Nia, for men?

Ok kids, let’s not dance around this, right up front, WHY DON’T WE SEE MORE OF THE MALE  GENDER IN NIA CLASSES?

That being said, I know that I can truly only answer the question for myself, my observations, my thoughts, my theories.    BUT, I would like to hear from you, your thoughts, your observations, your theories on why we don’t see more men at Nia classes.

I’m aware of the statistic that of all the people taking a group fitness type class, something like 3% of them are male.  You could say that maybe the question is that why aren’t more men in a group fitness type class?  Too a certain point that may be true, but only so far.  Nia is not your typical group fitness type class, so let’s for the sake of this conversation not put it in the general category….let’s ask specifically, why not more men in Nia?

So, my story…intertwined with my thoughts.

A little more than six years ago, I had to come to downtown Portland for several consecutive Saturdays.  My sister in law, Laurie,  was going to Portland for a Nia class and thought we should save some money by carpooling.  Going green before green.

That first Saturday I finished my work early and so headed for Yamhill where Nia Studio is located.   Took the elevator to the 4th floor where there was a nice waiting area.    Heard some nice music coming from the end of the hallway and had a seat, but before I could sit down, there was this incredibly loud shouting coming from the Nia room…”YES”……YES…..YES.   and then NO…..NO…..NO.   I have to tell you, my first instinct was to run back to the elevator.   BUT, things started to quiet down, music was softer, it felt safe to have a seat.   Within a few minutes, a whole lot of very sweaty women were coming out of the room…..smiling.   What’s with that?  And shortly, here came Laurie, sweaty, and smiling.  The ride home was kind of quiet.  I really wasn’t sure what to ask or say.

Next Saturday….repeat.  But on the ride home, I finally had to ask……So, what with this Nia thing….and what’s with the yelling?

I’m sure her answer was all that it should be, but honestly, today, I can’t remember what her answer was.  I know my thought was…glad she likes it.

Fast forward to a little more than a year later.  As I said in my earlier blog, my hip is shot and my running days are for now over.  Laurie is now a Nia teacher and starting a class in Hillsboro, and quite bluntly puts it…”why don’t you just try this, it’s only going to be one other student and you, and after all, what have you got to lose?”   Except that I’m remembering the yelling that was going on, and I think there’s like some dancing involved, and I’m like most guys….I don’t do dancing.  BUT, I desperately need some exercise.  So I go….reluctantly.

First class, turns out the other student is a no show, so it’s just Laurie and I.  But this turns out to be a good thing, for I am a little bit less embarrassed with just Laurie there than if there is another person in the same room.   Ah…..problem number 1….ego…I don’t want to look foolish, even in front of just Laurie.  And I have things to feel foolish about.  Remember I mentioned dancing.  It’s true…there are some dance moves involved.  All my life, I had only done maybe 2 dance moves…..twist…and some disco.  We did not do any of these moves in that first class.   We were doing a mix of moves and dance.  We did some martial arts moves…to music…oh, by the way, If there was one thing that really caught me by surprise that first day, it was the music.  It really was wonderful.  My first introduction to the music of Angelique Kidjo.  But I pretty much spent the class completely focused her feet.  Trying to get my feet to do what hers were doing, at least until she threw this thing called “freedance” at me.  “What, do whatever move I want to do?  Are you kidding, like what…give me some ideas….can’t I just do what you’re doing?….listen to what?  my body?  my body doesn’t talk?  heck, I’m a guy, I barely talk!”   Now, you would think that first day sounds like a disaster, and in some ways it felt like it, but get this…..if nothing else….get this, cause I did.    I WALKED OUT SWEATY, AND IN NO PAIN.  No, I wasn’t smiling, at least not on the outside.   So, I could get a great workout, and my hip didn’t hurt.  I guess I should try this again.

