Men of Nia at StudioNia in Santa Fe
MEN OF NIA
The festivities kicked off with Adelle and Todd team teaching a Nia FreeDance class. That's always a good time as they really leave the student to do their own thing with minimal, unobtrusive guidance. I love to get lost and go on a journey in the music when there is no one pulling my attention away. Adelle is an adept veteran and master at guiding, and Todd is a tyro under her tutelage. Truth be told, he doesn't need to do much. His natural effervescent personality and the charming way he trots around the room dancing, connecting and sharing his joy with the class is enough to make us all want to dance. I felt so good afterward, like I had just meditated and gotten a massage and a workout all at the same time.
MEANWHILE, AT THE MOTEL
They put us on the second floor, but with my new two crate system, and River's new calmness, it didn't really matter. I could park at the bottom of the stairs and the room was the first door at the top of the stairs. We flew gracefully up and down the stairs no differently than we do in our three story Seattle townhouse. Being at the far end of the large property gave us a lot of quiet and anonymity when we played in the rock and succulent landscapes. River was particularly drawn to the bushes where the ants were devouring the food left for the feral cats.
After staying in the room for a day and half, I was leaving to go to the studio and I had a hunch to double check that the door had locked. When I first checked in it took me a bit of struggling to figure out how to operate the idiosyncratic doorknob, so I was still a bit leery of it. It opened right up. I tried and tried and couldn't get it to lock. I stayed on the phone trying to reach the front desk for at least two minutes while it rang and rang and the event at the studio drew nearer and rearer. Soon, I gave up and had to go or risk being late. So I took all of my valuable things and locked them in the car while I left my room unlocked and went to Nia.
JAM AT THE STUDIO
Nine men were teaching today. It was a record number of men for this fourth annual event. I loved to experience all of the different men teaching. There's no doubt that men bring something to the practice that most women don't. It's an ephemeral something that I can only describe as a quality of solidness. Even though each man, as with each woman, teaches with a bit of different flair. The room was jam packed (hey, maybe that's why it's called a jam).
After the jam there was a social hour and pot luck refreshments in the lobby and then there was going to be a panel discussion with the Men of Nia. I took the opportunity instead of partaking in the soirée to take River for a little run so he could expel some of the energy he may have picked up from the raucous dancing and celebrating. By the time he seemed ready to go back in, I had just time to grab a couple of cookies before we gathered in the studio for the panel.
During the panel discussion, I started to get quietly agitated. First of all, a panel discussion is one of my least favorite ways to spend an evening. I'd sooner wait in the parking lot for it to be over. But I went into it with a bit of excitement to hear what sort of 'burning questions' the audience was going to ask.
I had many thoughts and feelings rushing through me as the conversation flowed throughout the evening. Much of what I was feeling didn't make sense to me, but I was definitely uncomfortable. Kelle, as moderator started it off asking us each to say how we got involved with Nia and if it was love at first sight. I started off and told my story in about twenty seconds. It soon became clear that many of the men had a strong desire to be heard and to tell their stories and each story was a bit longer than the one before. The audience seemed rapt, so I know it was just me that was having issues. I was partially listening to the stories and partially trying to figure out why I was having these feelings.
One of the things I felt was like we were being objectified or celebrity worshiped, which is something that goes against my grain. I may have had some feelings of being reduced to a culturally based gender stereotype. I was definitely annoyed by the "How Do We Get More Men in Nia" conversation that inevitably ensued. I've had this conversation more times than I care to and it comes down to me fundamentally disagreeing with the idea that we should do that. I believe that Nia is a feminine practice and only a small percentage of men will ever enjoy it. I say just continue to let the vast majority of Nia practitioners be women and actually put more energy into reaching more of what is obviously our market; women. It frustrates me how much time and attention is put into discussing how to lure men into the practice, which is kind hearted, but bad business. Know your market. In order to attract a large majority of men, you'd have to change Nia so much that it wouldn't be Nia anymore. Stop that conversation. STOP IT! (As you can tell, that's a trigger for me.) And a little bit I think the control freak in me was having a hard time with the way the panel was getting away from the moderator.
The evening was already going long and I was wishing I was somewhere else and having thoughts that I wasn't actually as much with 'my people' as I thought I was. I've always been a rogue and a bit of an outsider, but at least I always felt like I belonged and was on board with most of it.
All of these feelings were churning around in me as seconds dragged into hours and each new sentence someone began to formulate was like fingernails on a chalkboard.
