Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Story of "Amazing"

AMAZING is the name of a Nia routine I'm going to be offering in 2016. Here is the story of how it came to be.

First, a little background: I'd been holding between two and fourteen weekly Nia classes on a regular basis in Seattle, Tuscany and/or New York City, without missing more than a week, since I first became a White Belt in 1996.

In 2010, I was living in New York and signed up to attend a yoga event in Santa Monica. I decided it might be fun to see if I could also arrange to sub some classes in the area while I was there. I made some phone calls and ended up booking gigs all along the coast. I flew from New York to LAX and did the entire trip on public transportation; planes, trains and rented automobiles. I took a few busses, too. I taught a newly created Nia routine of mine I called Bond Girls in Santa Barbara, Eugene, Portland and Seattle, and stopped to visit several old friends (I grew up in California and lived for many years in Seattle.)  It was so much fun. And I caught a bug for the adventure and excitement of combining teaching Nia with traveling.

After that, I went back to teaching my regular classes in NYC but continued to teach them for less than a year, until the spring of 2011, when I canceled them all and moved back to Seattle without any intention of starting up new ones.  Instead I rescued a dog from the animal shelter and devoted my energy and attention to his difficult rehabilitation.

River

After getting a sufficient handle on River, I loaded him into the passenger seat of a rented motorhome and we spent a week camping at several different Washington State Parks. It was a low-risk experiment to see how River would take to the idea of vagabonding. He seemed to love it, and did really well. I decided my next experiment would be to take him with me as I taught a few Nia classes. I took him first to a class that I was attending in Seattle, and then took him to one that I was subbing. I brought his cage and set him up and, outside of a bit of whining in the beginning, he did well enough that I set about planning a road trip with Nia and River.

I learned, on the camping trip, that the RV option was too cumbersome and expensive, so on the next trip I rented a Mustang. It was only a couple of weeks and covered the three Pacific coast states I was already so familiar with. I learned a lot and we had a great time. I made several adjustments each time we went on a trip. But all was going well so I set about exploring longer and longer trips.



By the end of 2015 we had taken at least a dozen trips, covering much of the USA. Some of them were over two months long. Each time I take a trip I learn more about myself, about Nia, about River and about America. I've gone through three Mini Coopers, four dog trainers, and four JAG Nia routines. I've created a new one each year to take "on tour" all over the country.

So far, just for these trips, I've created the original routines:
  • Woodstock Experience
  • Rock In - (a 60's version and a 70's version)
  • Bond Girls - (which was re-worked a few years later and re-emerged in 2014 as...)
  • Goldfinger
  • Frankie Say Nia

It didn't take me long to notice, as I visited all of these Nia communities across the country, that there was a great big family that I was a part of. Everywhere I went, I was welcomed warmly as if I were one of the gang, even if we had never met. We all spoke the same language and had similar passions. We all enjoyed this Nia thing with our bodies, our minds and our spirits. Through Nia I felt as if we were all one.






I was struck by how creative this family is. We share the love of expressing through moving our bodies to music while honoring the sacred uniqueness of each body's way. We share a common language and movement vocabulary. There is something very special about the big picture I was seeing, that I didn't think many people had the benefit of experiencing.

So this is what inspired my AMAZING idea.

It began as a wondering, back in 2014.

I wondered if I could be the needle and thread, stitching together the tapestry of a Nia routine created by the Nia family as a whole. I wanted to be the catalyst, focusing the creative energy of my Nia brothers and sisters into a classic-format, seven-cycle, vertical Nia routine. Something inside of me told me that it could work, though I had no idea what I was going to do, or how it would come together.

So in the winter of 2014/2015, as I was putting together my trip for the upcoming year, I included in my offerings, the opportunity to participate in this project I was calling the Community Network Synergy project, or CNS for short. I asked each community that wanted to participate to come up with a song. I suggested songs that had a special meaning to the community, but I avoided making any creative input into their decision. Some of the communities chose a song and others chose several and asked me to make the final choice. Once the song was chosen, I would arrive and ask them to FreeDance to the song until we found clicks and eventually full choreography for the song.

I had no idea if I'd get enough participation to build a standard 55 minute routine, or if I'd get so much participation that I'd have to edit it for time and not use some of the material. I was also unsure whether I was going to get a variety of song types, or if everything was going to be full on, high energy jams. I made a commitment to myself to be impeccable about not adding my creative energy to this process. I promised myself that I would only work with the material that my colleagues came up with.

One of the delightful and unexpected pleasures of this project was allowing myself to have no expectations or agenda, and to trust the process of receiving. Since I was offering as little input as I could get away with, each community tended to do the process differently.

For example, in Santa Monica, I arrived to discover that they had already choreographed several songs, which they demonstrated for me when I arrived. I got to choose which one to take. I chose the one with all the tae kwon do energy; a modern rock song called Counting Stars.