Long story short.  I know, that if I haden’t been injured, and sort of left with Nia, or nothing, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it.  But in time….I got it.  The Nia Book helped my head understand the science behind it, so my head could get it.  My body got it before my head did.   My ego got out of the way, my body liked the movement.  I really don’t think of it as dance, I think of it as moving…and I know my body likes it.  Oh…turns out, my body was always talking to me, it just took me some time to be able to listen to it.  It also turns out “freedance” is my favorite parts of each hour.  I could go on and on about all that I have gained from my Nia practice, but for now.  I know why I didn’t get it.  Ego, embarrassment, uncomfortable in my own skin, too much in my head.   I just wonder if it’s that for other guys.   How would they feel if they just committed to it for 3 months.   Would they feel the transformation that I felt.  Would reading the book help them like it  did me?  I wonder.

And while this may sound somewhat sexist…part of me doesn’t want other guys to get it, part of me really likes moving to great music, with really great gals for an hour.

So, my story, my thoughts, please share with me any thoughts you have on the subject.

And for heaven’s sake…..have fun out there…..Fred

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12 Responses to Nia, for men?

  1. Christina says:

    I love this entry though I have no particular insights as to why men shy away from Nia being a girl myself. Well last time I checked anyway. (sorry old joke between me and my other) I have tried to get Chris to come to Nia but he will not even let me get past the first two words of explaination before he shuts me out. I know he would love the activity but I think a lot of it is fear and embarrassment combined in the simple statements of “I don’t dance” and “That is your thing.”

    I would love for more men to participate (Bring em on!) as everyone who had come brings a lovely balance of energy to all of ours. Yin and Yang in action.

    If you break the code, find the answer or come up with a fool proof way to get more men to join us, let me know and I’ll be the first to try the technique on my husband! 🙂

  2. Caz says:

    Of all the fitness classes I have taught over the past 13 years..the only ones that were well attended by men where ‘Bodypump’ – a class set using weights – ‘Boxercise’ – a boxing aerobic class and “Aeroskip – an aerobic class with jump ropes, my other classes were always female dominated. These other classes seemed to be more popular as they appealed to the traditional ‘masculine’ sports – free weights, boxing
    and jump ropes (hey would you tell a world heavy weight boxer that skipping is not a ‘guy’ thing?) so maybe an emphasis on the strength part of Nia could be used as a way to encourage guys into the class…(look at the latest Beachbody workout series…get buff without weights …get amazing results from pushing your own body…I know exercise infomerical maniac) and maybe they might enjoy the more balanced workout….just dangle that strength carrot…. good luck and look forward to working out with more testosterone in the room!

  3. Ryan Casey says:

    I tried Nia recently and it generated enormous social anxiety for me. I wanted to fit in, which was hard because, aside from being the only guy in a room full of women, I’ve always had a hard time with social dancing in general.

    I’ve had the most success with swing dancing for various reasons. Partly because it feels good to swing my limbs around, and partly because I had friends who helped give me a smooth introduction to it. But even then the anxiety produced by trying to perform well (don’t mess up, bore your dance partner, overwhelm your dance partner, try to forget about who might be watching, and don’t lose that beat!) has kept me away from it 360 days out of the year.

    I’ve tried going to clubs and dancing, but I pretty much hate everything about it. Everyone feels like they’re either acting out some caricature of “alpha gorilla” behavior or huddling defensively in impenetrable dance circles. Plus the “male” dance moves feel constricted and kinda dumb.

    I did some theater in high school and had to learn choreography for musicals, but I kinda hated it. I could never keep the steps in the right order or remember the sequences fast enough to keep up with everyone else. I practiced longer and harder than anyone else, but I was consistently the worst at it. So a lot of it for me was watching other people and trying to just do what they were doing. That’s kinda what Nia reminded me of. I was in this social situation where I felt like the odd one out, and I wanted to fit in but I couldn’t quite keep the steps straight and it was frustrating, and then in “freedance” everyone was doing the same damn thing, so I waffled between doing my own thing and doing what everyone else was doing. I felt ridiculous either way, so I just went back to trying to do what everyone else was doing while avoiding eye contact. I didn’t want to engage anyone because I didn’t feel anything like what they felt like. Everyone looked so fucking happy and shit, and I just wanted to get the fuck out.