After a while, the energy shifted and Kelle said that the panel had taken on a life of its own and she was going to let it continue that way. I took the opportunity of that transitory moment to slip out. I said under my breath, "I have to go." and discretely grabbed River out of his cage and ran away to my car. The fresh air felt revitalizing and I felt almost instantly better once I had gone.
Except for the lingering question of whether or not I was actually still aligned with Nia.
BACK TO THE UNLOCKED ROOM
It didn't look ransacked and I did a quick inventory and everything was accounted for in the room. I dialed "0" for the front desk. It rang and rang and rang for another two or three minutes before I got impatient and hung up and put River on the leash to march the long hike to the office at the other end of the three-building property.
I expected to find the office filled with customers and the clerk(s) too busy to grab the phone, but instead it was lone young woman sitting in silence. She looked puzzled when I told her I had just called and also tried calling about two hours ago and no one answered. She inspected the phone and then looked up at me and explained, "oh. It's turned off." She casually plugged the phone line back in like it happens all the time and then asked me about the reason for my visit.
She couldn't do anything but offer me another room. I didn't want to move and told her I didn't car about it while I was in the room. But was more concerned about when I leave in the morning. She ended up writing a note for the maintenance guy to come to the room in the morning and I also told her I'd call her to remind her, so to leave the phone plugged in!
In the morning, it took a while to get everything going and by the time the maintenance guy showed up, I was in my leggings and in the car pulling out to drive to the studio. I saw him knock on my door so I got out of the car and called up to him. "That's my room. Try the door. It's unlocked. I can't lock it." I'm not sure how much he understood, and he sort of repeated what I said. So I asked him "can you fix it so the door locks?" He said yes, I said thanks and told him I'd be back in a couple of hours and drove off as he walked back in the direction of the office.
I assumed he was going to get his tools, but then I wondered if he thought I meant that he should come back in a couple of hours. If I had the time, I would have stopped and explained myself better, but I didn't have any minutes to spare if I wanted to arrive, get set up and be calmly prepared to teach class.
JAG TEACHING FANTASTIC
Still feeling a little bit disconnected from the practice, I was able to pull myself together enough to have a great time teaching my Fantastic routine. It was fun and felt very polished and professional. Afterwards I had an almost empty feeling inside like a ditch that wasn't getting filled up. None of these feelings are outwardly explainable. There was nothing about the class, the routine, the experience that would justify my feeling that way. I attributed it to a leftover malaise from being triggered last night. I know that I'm emotionally sensitive and I do everything larger than life so I'm used to emotional hangovers.
Because of the awkward way I was feeling, I quickly took River out for a walk after class to get some sun and air and normalize myself before coming back for the next class half an hour later.
DAVID TEACHING DIRTY DANCING
And the plot thickens. David drew a larger and much more boisterous crowd than I did. His routine was electric and powerful and the class was singing and celebrating and beside themselves with enthusiastic jubilance. And I felt envious. I thought I was failing to reach the students; I lost my touch.
And it reinforced my feelings of alienation as everyone gleefully sang along to "The Time Of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes" which are both songs that make my skin crawl.
David's routine was punctuated by a rousing applause which I compared to the polite clapping after my routine and let my feelings get hurt when David was given a nickname "Captain Click" because of his amazing choreographing abilities. I gathered River and took him back to the room.
STILL UNSECURED IN THE ROOM
The door swung right open. I had an hour to shower and eat and use the toilet and take River out to get some much deserved playtime as he has been an absolute perfect angel through a whole lot of cage time. I tried calling the office. They answered and I told them it was still unlocked so they said he was on the way. Instead of eating, showering, or relieving myself or River, I sat and waited for him to show up.
Time ticked away as he finally arrived. He fussed with the door while I waited. Couldn't fix it. Suggested I switch rooms. I reluctantly agreed, seeing no alternative. He sensed my trepidation and said I should go take a look at it. I noticed it was also right near a staircase with a parking space right at the bottom of the stairs, and the room seemed fine. It had a dining table and chair which I don't see in these rooms often, and I like having. So I agreed to switch. He said he'd go get a cart for my luggage and I went and quickly and not carefully threw all of my things into bags for transport. All the while I'm aware that I still only have 40 minutes to eat and shower and poop and walk River and drive back to the studio.
I'm nearly done packing everything up when he comes up and holds out a new lock and says excitedly "Look!" I asked if he was going to install that right now and he said he was. So I shut River in his cage and sat on the bed while he worked on the door for about fifteen minutes.
