Dance through life

Nia gaining followers, spreading joy in Eastern Iowa

Published: March 19 2014 | 2:37 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:51 am in

Bruce Thayer wasn’t sure a dance-based fitness class was for him.

“I’ve been a lifelong dance-phobic. I was never one to get out on the dance floor,” he says. “For some reason I thought you had to have all your stuff together to do that.”

But Thayer, 66, of Iowa City, decided he’d try Nia, a fitness program gaining followers in Eastern Iowa. Within 15 minutes of his first class, he says he had gotten over his inhibitions and was simply having fun.

“Part of it was Nia encourages a lot of vocalizations. One minute we might be doing cave man grunts and the next minute we might be skipping and doing bird chirps,” he says. “I was having a ball. It reminded me of playing with kids. We had all these adults in the room who were kind of getting in touch with their inner child.”

Having fun is central to Nia, which lists “The Joy of Movement” as it’s first guiding principle.

Nia is fairly new to the Corridor, but it has been around for about 30 years. California fitness professionals Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas created Nia in the early 1980s, seeking to find a low-impact alternative to the aerobics craze after Rosas suffered a number of sports-related injuries.

Nia seeks to integrate body, mind, spirit and emotion. Fifty-two moves are combined to create routines, and moves can be done at different levels depending on a dancer’s comfort and experience. There also are 52

principles, from the joy of movement principal to living with intent.

“We want to dance through life,” says Beth Pelton, 66, who teaches Nia at Body Move Fitness and Wellness Center in Coralville.

Nia is meant to be gentler on the body than, say, zumba, Pelton says. Dancers are supposed to develop awareness of their bodies to avoid injuries. Free-dance is part of every routine, and it’s ok if not all dancers are following every step.

Pelton, who retired from teaching in the University of Iowa’s Department of Health Promotion, opened Body Move Fitness just more than a year ago. The studio also offers yoga, zumba and other fitness classes. Since opening, Pelton says she’s grown her Nia following to about 20 to 30 people.

That may not seem like a lot, but for several years she didn’t have a studio space of her own. Teaching in places like church basements and hopping from space to space, she had only a handful of students after she started teaching Nia in 2007. Now she’s able to expose more people as the studio’s yoga and zumba students give the class a try.

Debbie Jump, 56, teaches Nia in Cedar Rapids. Like Pelton, she also has a small group of dedicated Nia enthusiasts who have followed her from venue to venue over the last several years. She currently teaches a Friday class at Epic Steps Dance Studio.

Along with Karla Schmidt, also at Body Move Fitness, they are the only Nia teachers they’re aware of in the Corridor. In Iowa, there also are Nia classes in Cedar Falls, the Des Moines area and Fairfield, Jump and Pelton say.

Every licensed Nia instructor is expected to learn four routines a year. Enthusiasts who want to earn belts — from white to black — do so through weeklong immersion seminars. Pelton is a black belt and Jump is a brown belt.

On a recent Friday, Jump led students in a lunch-hour session of dance. She countered any hint of awkwardness or inhibition with a simple invocation: “Choose joy! Find joy in your movement.”

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