. It spoke through the bones and muscles, the expression on faces, and the lines and shapes created. The universal dialogue of the body spoke loud and clear, and within moments, any barriers that existed between me and the others in the class dissolved.”

Wherever she was, Silverstone was invited in as one of their own, as well as a member of a bigger community.

“The meaning of community as a ‘common unity’ was revealed to me through the open hearted generosity of the Nia tribe,” she says.

Jo’burg-based Communication Consultant, Janine Simon-Meyer, agrees. “After chatting informally after Nia classes, I’ve got to know many interesting women in fascinating professions,” she says.

“The shared experience, the commonality, the way the class is structured, becomes an inclusive circle. This is far more than just jumping up and down. It becomes a community. It’s not the sort of thing that happens after a Zumba or an aerobics class. Plus the actual classes are more fun than a party or a wedding.”

Black Belt Noa Kadman owns her own studio in Kfar Saba, Israel. A former English lecturer, Kadman says that when she started dancing Nia ten years ago, she saw the potential for healing and joy in a group setting.

“When the teacher said, ‘Shimmy, (move the shoulders), then turn around, blow a kiss and smile’, I felt my chest turn to stone and thought, ‘No way, lady!’ Eventually, my body recognised that I had to stop being a control freak, that getting fit was not about self-hate, or whipping my body into shape, but about joy.”

For women “conditioned to self-sacrifice”, the joy they get out of the movement is a “revolutionary concept”, she says.

“Some women who have never experienced joy in their body and mind find a shift happening. They see another option. They want to experience it again and again. An important component of Nia is agility and mobility, and that, along with accessing energy, tends to have an effect on life choices.”

Kadman says she feels totally at home in the global Nia community. “Many of us combine travel with dancing. What is common with women who choose to dance Nia is a desire to nurture themselves on all levels – body, mind, emotion, and spirit.

“Many have experienced a life crisis and sense that a shift is needed in how they connect with themselves – no more moving from fear and judgement.” The women share a desire for joy and self-growth, Kadman says.

And that develops into an even bigger idea.

Kadman puts it this way: “The way we create dance on the floor is an example of how we can create our lives.”


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