Long story short, he finished the job leaving me about fifteen minutes before I had to leave. I prioritized pooping and eating and skipped my shower and River's outdoor time. I just changed into clean clothes and we got back to the studio in just enough time to get started with the afternoon workshop.
KEN TEACHES TELLING YOUR STORY THROUGH FREE DANCE
I was a bit hesitant to come to this session because I hate the thought of telling my story, much less with the added pressure of coming up with an interpretive dance to tell it. But I do love Ken and admire his work and had committed myself to attending the whole weekend in support of Mark and the event.
I won't go into all the details, but Ken guided us masterfully through what felt to me like a therapy session. He allowed our body to tell the story without being literally guided and it brought me a lot of clarity on what I was going through. I cried several times and got angry a few times and was happy and blissful at times, too. In the end he had us speaking our stories as we danced and that is when I felt the spirit move through me.
I was having both parts of a conversation that at times became almost like a heated argument. I hashed out my issues, threw blame, got defensive, explained, understood, and finally, just as the song was ending had an epiphany and felt refreshed, enlightened and free.
I couldn't be more thankful to Ken and his ability to guide me through this incredible catharsis without any intimacy. While I know Ken and I'm sure he was watching and noticing all I was going through, I appreciate that I didn't ever feel him doing it, and if I didn't know Ken I might not even have thought he was seeing me.
That workshop was two and half emotion-filled hours. Afterward, I had to share my experience with Ken and thank him and compliment his work. The conversation took up most of the break, so that I couldn't give River sufficient outside time. Instead I was only able to run him to a bush and then right back into the crate while I took another class.
MARK TEACHES S P A C E
I admire Mark so much. Anyone who's an artist, I admire. But besides being a prolific painter, Mark also has a super cool sense of personal style. He dresses uniquely and is always doing something different with his hair. But mostly, he's so down to earth and cool as a cucumber that it sometimes makes me nervously self conscious. I am inspired and slightly intimidated by him; not because he's intimidating but because his easy, casual confident warmth points up my awkward social anxiety.
So I was thrilled that he was presenting his first choreographed work. He'd worked on it for a year and was ready to present it. And I loved it. The music was perfect. I grow quickly weary of the type of dance music with drum machines and auto tune, but he chose some nice, organic, grounded music and put together some katas that were complex enough to be interesting and challenging, but repeated them enough so that we could learn, move and personalize ourselves.
His voice is so soothing as he guided us through the movement journey. And he had brought in several of his paintings for us to enjoy during class. Three of them were based on songs from the routine. Six more paintings 'about' the other six songs in the routine are in the works, said Mark.
It was the perfect cap to being fixed by Ken's FreeDance workshop to then experience this piece of work that reignited my alignment with this practice we call Nia. I loved the work he did so much, I asked him if he would be willing to collaborate with me on a routine together. He said yes and suggested we get it ready to co-present at next years Men of Nia.
MORE MOTEL MISHAPS
After class I immediately ushered River out to the car and then ushered him quickly back into the room. I got his food and took him outside to feed him. Nothing in the world matters to him when I'm about to feed him, but as soon as he realized I had given him the last of the food, he immediately shifted gears and needed to relieve himself. It was then that I realized he hadn't had the chance to do it all day. He'd just been in the crate. So I gave him a bit of a long walk. It might have been longer, but I was still in my wet shorts and t shirt from the two afternoon sessions. And in the high desert, when the sun goes down, so does the mercury. It dropped about twenty degrees and I was getting cold so River didn't get as long a walk as he would've liked. Soon after that it was raining.
I was looking forward to finally showering after four classes and walk in the cold rain. It was taking way too long for the hot water to come out of the shower. I started to wonder if I had the handle turned the wrong way, but it only got colder on the other side. I waited for what seemed like ten minutes before resigning myself to the reality that I was about to take a cold shower. It's only bad for the first few seconds, and then I acclimate to it and it's fine. It wasn't pure cold water, it had a bit of warm in it which took the edge off, but definitely not as warm as one would make it for a comfortable shower.
Just as I was rinsing off and finishing, the water started to warm up to the point that I needed to turn the handle to reintroduce some cold into the mix. But by then I was done, so I just shut if off. Had I let the water run longer I could've avoided the shock and discomfort.
I slept like a rock. In the morning there was a thick bright rainbow in the sky visible from my room window.
