Portland: Nia Mecca

On Friday, I woke up in Springfield and we took our time waking up. I had a leisurely coffee as River walked around in the lush grassy area. Our checkout time wasn't until noon; we're used to an 11am checkout time, so the extra hour seemed like a call to be languid. Add to that, the fact that we were less than two hours from Portland, where we can't check in until 3:00, and you can figure we were in no rush.

On the way out of town, I stopped at one of my favorite natural food stores in Eugene, Sundance Market.  I filled up my water jugs there with filtered water and stocked up on coffee grounds, bread, corn chips, hummus, fruit, avocados, cheese and cookies.  River stayed in the car and barked.

I also stopped along the way to fill up (or rather let some other guy fill up) my gas tank.  And I asked him if it would be OK to wash my windshield. At first, he thought I was asking for a dog treat for River. haha. I said no thank you and motioned to my windshield. He asked if I wanted it cleaned, and I said, "Is it cool if I do it?"  I felt weird asking him to do it, as he was running around filling up the gas tanks for several cars.  But immediately after I asked, I felt weird for doing his job. I'm still unsure what the protocol is. And do you tip these guys? I didn't.

So I got to Portland, eventually. The traffic got really thick and slow the closer I got to the city, so my Mini Nav guided me to some farm roads to reduce the amount of congestion I had to work through. My mind appreciates moving. I would rather take a detour off the quickest route and drive more miles if it meant I could drive unimpeded. So while it added a couple of miles extra to my odometer, I was much happier than I would have been sitting in stop-and-go highway traffic.

So we checked into the Motel 6 on Stark St.

I've been here several times before and it's my favorite one of the several Motel 6 choices in Portlandia. It offers free wi-fi and a refrigerator and microwave in the room. And there's a guest laundry, which I planned to use after teaching three Nia classes and a Five Stages class during my stint here. On the downside, it was Friday night and the place was hopping.  It's a noisy place. The people upstairs from me were training for the Olympic sprinting team. Or maybe it was pole vaulting. Lots of people were milling about everywhere, so that when I took River out, he was too distracted to do any of his business.

And to top it all off, just as I was winding down for sleep, I heard the chirp of my smoke detector signalling it needed new batteries. I went to the desk, got a replacement and changed it.

I would have slept fine, despite the herd of elephants rooming above me, but the pillows in this place were incredibly dense and thick. Sleeping on my back on such a high pillow caused my neck to ache in a very short time. I did my best to sleep on my side, but my natural inclination is to go into corpse pose. I woke up with an sore neck and a headache.  I called the front desk to ask if they had any thinner pillows, but they didn't.

Which was fine because I was just about to teach a Five Stages class. In my experience, doing a Five Stages practice is the perfect prescription for any physical malady.

I had done my research and found the cheapest parking lot downtown and walked from there to the studio. In all my years of teaching on the road, this was easily my longest haul from car to studio. It was so long, that I didn't do my regular routine, which is to leave River in the car while I set up his cage and then come back to get him. I carried the crate and his blankets in one arm, wore all of my class materials, including my laptop, in a back pack, and handled River's leash with my other hand.

In years past, River has been very difficult to manage in that scenario, which is why I do it in two trips. But we had to go up an elevator in the parking lot, and then through an office building. Then we walked two city blocks and up another elevator to the studio on the 4th floor. I was surprised that he stayed right by my side the whole time, except for when he wanted to visit a couple of trees, which I stopped to allow.

So I put on some meditative, crystal bowl music and got out the skeleton for demonstration purposes and greeted the students as they came in. Only two students were there at first, and neither of them had done a Five Stages practice before, so I felt a bit of relief. In my mind, I had pictured the room was going to be full of expert Five Stagers, who would easily notice that I hadn't taught the technique in several years. But it was nice that we could all be in beginner's mind.

Because of what was going on with me thanks to the pillow situation, I decided to make the focus on the Head and Neck. I demonstrated a quick version of the Five Stages and then talked them through a fifteen minutes version. My head and neck already felt better. I had gone through all five stages twice, while waiting for the students to arrive, and during the demonstration, I noticed that my headache was gone.

I also had felt a bit nauseated, but that was just nerves. It's hard to describe the feeling of teaching at NiaStudio. Considering this was the room where I did all of my trainings, it still holds an energy for me of being a tyro. And even though I've now got twenty years of experience, I couldn't shake the anxious anticipation. Once class started, though, it was entirely gone and I was in the zone.

Mid-class another student showed up and it was obvious that she had done it before, so I took the three of them through all five stages. Then we stopped and I showed them on the skeleton, all the things I found interesting and relevant about the skull and neck and spoke about how it is impossible to separate the head from the neck, and even the shoulders were intimiately involved.

