I attended Cosmic Dog’s NIA Dance class tonight. The listing describes it as a “free-flowing, liberating movement that offers a lightness of being” – boy, was it ever! As my yoga buddy remarked when we left, it’s hard to be unhappy when you skip. Add to the skipping some swaying of the hips and ribs, the tapping of toes and moving of legs, dance music pumped at an alarmingly high volume, and a teacher who appears absolutely joyed to be there, and you have the makings of a truly liberating class. A surprisingly liberating class.
I’ll be honest: I was nervous about attending a dance class. And when we began I thanked heaven for the absence of mirrors in the room. Would my body remember how to carry a tune? Would my mind loosen its grip and allow me to become less self-conscious as I was feeling at the beginning? Undoubtedly, yes. I was shaking and a moving, probably beet-red with a sweat, fifteen minutes into the class. It was joyous. Celebratory. Freeing. I haven’t moved and laughed to a beat that hard for a long time. It’s like modern dance for adults who have no training in dance but who just want to feel gravity and strength help them move their limbs around to an electric beat. And I’ve missed dance.
The beauty of yoga lies in its precision, its discipline, and its deliberateness. But a class like NIA opened my eyes to just how confining yoga can be. Now, I don’t want to think of yoga as confining because so much freedom can be found, traced, enhanced, or rooted deep in the being when we’re on the mat. But yoga certainly isn’t a body pulsing to a beat; it isn’t grinning and laughing about the silliness of a movement; it isn’t the loss of self-consciousness through the medium of movement. It’s something else: it’s finding the body’s beat, it’s playing within the movement while being aware of it, it’s the loss of egoism and the discovery of self through the medium of movement. But what would it be like to have a NIA-ish moment in yoga? To just let the limbs loosen, wrap, and flow through air and space without a particular destination in mind, merely because it felt good? The contrasts between NIA and yoga are interesting, precisely because it generates a complicated puzzle about our bodies, our selves, and what freedom is and where it lies.