KEN TEACHES YIN AND YANG OF DEBBIE AND CARLOS
My body felt a little stiff as it was cold this morning and I did a lot yesterday. Ken's routine started off active right away, but I was able to pull it back when I felt like my body wasn't quite warmed up enough. He focused on the hexad and alerted us to the Front, Back, Right, Left, Up and Down as the six directions in relation to our bodies. He used all songs from the classic Nia ouvre, and it was great to do some of those old katas again. Ken is such a generous teacher. Each of his classes are packed full of information and moments of discovery. I learn so much from him every time.
RIVER MAKES SOME DEMANDS
We had half an hour before the next class, so I took River out for a walk. He and I have developed our communication to the point where I don't physically manipulate him via the leash. For about a year now I've been working on never resorting to pulling him when I want him to come, but to get him to go where I want through attraction. Sometimes it requires a bit of patience as he has a natural delay before responding to most ideas. Through this process of communication, he's developed a practice of sometimes 'asking' me permission to break from the stride of our walk so he can more closely investigate a certain something we'd just passed. We'll be walking along and he suddenly stops. Since I can't pull on the leash, I have to stop, too, and turn to see what he's doing. And he's frozen and staring up at me, but slightly turning his body toward one side. He'll remain in that position until I respond. I'll either say "come on" and he'll continue walking with me, or if I say "ok" he'll bolt around and explore the exciting bush.
And this is what he was doing today. Once we had walked a block from the studio, I kept trying to steer him back around, but he insisted we continue onward in any direction but to the studio. It was well over half an hour before I could entice him back into the cage.
TONY TEACHES GOOD TIMES
The class had already begun by the time we made it back to the studio, so once again I had to temper myself from the full blown movements they had worked up to in order to give myself a little warm up. But soon I caught up and was moving along with the group.
Tony used some familiar music, some Nia music and some music I didn't know. He's got a strong spirituality that comes through as the most important part of his teaching. It shows up in the things that he says, the pearls he uses and the way he sprinkles all of his songs with many FreeDance breaks. His classes have the unique sensation of casual reverence. He makes it so easy to have a great time. He is humble and so generous with the good vibes.
He uses a lot of dance music, the kinds I call "oonce oonce oonce" or "screaming diva" songs. Not my genre of choice, but certainly popular nonetheless. Once again the students were singing along. But because I wasn't in such a bad head space, I didn't get envious that the students sang to his songs and must like him better than me. Instead I remembered that they song along to some of my songs, too. But when I was under the gloom cloud yesterday, I somehow didn't remember that.
After class I took River back to the motel and let him walk around in the parking lot, sniffing the feral cat bushes. When he was done, I showered and ate my lunch. Then I gathered my notes for the afternoon workshop I was teaching.
JAG TEACHES MAXIMIZING YOUR STUDENT EXPERIENCE
I wanted to teach a playshop totally free falling. My idea was that the students would show up with questions or with problems that they wanted solutions for in the context of enjoying Nia classes, and then I would be able to offer them solutions on the spot.
But I felt that I should also have a back up plan in case all I get from the students are eager expectant faces, ready for whatever. I started to play around with formatting some of the biggest things I see students doing to sabotage their own best interests. I called them the 13 Principles of Being a Nia Student and overlaid them on the 13 White Belt Principles of Nia.
I was also playing around with applying the Seven Deadly Sins to being a Nia student, but hadn't been able to get all seven. I got stuck on the difference between Greed and Gluttony and didn't know what to say about Lust.
As it turns out, most of the students said they just came because they wanted to hear what I had to say and had no agenda, and the few students with specific questions would be perfectly answered by my presenting the 13 Principles of Being a Nia Student, so I went ahead and taught those.
I also had the last minute idea of sneaking in my Profound routine. I was only invited to teach one class and they asked for the Fantastic routine so I thought I could use the playshop as an opportunity to show at least some of my other 2017 creation. So I laid out a few principles and we discussed them and then I led them through a couple of songs from Profound, giving them the opportunity to both experience my new work and to practice using the principles I just gave them. We went back and forth from talking about and then dancing the 13 Principles.
I felt like the workshop went well. We had some good discussions and I covered all of the issues the students brought up. Several people told me afterward that I had taught them something or at least given them something to consider or ponder.
MEN OF NIA ULTIMATE JAM
We closed out the weekend with another jam taught by the nine of us. As with most jams, it was off the hook. The fun, the playfulness, the masculinity. The masculinity is what really made this (and makes all of the Men of Nia jams) so much different than most Nia.
