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Pacific Northwest | January 9, 2005Pacific Northwest MagazineJanuary 9, home Home delivery

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 Catherine Brissette, center, moves to the music during an NIA fitness class at the Dance Underground on Capitol Hill in Seattle. NIA, which stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, incorporates elements of nine different disciplines in its workout program.
Catherine Brissette, center, moves to the music during an NIA fitness class at the Dance Underground on Capitol Hill in Seattle. NIA, which stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, incorporates elements of nine different disciplines in its workout program.
Joy in Unity
Dance melds with martial and healing arts for a fresh approach

YOU DO NIA barefoot. It's about "blending the feminine with the masculine energies." And it incorporates movements from nine various disciplines to exercise "the body, mind, spirit and emotions." NIA stands for Neuromuscular Interactive Action, but it also is the Swahili word for "with purpose."

This was about all I knew when Seattle NIA instructor Dara McKinley invited me to watch co-creator Carlos Rosas teach teachers. So I accepted the invitation and showed up at the Dance Underground on Capitol Hill one recent Saturday morning.

Rosas is an average-sized man with intense, dark eyes and shoulder-length hair. He wore a bright-red patterned tank top, black loose-fitting pants and a glittery band on one wrist as he walked to the front of the room. I sat at the back on a folding chair. We were the only two men in the capacity crowd of 30.

Before starting the workout, he told the women to "focus on sensing the joy of movement through your body. The physical, emotional, spiritual. Feel the union with the body and the feeling of joy." He had everyone click their heels three times, then their knees and hands. After they all clucked their tongues three times, I began to wonder what might come next.

What came next was loud music and perfectly choreographed movement. Everyone flowed in sync, combining grace and power. He occasionally would shout "shhhhhah!" into his microphone headset to emphasize the finishes. Eventually, the movements morphed — from dance to tai chi to Aikido. Then everyone began making attacking thrusts in lockstep and shouting "E-yahh!" Then, they danced — to a jazzy riff this time — while Rosas implored them to feel (or focus upon) their calves.

Master Class

Debbie and Carlos Rosas will be in Seattle Feb. 27 to lead a NIA Master Class, to which the public is invited. The class will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Velocity Dance Center, 915 E. Pine St., Suite 200, in the Main Space Theater. For information, e-mail


About halfway through, I noticed the workout part had begun to kick in. Some of the women were in great shape and seemed to feed off the burn. Others compromised their movements so they could continue. A few took breaks.

For a time, Rosas had participants go free-form, floating about as they wished. Then they formed a circle. Throughout the segments, I was most impressed with how much fun they all seemed to be having, flashing smiles and letting out occasional whoops.

Rosas and his wife, Debbie Rosas, founded NIA in 1983. As former aerobics teachers, they sought to keep — not just find — a fresh approach, but also to blend the best of disparate disciplines. Martial-arts movements are meant to work on precision and power. Dance is for fluidity. Various healing-arts movements are to promote alignment and breathing. They do NIA barefooted because they believe that maximizes body efficiency and teaches people to consciously move in a gentler, freer way.

NIA stuck, and now claims to have about 1,300 teachers in 28 countries. It has been taught here since 1996 and there are about a dozen teachers in the Seattle area (see for details).

McKinley discovered NIA about 10 years ago when she was living in Boulder, Colo., a very active city.

"I couldn't find anything I enjoyed," she said. "But I immediately loved NIA, how spirited it was and that it had personality." She also loved the way she didn't need days to recover. Soon, she began teaching, and when she moved to Seattle, she worked to help revive its profile.

Now would I do NIA? Probably not, but I suggested my wife try it. It seems low-impact, collegial and fresh. It also looked fun, and that counts for a lot.

Stroll into shape

Nobody multitasks like a new mom. An audio and visual program called Strollertime takes aim at helping recent moms get a workout while watching their infants.

A musical CD helps Mom pace her "power walk" while pushing her baby's stroller. A video addresses toning, stretching and relaxation once mother and child get back home. The video includes animated graphics that keep the baby engaged so mom can focus on the exercises.

Strollertime was designed with babies 6 weeks to 4 years old in mind, but applies to any child who will stay put in a stroller for 30 minutes. The workout should not be started until the mother receives clearance from her health-care provider, and the video makers urge that safety be the first priority. The baby's enjoyment is second and your workout is third.

The program can be purchased at for $19.95.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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