Friday nights in downtown Centralia are usually associated with happy hour. If there’s any physical activity at all, it might revolve around a pool table.
But last Friday, 32 people filled the studio space at Embody Movement Studio and Lifestyle Boutique to dance with Debbie Rosas, a pioneer in the fitness world and the co-founder of Nia.
Nia is not your typical workout class. It’s done entirely barefoot, for one. But the real distinction is that no one’s repetitively jumping up and down or otherwise causing impact to the joints. Designed as a self-healing practice, Nia is built on a foundation of 52 moves carefully crafted to protect students from injury while providing a full body workout.
For the master class, Rosas debuted her brand-new routine “Grateful,” which no one in the crowd had danced previously. It encompassed both choreographed dance through the 52 moves as well as bursts of “freedance” that allow students to explore movement in their own body’s way. It was by turns soothing and high-powered, including elements of Duncan dance, the martial arts and the Alexander technique for postural alignment.
Rosas began developing Nia in the early ‘80s, and today there are 2,500 teachers offering Nia in 45 countries. She travels frequently to places such as New Zealand and South Africa, teaching master classes to as many as 500 students in a room. So how did Centralia —where a sold-out class meant just over 30 students — make it onto her itinerary?
“When I started teaching, I had two students,” Rosas said. “This was back in 1976. I know what it means to build a class. I am not honestly any more turned on by a group of 500 people as I am with two. My ego loves it … but my heart knows that the number of people in the room is no way a representation of the value … the value of doing something that changes people’s lives—there’s no price to that.”
What really intrigued her about Centralia’s Embody is the passion and inspiration of its owner, Christina Wolf. In Nia, students progress through a series of belts, similar to the martial arts. The first belt is white, obtained after a training session with a certified teacher. Wolf opened Embody a mere six months after earning hers.
“That takes guts, courage,” said Rosas. Last summer, Wolf took her training for the blue belt with Rosas as her teacher. Rosas was so impressed with Wolf during the training that she told her she’d like to arrange to visit her studio. “There are those people who come through your door and you think, ‘This person is going to be successful. They’re going to make it happen.’” she said. “A lot of people have the desire … but they don’t get what it takes to really do the business end of it, the nuts and bolts. I sensed that she did, and she does.”
Since completing her white belt three years ago, Wolf has helped 14 Embody students earn their own, including this reporter for The Chronicle. The white belt provides a deeper dive into the Nia practice, which means fine-tuning the techniques for each of the 52 moves, learning how to listen to music while listening to the body, and other topics. It also certifies students to teach a Nia class. An optional green belt training for teachers-only is scheduled for June at Embody, with a blue belt to follow next year.
Wolf has built a community at Embody that mutually supports each other’s fitness goals, which can include — but also go beyond — weight loss. It’s not uncommon to hear exclamations after class like this: “I’ve been doing this for nine months and have already lost two inches off my middle-aged arms!’ Nia students claim a wide range of results — from lower cholesterol levels to a greater acceptance of their own reflection in the mirror.
Wolf often introduces new students by welcoming them to the Nia “family.” “This family is made up of passionate and heart-centered women and men committed to healing themselves and the community,” said Wolf said. “I think this community is inspired and inspiring, supportive, tightly knit, caring, and open.”
Rosas, whose master class marked her first visit to Embody, was quite pleased with what she found. “It’s a beautiful studio,” she said. “It’s like this little gem tucked away.”
Lisa Brunette is author of the Dreamslippers mystery series and blogs at www.catintheflock.com.