I led them through the Five Stages once more. This time we focused on the head. Afterwards, everyone seemed to be glowing with that familiar high we get from relaxing profoundly.


And immediately after was a Nia class, so I gave the Five Stagers a bit of time to regroup and then turned on the hippie music. We started with The Who, and then The Band played as the Nia students gathered.

The last time I was in NiaStudio was on my Frankie Say Nia tour. I had not been added to the official schedule last year, but was being treated as a renter and self-promoting. No one showed up. In fact, someone did show up, but he intended to use the room himself, not even realizing a class was scheduled. It was a huge fail.

So this year, I was invited by Debbie Rosas, Nia Founder, to sub her classes while she was out of town. This year I was in the newsletter and being promoted by NiaStudio on facebook, and the turnout was big. It's a giant room and  we had that place filled. The students really took to the FreeDance energy, as I suspected they would, having such a capable teacher. It was a blast.

Afterwards, one of the students told me that he had been doing Nia for 35 years! And I knew that that's about as old as Nia itself, and he confirmed that indeed, he used to take aerobics from Debbie in California. He told me  how he was there when she started to transition into exploring what was to become Nia. At that time, they called it N. I. A. (Non-Impact Aerobics).

Throughout the back-to-back classes and the lengthy discussions afterward, River remained perfectly calm. And on the long walk back to the car, he chose a few trees to visit, but otherwise stayed at my side, even in the elevators and even as we met a family coming in the door we were going out. They gave him a lot of excited attention, but he remained grounded. I was so proud of him.

Back in the motel room, I'm just dying to know what the hell they're doing in room 210. How on earth could they be making that much noise unless they were throwing the furniture at each other?

It has been grey and cloudy ever since I got to Portland. I find it very soothing. I love the grey sky. I guess it's a connection to my Irish heritage.  Growing up in Santa Barbara, each summer day used to start with a marine layer of fog that would burn off by mid-afternoon. I was usually disappointed when the sun finally made it's way through.

I stepped out to get some food at a burger place I discovered online. Foster Burger. Read more about it here. On the way out, I glanced up at room 210, just above mine, and I saw that there were at least two toddlers running around. The adult figure was out on the balcony on his phone. The girls tried getting his attention but he was blind and deaf to them. I was envious of his ability to tune them out.
But actually, knowing that it was children helped me not to be so annoyed by the noise. At least I could explain it now, and it was suddenly much easier to tune out.

I got creative with the bed for the pillow situation. I noticed that the mattress could slide around on the flat platform, so I slid the mattress about a foot away from the headboard and stacked three pillows up. The pile of pillows were a perfect height for me to comfortably sleep on my back. The next morning, I woke up and my neck felt fine.


Again, I looked up the cheapest parking in the vicinity of NiaStudio, and luckily, it was right across the street, for only $1.60/hour. I allowed for hitting rush hour traffic, since it was Monday morning at around 8am. But I didn't hit any. And parking was easy. As soon as I went through the ticket booth, there was a compact car parking spot right there. And it was right near the stairs.

So I ended up arriving at the studio well before the doors were even unlocked. But that's far superior to being late, or even cutting it close, so I was glad to let River visit some trees and listen to a street guy haranguing the air until they unlocked the doors.

There were still only a few students in the room five minutes before class starting time, and I had to remind myself that that didn't mean it was going to be a small class. Five minutes is a long time, and people were milling around in the lobby still.

As it turned out, we had a great big class with lots of people and it was totally fun. It's strange how teaching at NiaStudio is like returning to my childhood home. I have done all of my Nia trainings in that room for the past 20 years. There are many memories of a lot of struggle and growth happening with me in the very room I was now teaching in, feeling masterful. It was personally very satisfying.

During the FloorPlay section of this routine, choreographed by the Nia community in Leavenworth, WA, they've asked that all of the students join hands or are somehow physically connected in a circle. So far, I've been able to achieve this every time I taught the routine. But today, in Portland, I got a strong resistance to that part. Which I can understand. Sometimes I don't want to join sweaty hands with a bunch of strangers. I get it. But, still I kept asking for it because I wanted to remain true to the choreography as it was given to me. And I have a whole spiel that I do based on the feeling of being a part of the whole group and the difference it makes when we're all in it together...etc.

Fortunately, we did eventually all end up connected and made, as I like to say, 'the circuit complete'.

After class, I was invited by fellow First Degree black Belt, Andrea Bell, to come back tomorrow and teach my FloorPlay routine in her class. I enthusiastically agreed.

I spent the remainder of the day hanging out in the motel room watching TV, listening to music, playing with River, inside and outside and resting. I went to get a burger at Burgerville. It's a chain, but it's a local chain, so I wanted to support it. They also use seasonal and local ingredients. I wrote more about it here.