In Texas, several teachers in Houston each chose a different "Texas" song and presented them all as their Friday night Jam when I arrived. I then chose my favorite song from that jam but couldn't remember the choreography. I asked the teachers to give me some moves, but by then they had dispersed and I wasn't getting responses to my email requests. I finally cornered one teacher in the parking lot just before leaving town and she gave me a couple of movements, but I left Houston without actually having the song fully choreographed. I was bummed that it didn't work our for Houston. It was the first time a song didn't get finished. But when I got to my next stop, I brought it up before my class in Dallas, asking the Nia students there for some Texas-style moves that I could add. One of the students gave me the move that brought the whole thing together. So while most of the songs in the Amazing are from cities, I consider this song coming from Texas, the state. Big collaboration!

Since the beginning of the CNS project, I had a few songs in my mind. I wanted Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" and Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again". Neither of those songs ended up in the routine, and of course it was against my rules to suggest it to anyone. But I also wanted to use the song, Route 66. So imagine my surprise when in Santa Fe, they suggested using a Depeche Mode remix version of Route 66!

I allowed an exception to my no-participation rule in Seattle. Since I considered myself part of the Seattle teacher community, I allowed myself to throw a song suggestion into the ring. Of course, the deck was stacked since I was also the one with the final say on which song we used, my song, "Seattle" by Bobby Sherman was the one we ended up using.

In Boise, we hadn't planned to do the project at all. They invited me there to teach a weekend workshop and my 80's Nia class. By the end of the day on Sunday, I was getting the sense that they wanted a change of pace. I threw out the idea of creating a song together and they liked the idea. It was a total left turn. I asked them to throw out some song suggestions and a few were offered until one of the students suggested something that I actually had in my phone; a hauntingly beautiful duet by Jane Siberry and K. D. Lang called Calling All Angels. I played it and we all decided we liked it. We quickly did the 8BCs on the dry erase board and started dancing. Ninety minutes later, we had barred and choreographed the song that ended up being our Warm Up.

Another coup was when, in Leavenworth, one of the suggestions they came up with was Craig Armstrong's version of Weather Storm by Massive Attack. I first heard the song when teaching in Tuscany and fell immediately in love with the intense drama of its gorgeous sonic landscape. I will admit, that I mentioned to that group that I was trying to create a full routine and I didn't yet have a FloorPlay song. I suggested that this song lent itself perfectly to playing on the floor. I danced with them and I admit that it was tempting to not do it on the floor. But we eventually came up with something very lovely that works so well to bring the class to a short FloorPlay session and to a nice final closing.

Another moment that demonstrated how accurate my feelings were that I was part of a big family came when I was preparing to arrive in Richmond, VA. They had only one suggestion, "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge. My memory may be failing me. Perhaps they did have other song suggestions, but when I heard "We Are Family" I immediately knew they were on the same wavelength as I was.



In the end, 13 communities decided to work with me during 2015. I ended up with exactly 54 minutes of material. I had a delicious Warm up song and several mild Get Moving songs which would also work as a Cool Down song, a couple of good kick-ass high energy songs, some great FreeDance moments and a FloorPlay song. Quite frankly, I was amazed at how well it came together. By the way, this amazement I kept feeling is where the name of the routine comes from. That, and the fact that one of the songs in the routine is called "Amazing" made it seem inevitable.

Several times during the process, I was emotionally moved by the profound collaboration. The ease with which it all came together was a perfect testament to the Nia "family" I had been sensing.  And I was overwhelmed by being able to receive so much of the creative energy I had only been teased by in past visits when I was there only to present my work. It was a great honor to be the spider, spinning this Nia web.

When we got home from my last trip, in October of 2015, I hit the studio and started to play around with what order the songs belonged in. Several times, I was moved to tears as I felt the thread. The routine has such a strong sense of cohesion as if it were created by one mind. There are some katas that show up repeatedly, giving the routine a holistic feeling of completeness. I especially love that many of these songs are ones that I would not have chosen, and some of the movement is new to me. It felt as if I was receiving such a gift from my community and from Nia.

I'm delighted to present this "Amazing" routine in 2016. I will be careful throughout the year not to say that I created it. I did create it, in a way, but not in the standard sense. I like to say that I catalyzed it. It was truly a collaboration and co-creation between me and the Nia communities in:

Boise
Colt's Neck
Kansas City
Leavenworth
Minneapolis
New York City
Richmond
Santa Fe
Santa Monica
Seattle
Sedona
and Texas



If you live in the Seattle area, you may get a sneak preview as I practice it now and then in 2015 or in the winter of 2016 before we hit the road. But for most people, who don't live in Seattle, I hope you get the opportunity to experience "AMAZING" in 2016 and that you find it as delightful as I do. I think you will. 





1 comment:

Adelle Brownlee Brewer said...

I love you Jason. You are a light that builds commUNITY, something I feel so passionate about... thank you. See you in San Antonio on the next trip. We can add San Antonio Rose to the mix... or... <3