    Anyway, I’m probably going to make myself do Nia more because I felt like my response wasn’t rational. It feels like there’s stuff I need to work through, and I figure confronting it’s the fastest way through.

  4. This was great finding your article, as about a yr & half ago due to a groupon I attended a Nia class. A male friend of mine and I were going to do it together, so we were NOT the only male in the room. Well he no showed, then bailed. I had at that point gone to 3 classes by myself. It was socially awkward at first. there was another guy in the front of the class. I was firmed planted in the back. Once you get over the fear and anxiety – its amazing how freeing it is and fun! I really wish more men would be ok with it. I just moved to Tucson, so I am now looking for a new class. SO we will see if I find one. Thanks for the excellent write up on Nia from a guys perspective.

  5. Yesterday I tried out Nia and I faced the same situation as subscribed by Ryan: a class full of women + one other man beside me.
    So I also asked myself why there aren’t more men?

    And the answer hit me during the movements: Lots did not feel natural for me and so I think they are designed for the female body.
    Which doesn’t wonder me as the web search confirmed that the founder of Nia is a woman.
    Even their website without exception shows pictures if women practicing. Not even one single men.

    Still I like the concept to empower women by included marital arts elements, shouting out, …
    The world needs powerful women. 😀

    For myself:
    I enjoyed the TaiChi elements I discovered.
    I also liked best the free movement part as there I could listen to my male body which movements fit.
    I also liked the shouting parts.
    The music disturbed me in my intention to listen what my body prefers to do.

    I probably will attend some other classes for inspiration which movements my body might do.

    I will include those I like into my Authentic Movement practice inclusive some shouting. 😀

    For group practice I will continue with TaiChi or similar ones which is in my point of view more adequate for both genders through its evolution over several hundred years by male and female masters.

    Whatever you do I can recommend:

    Listen to your body and your heart. 😀

    Heart open greetings from Austria

    • Molly Reingruber says:

      Nia was co-created by two people: Debbie Rosas and Carlos Aya Rosas (a man)! He retired a few years ago, but everyone still holds him in high regard and with deep respect for his contributions to Nia.

  6. A good question. Odd, but I never felt intimidated by being in a class of women, and one of my first classes was a Jam in Austin where I was the only guy in a class of about 100. I got some of hard looks,from a couple of the lesbians but just blew them off and enjoyed the class. I eventually worked my way through a Black Belt and a couple of week long events…forget what they were called.

    My take is that most guys think it terms of building muscle, rather than being limber..macho, macho. Thats sad because Nia does build muscle, just not the bulky kind you get from freewieght reps. And in truth, most men are not as self confident as they act…nor are women. We all wear masks sometimes.

    And Fred, Ive met and danced with Laurie many times…… a real lady…..#:<)


  7. Robin says:

    Saw this on Facebook and thought I’d reply. To start, I’m a transgendered man, meaning I was born female and by the miracle of science, am getting my real body (I’m just starting, too!) In some cases you could say I’m 50% both male and female and that will reflect in my position. Also I will pull a little from my partner who is more like 70% female and 30% male. Believe me, if you haven’t met her and you’re scratching your head, when you do you’ll get it.

    When I first heard of Nia it was sold to me as a dance-martial arts class, like zumba but with martial arts. I (and my partner) come from taekwondo. We loved it. Why we left is another story and unrelated so I’ll leave it out. I wanted to get fit and loosen up my body which was at the time really sick and tight. When I took my first class I was totally confused and wasn’t sure how much I liked it but I did love the idea of learning to put moves to music I enjoyed (hadn’t heard much of the Nia music at this point) so the creativity was what took me to my 52 moves training and there it was very form and function which relaxed my (I assume) male mind. I learned the science of it before I threw myself into the insanity of it.