This was actually just a regular Nia class. Andrea told me that she's been introducing FloorPlay into her classes and they've been less than enthusiastic. They made her promise only to do extended FloorPlay on Fridays so they would know which day they could skip. This was a Tuesday. And she didn't tell them I was coming. So I made it my mission to make FloorPlay fun. I put in some dancing and we did our Nia stances seated, and on our backs with our feet in the air. And I think an important aspect of FloorPlay is transitioning from being on the floor to standing and back again, so we played with many different ways to dance through getting up and down on the floor.  Afterwards I gave them an opportunity to speak out on anything they experienced and some of them commented on different aspects of the work that they appreciated. I didn't hear anyone saying they were converted to FloorPlay lovers, but I think I may have planted some seeds.
The afterglow today was deeply relaxed and invigorated.

Andrea also asked me to co teach her evening class with her. So I came back to the studio at 5:45pm.  I chose the two Bowie songs I put together for the tribute class in Seattle, Space Oddity and 'Heroes', and three songs from Frankie Say Nia that never got to see the light of day at NiaStudio last year; Safety Dance, Come On Eileen, and Walk Like an Egyptian. Andrea opened with one of my favorite Nia songs, My Life by Dido. She also mixed in some percussive classic Nia songs from some old Carlos routines, and closed it up with a hip focused FloorPlay and a freestyle cool down and final stretch/rest. I felt peaceful and got very sweaty. We took some pictures afterward.
The Safety Dance 'S'

On Wednesday morning, I slept in. Midmorning, I finally got up and took River out for an eventful walk. First, before my eyes had even adjusted to the light, I heard someone wolf whistle from behind me. I turned around to see if I could see what the attraction was and a woman from the balcony waved at me. She asked me what I was doing, but then noticed I had River on the leash and that explained why I was just standing there by a tree.

A bit later, as River made his familiar rounds around the property, we got to a spot that had always been safe before, but this morning we encountered a barking dog on the other side of the chain link fence. That got River riled up, but I redirected his attention and kept him grounded as we retreated.

And that brought us to a man who had seen us a few days ago and asked me "What kind of pitbull is that?" I didn't know there were 'kinds' so I said, I didn't know and explained I got him from a shelter. Today he was excited to see us and kept repeating "That's a Colby!"  He explained that the white tip of the tail, the white socks and gloves, and the white bib on an otherwise brindled dog is called a John Colby. He implored me to look it up on the Internet, which I did. He also offered me $1000 for him, which I laughed at and turned down. I looked up John Colby and he might be right. It's nice to know River is a coveted breed.

I took my time checking out of the motel. The manager had to call me to give me a nudge. That housekeeping staff likes to get their stuff done early.

I still had four hours before I was to meet my First Degree Black Belt colleague Fred Bass for a video shoot, so River and I just hung out in Portland.

We walked around and a homeless man scolded me on my handling of River. When he started to go ballistic at the proximity of another dog, I lifted straight up on his choke collar. It is the quick and easy way to get him completely redirected away from the other dog. Granted, it looks horrible, but it's brief and it's necessary. I reminded the guy about how many hours he'd accumulated at the other end of the leash of this dog and assured him that I love him and am the reason he's alive and that what I was doing was completely called for. Afterwards, I kept thinking about it, and eventually I wished I had thanked him for showing concern for my dog instead of getting defensive.

Then we went to the park. O'Brien's Park, I think it was called. It was right next to the food truck block so it was packed with people sitting down and eating. And occasional panhandlers or skateboarders. There was enough going on to give River quite a challenge at staying calm. He got excited a lot, but calmed himself very nicely, which is a good sign of maturity. I was happy.

I sat there for at least an hour with him before going to visit a food truck myself. I got a pulled pork sandwich with mustard sauce and went back to the park where River watched me eat it. They also included a MoonPie cookie, which I took a couple of bites from but didn't like.

At three, I went to the studio for the interview. Fred is making a film about why men do Nia, so he put me on camera to ask me some questions about how Nia fits into my life and then he shot me walking River to the park, feeding him, and walking back to the studio.

We finished in plenty of time for River and I to play some tug and chase in the parking garage, and then sit and watch the kids play in the water at Teacher's Park.

At about five I changed in my conductor pants for the evening's class.


I was nervous before class. I think because it's such an unfamiliar territory for me, and I hadn't taught it as much as I'd taught my other routines, so I wasn't as tight as I could be. But with the very first movements of Bolero, I could tell the class was with me and willing to go on the ride. It starts with some very slow and repetitive movements, that can be nerve-wracking to a teacher concerned with keeping it fun and interesting. But afterwards, one of the students commented that she appreciated that aspect because it allowed her to sink into it and really sense the building up of the choreography.

Many of the comments afterwards demonstrated that the students got what I was doing and had a deep, rich experience in class; as did I.

Right after class, I got back in the car and headed up to Washington.


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