I loved it, and it's obvious that the student community loves it too. It is indescribably fun to celebrate the male energy of Nia this way. I was grinning ear to ear and buzzing with energy through the whole class.
Afterward, we had a bit of carrot cake and then.... parting is such sweet sorrow.... It was an hour or more of good-byes before the studio thinned out and it was just the stragglers. I was one of the last to leave. I couldn't get enough of the hugs. Happily, I felt more connected than ever to Nia and as motivated as ever to get back home and dive into teaching my new classes and getting fired up about building up a student base again.
DISTURBANCES AT THE MOTEL
I was first disturbed by the hot water situation. This time, I let the water in the shower run for at least 25 minutes. I watched almost all of Family Feud, while I checked to see if the water was coming out hot yet. I remembered that the night before it finally did start to heat up but not until after I was done, so I knew that tonight I should give it longer than I did last night. But after almost half an hour I started feeling too guilty about wasting all the water so I took another cold shower. This time the water never got hot, even at the end.
In the middle of the night, I was awakened by an argument. Two guys shouting as one stumbled his way out to his car and the other one tried to lure him to come back. The guy threw a bottle, shattering it in the middle of the parking lot and cursed as he stumbled to his car. His cohort called out to him saying don't drive stupid, but that only served to rile the guy up more. He pulled angrily out of his parking spot and spun around to be facing directly at Babe.
I was helpless, kneeling naked on the bed looking down at him from the second floor as he clumsily shifted into drive and deftly drove off in an S pattern managing to avoid hitting Babe and any other obstacle.
Before driving completely off, he stops so that the two can continue the heated exchange; one in the car and the other from the room on the second floor. At one point, I was surprised that the comeback from one of the guys was "I love you! Be careful." They didn't strike me as lovers.
It took me a while to fall back to sleep after the excitement, but I was aroused again, this time by hearing someone loudly knocking on a door down the hall. After knocking a few times, he called out "Management! Open Up. If I hear one more complaint I'm going to call the police and you're out!" The tenant shouts back, "I can't control my brother." They went back and forth for a while.
Again, I was stimulated by the exchange so I needed to unwind before I found sleep again. This time I was jolted out of sleep by the crash of a big trash truck entering the parking lot and emptying the dumpster. By this time the sun was up, but when I asked Siri what time is was he said "6:09. Time to still be in bed." He was right.
The next day I was still in Santa Fe, but done with Nia. I needed the day off, as did River. I took him on a walk in the morning and made a big breakfast for myself. Then I went to the grocery store and loaded up on healthy(ish) food that travels well.
Then I packed up all of my clothes and River's blankets and drove to the laundromat. His blankets really needed to be washed and they had nice big industrial sized machines. I took River for long walks around the perimeter of the shopping center parking lot while our clothes and blankets spun.
We went back to the room and I literally spent the rest of the day lounging. I watched TV, looked at Facebook and blogged. I also got online and rearranged my driving schedule and motel reservations due to our cancelling one of my gigs for lack of RSVPs.
I was a bit overzealous in the planning of that particular class anyway. It turned out that it was going to be a 7 1/2 hour drive day and I'd have to skip seeing some of my favorite parts of Route 66. But with the new schedule, I can take two leisurely four hour days, leaving me plenty of time to stop along the way.
I watched a movie version of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well as many other shows. On Facebook I was seeing a lot about the football players taking a knee in protest of the systemic inequality of justice and violence against black people perpetrated by the police force. It astounded and saddened me that people twist it around to make it seem like they're being disrespectful and unpatriotic to make such a protest during the National Anthem.
I got into a little bit of a tiff with someone when I said that Trump had the right to say the things he said. I felt like it was hypocritical to say that the players had a right to protest but he wasn't allowed to call them names or to suggest they be fired. My argument was that he wrote tweets, he didn't make any presidential declaration or exercise any power. I don't agree with him in the slightest, but I do respect his right to be the biggest asshole he wants to be. That's what America is all about; being the biggest asshole you want to be.
I'm so glad I have Nia and great friends and colleagues that love and support me. This weekend was a turbulent one, but I'm glad I did it and I look forward to doing it again (and again).
As I write this, it is Monday and marks the first day of the penultimate week of this trip. I've driven about 8300 miles so far and have done six of the eight weeks. I'm still having a great time, but also really looking forward to being home.