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Originally published Friday, October 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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In Nia class, kindness comes with the exercise

Nia is a combination of three martial arts, three healing arts and three types of dance, with a mental-well-being component.

Special to The Seattle Times

To find out more

See www.niaseattle.com/drupal-5.6/.

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Hi Nicole. What a wonderful story about Nia and Susan Tate's class and great photo of... MORE
Thank you so much for this fabulous story! I have been practicing Nia for more than 2 y... MORE
Thanks for the article, Nicole! Funny thing about Nia, it starts off simple enough yet... MORE

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ONCE YOU enter the world of Nia, my advice is to roll with it. Roll with the teacher's instructions to burp up joy, pat rainbows and let yourself shine through. Cynicism is not permitted.

It's possible that Nia may have shown up at your local gym, but it's also possible you don't know what it is. I certainly didn't.

I headed to Greenwood to join a class with Susan Tate, who has taught Nia for more than 13 years. Tate explained that Nia is a combination of three martial arts, three healing arts and three types of dance, with a mental-well-being component. Which, looking back, told me nothing and everything about what I was in for.

It was helpful to learn that Nia originally stood for non-impact aerobics, though these days, devotees say it is simply a style of fitness and mental well-being.

At the beginning of class, Tate had us all introduce ourselves, which seemed sweet and community-oriented. But as soon as we started with warm-up flowy dance moves to a song with the theme of light, I realized I was in for a very fuzzy fitness class.

Early in the class, Tate told us to listen to our "conscious personal trainer" and to do what we could. She encouraged us to choose the degree of intensity based on what felt appropriate, from the modified options to the vigorous ones she demonstrated for the dances.

Neither martial arts, healing arts nor dance is dominant in Nia; all three styles are evident. Throughout class, music plays, invoking themes like freedom and shine. There was a lot of free-form dancing early on, as Tate encouraged us to express ourselves. Good thing I love to dance.

We also made noises as part of the sequencing, which strengthens the core, she said. She regularly mixed in sighs and giggly bursts as she threw her arms into the air; sometimes we yelled "Ha!" as we punched. Correction: The other students yelled "Ha!" I couldn't bring myself to yell, sigh or make much noise at all during class.

The Nia sequences were relatively simple and straightforward to follow, and mixed in different elements, such as karate chopping with the hands and kicks to the side. Some students smiled the entire time, and their enthusiasm was infectious.

My favorite part was the twirling. Sometimes we spun as part of the dance steps, sometimes we whirled free form, and sometimes we had partners. Like I said, just roll with it.

Tate was a great instructor, breaking down all of the sequencing for newbies such as myself, and she showed no inhibition about any of the moves or noises.

Really, Nia is about moving the body, even vigorously if you are inclined, but it is also easy to modify to gentle. Your joints won't suffer in this class, and you will still get your heart rate up. It's not as intense as other aerobics classes, and there is basically no strength or resistance training during an hourlong class.

But if you're looking for a pick-me-up to move your body and meet generous, kind people, Nia could be the community for you.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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