Dancing outside my comfort zone: a night of Nia

A gentle re-introduction into the fitness world

Fitness has always been a source of insecurity for me. 

Through elementary and high school, I learned to hide behind a wall of books, feeling the need to prove my worth through mental energy where the physical lacked. In university, I took to walking as a means of thinking through essays or school work, but couldn’t bring myself to join in the yoga or jogging or whatever was supposed to be good for me. Even if it was “healing.” Even if it was “no pressure.” Even, or perhaps especially, with news reports whispering in the back my mind about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, from depression to cancer, to obesity to cardiovascular disease. It got pushed aside for another day. Kind of like climate change. Though still in my 20s, I slouch deeper into my chair now. 

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Needless to say, I haven’t attended an exercise class in nearly a decade. 

Or I hadn’t. 

It’s saying something of the genuine kindness Deborah Bramm exudes that I took up her invitation to check out a Nia class the other week.

Nia (which originally stood for non-impact aerobics when it was founded in the ‘80s) combines dance, martial arts and mindfulness in a cardio-dance workout. Drawing from a foundation of 52 basic movements, an instructor leads the class through mind and body training set to a soundtrack of anything from pop to hip-hop to jazz to Indian music.

While Bramm and fellow islander Carol Cram have held Nia classes on Bowen for many years, the other week’s class was led by Nia trainer of 40 years, Martha Randall. Randall was teaching a white belt class at the Xenia Centre throughout the week and held a few public sessions. (Nia training has five “belts” the first of which is white belt, highest of which is black. Cram and Bramm have brown belts, the second-highest level.)

So that Monday evening, a dozen or so white belt trainees mixed with Nia-experienced islanders and newbies for an hour of “Tai Chi walks” (I have also never done Tai Chi––there was a steep learning curve), hip swings, turns, yells, laughs and general dancing. 

There were points of stress, where following Randall's moves, “feeling” the music and not crashing into the nearest woman collided in nearly lethal cocktail of uncoordinated flailing. 

There were striking moments, like when women nearly twice my age could not only kick higher than me and with greater energy but also with such joy. 

Fun was more important than correctness, the beat as much a guide as the teacher. 

I still huddled at the back of the room, claiming the space nearest the exit, lest someone utter the word “plank” (no one did).

At the end of the class there was a camraderie in shared smiles and everyone had energy to spare to grin at the camera. It was a very gentle re-introduction into the fitness world.

“I think it’s a very inclusive movement form,” says Cram. “That’s what I love about it. Because I’m not an athlete, or a dancer, and I can do it. And I can lead it and also get a lot out of it.”

Bramm and Cram teach Nia on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 10:15 a.m. at the Teen Centre through Bowen Island Community Recreation. 

One can either drop-in or sign up for the entire session. 

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