    For myself, my White Belt (which was in many ways my first real taste of classic Nia) scared me! I, like many men I believe are private. Not because we are really little emotionally soft baby boys in side but because society has taught us that we are to show about a handful of emotions and that is it. Otherwise we’re acting feminine and that is just flat not allowed. Another thing that bugged me, from the male mind, is everything felt very sexualized. The movements and the letting go of your body, allowing it to move in (at times) very provocative ways, left me really not wanting to be standing there among a bunch of women moving in ways that were, by my point of view then, very no-no slutty and then worse: _I_ was expected to do that, TOOO!?! O.O; Oh heeeeelll no was my first reaction. In fact all the way through my black belt I still am not comfortable, if I go into my head, with the sexualized community charged around me.

    Another thing that might deter men is the FreeDance as you pointed out. The lack of form, the lack of yang, the lack of direction. A sudden break from form leaves me feeling off the floor and where I understand I can do whatever I want, the truth is I’d rather not have to be _vulnerable_ and maybe make myself look stupid. From my days in martial arts, standing in rows or lines and making motions with my peers was totally comfortable but this FreeDance stuff is ludicrous. I’m half way to liking it, I use it as break periods. My partner shows her 30% male brain here as she HATES it.

    Further, as stated above, all the marketing is for women. Let’s be honest. Almost every photo and video is full of women. If we want to include more men, Nia HQ will have to do a push to honor the male aspect more. Love Debbie as I do, she’s very focused on the power of women and where it’s sure is necessary, her own child needs to be treated as both male and female… or it’s going to keep pushing men away.

    One more reason I can think that men aren’t openly into the idea of what Nia offers, far and wide, is the fact that it isn’t macho. I don’t mean the highest forms of macho but rather men tend to think ‘men work out in gyms, the lift to buff up and they jog for cardio’ or they work out in fight based clubs like boxing or martial arts (and a large variety). The usual idea is that women like the free form dancing. If a man dances it is because he is a _professional artist_. If a woman likes to dance its’ because she’s just a crazy fun free flowing pixie and that’s normal. Sexist as it is, there are standards in our heads from our good ole’ country. I know that even now if martial arts wasn’t part of Nia I wouldn’t be doing it.

    So to highlight:
    – Feeling vulnerable during FreeDance
    – The possible sexualization of the dancers and their moves (whether intentional or not)
    – Men Lift & Fight, Women Dance & Yoga = stereotypes
    – Marketing is directed at women

    I think maybe having a ‘men’s only’ Nia event would go a long way. Specifically if it was marketed as a means of ‘full body strength training, body control and cardio’ rather then ‘expression, dance and cardio’. I think men could get into it a lot more if it was just marketed right; and I also found that bringing in weights for class gets their attention. Though truthfully my classes _are_ small, I am still a fledgling teacher in many ways.

    If anyone wants to take up the challenge to make some male directed marketing for Nia let me know. Maybe we can come up with something. I have a camera and a background in Graphic Design which dovetail into marketing material creation. We can do this if we work together. I’d be happy to champion it. Email me and maybe we can get together, do a ‘T’ class and for every 5 men we bring in one woman to make the visual balance to the rest of the marketing. Not saying women are discluded by any means, just for the sake of making the visual impact we want, we need to flip the balance in the videos and photos. 😛

    • Ryan C. says:

      My experience has been somewhat different, but my experience generally tends to be different from most mens’, from what I’ve observed. There was no sexual element for me, but I can see that being a thing for many men. I generally prefer moving freely to trying to copy everyone else’s movements, but I also don’t know if that’s the case for most men. I do think I connect with the generic male experience in my preference for privacy. My primary issue with the free dance was that I felt like I was being observed, and if one is being observed then it tends to become a lot harder to engage oneself fully in what one is doing. The freedance didn’t feel so much “free” as it did felt like an exercise in trying to blend in. But then again, that could have been more of a beginner-in-a-new-environment thing than a male thing. I have a hard time discerning anything as being rooted in gender, to be honest, so I’m probably one of the worst people possible to be participating in this discussion.

