I walked in late to the Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) basketball court, which was cut in half by a temporary sliding wall. The room was sparsely sprinkled with women aged 50+, in lycra leggings and t-shirts with motivational quotes on them, stretching and chatting. I had just moved to New York, joined the JCC, and decided I would try a “Nia Dance” class. Entering the room, I found myself a little outside of my comfort zone as a woman in my early 20s. The music was playing at what I considered to be a low volume for a dance class and I tried to contain my giggles as the instructor began to lead everyone in what I can best describe as a hippy dippy sort of spiritual, fluid dance.
According to the website www.nianow.com, Nia combines “dance, martial arts and mindfulness. It tones your body while transforming your mind. More than just a workout, Nia is a holistic fitness practice addressing each aspect of your life—body, mind and soul.”
As I joined the class in their movement, the instructor, a vibrant woman in her 60s with white hair and a melodramatic scarf tossed over her shoulder, seemed to look at me with surprise that someone so young had come to join her class, but her smile welcomed me. I felt no judgment from the ladies in the class; a feeling that was not so familiar to me in so many other gym settings I had experienced.
I noticed a smile sneak across my face as my mind relaxed and let the music do the work. I didn’t care about the way I looked or the way people perceived me. I was just blissfully happy in the movement of my body in that moment.
Nia is like Zumba, but more fluid and flowy and people just kind of move their bodies however they want. As soon as the instructor yelled, “Embrace your body!”, the sounds of a pick-up basketball game on the other side of the wall faded and the music swelled in my head as my body began to relax and move where it wanted. I closed my eyes and followed the instructions while adding my own spin to them. I noticed a smile sneak across my face as my mind relaxed and let the music do the work. I didn’t care about the way I looked or the way people perceived me. I was just blissfully happy in the movement of my body in that moment.
My generation, Millennials or Gen Z, depending on where you draw the line, have so much judgment in their eyes. We are constantly talking about accepting people as they come but in practice, that never really seems to be the case. We care so much about what we look like. Even when we are dancing in clubs late at night, there is still this fear of judgment that stops people from moving authentically, in ways that others may look at and think of as silly, but would bring a profound release and freedom to the mover.
There was even a whole song where we just jiggled our bodies as fast as we could, drummed on our bellies and slapped our butts! Where else can you find that kind of shameless gratitude for your body in an exercise class?!
The Body Positive community that I immerse myself in had always preached the goal of joyful movement and I never really knew what that felt like for me. I now know that Nia Dance is one of my Body Positive joyful movements. There was even a whole song where we just jiggled our bodies as fast as we could, drummed on our bellies and slapped our butts! Where else can you find that kind of shameless gratitude for your body in an exercise class?!
Towards the end of the class, I noticed a girl my age standing at the door watching us and giggling. Her gaze jolted me out of my joyful movement trance and shifted my focus to her. Knowing that my time of body dancing bliss was fleeting, I decided to approach her. She began to move out of the way, thinking I was exiting, but instead I stopped, told her that the fact that she was watching was distracting to me, and asked her to leave. I re-joined the class with a feeling of pride for advocating for myself and asking for what I needed in order to maintain that space as judgment free and Body Positive.
We transitioned into a cool down. My thighs were sore in that good workout kind of way and my energy was positively radiant. Body Positive fitness spaces can be hard to find, but they exist and they feel damn good. I encourage you to try different classes, teachers, and locations, until you find your own joyful movement.
For more info or to find a Nia class near you, check out their site here: https://nianow.com/geofind/classes
Rachel Marcus is the Social Media Coordinator for The Body Positive and lives in New York City.