      Anyway, FWIW, part of the appeal of Nia for me had been the low-impact nature of it. I did Tae Kwon Do for a while as well, but it ended up being murder on my knees. I want to put off needing artificial joints for as long as possible, so I definitely value exercises that are low-impact and high-return.

  8. Robin says:

    FreeDance being uncomfortable seems to be echoing here. I will agree, Ryan, that in many cases up until about my Brown Belt, I felt like I had to ‘fit in’ rather then be free. Even now as a black belt I find myself getting consciousness. I think there is such vulnerability and discomfort with FreeDance because we are 100% responsible for every movement we make. If it look ‘stupid’ to someone then we’re ‘stupid’ or if it looks sexual we’re being horn ball, and the list of judgements goes on. I think there is an element of observation that happens in FreeDance, though most dancers who embrace the higher level belt learning (and those who do so without the training) are often doing it to get inspiration for new body movements. All bodies have patterning that we repeat and often they are different. Something you do may be entirely new to my body so I’ll mimic it. It isn’t a judgment so much as an exploration. Still to people who are private, as I and my partner am, it can still smack of ‘center stage’ and judgement.

    One thing that I have adapted to doing for FreeDance, specifically the god awful ‘free dance shapes’ is to make postures from comic books, video games and cartoons that I love. Like making the motions of Darkwing Duck’s entrance, making some cheesy Power Rangers actions, or even copying some FairyTail (yep spelled that way) magic attack motions. I figure I might look silly but at least my brain doesn’t fry, stress me out, and if just ONE person knows what I’m doing I might make a friend!

    For all my fellow niaites out there who just went ‘oh my god Robin doesn’t do FreeDance right’ I will say, in my home where I have a small garage studio and privacy, I do some serious FreeDance. I get it in, just in my way and my space. It doesn’t seems like my semi-planned FreeDance motions impact my students as they tend to just go wild.

    Being private can be part of the FreeDance, too. Small and personal movements. Eyes closed or half lidded helps me some times. I can go into my own world. I use this in training where I can’t just go home and FreeDance.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have taken African dance and there can be a similar dynamic and ratio of women to men as in NIA. What was different from NIA, was that the men actually were being taught slightly different steps from the women…the moves had a more masculine feel. I know NIA has the balance of Yang and Yin in theory and practice, but as a man I still perceive the overall feeling as very feminine. I think as men we receive quite a bit of societal training about what it means to be a man, and often being feminine, vulnerable, or soft is considered negative. Even men like myself who have challenged that internalized misogyny both in action and words, still come up against it as it is so deep seated. I was at a men’s group recently where all of this group of aware and somewhat enlightened men expressed this exact struggle. Wanting to embrace the internal feminine, but also afraid that we will no longer be men if we do. Maybe knowing this can help the women of NIA in their understanding of the men of NIA.

  10. I took my first Nia class last Saturday during the Global Mala event in Manila, Philippines. And yes, I was the only male student in class.

    Being a yoga practitioner gave me the permission to open myself to different possibilities on finding ways and means to become fit, to be happy, and to feel good inside out. And while I dance with both left feet, Nia’s freedance allowed me to choreograph my own steps in the spirit of freedom and openness to receive a lot of blessings and to spread lots of love and kindness to everyone.

    What about the “YES, YES, YES, YES, NO, NO, NO, NO” part of it? It is, for me, a mental exercise that through dance, we learn to accept and love ourselves (YES), and shun out negativity, letting go of the things that no longer serves us (NO). In my experience, Nia complements every thing that we do to love our bodies better.

    Nia, while targeted mostly to women, is something that men should also consider trying. While we still live in a world where men have to maintain their masculine self, a Nia practice enables men to release themselves from the world of stereotyping and to live in pure bliss and freedom where acceptance and love are the important tenets of a healthy and happy life.

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