Dancing · fashion · femalestrength · fitness classes

Nia With My Mum

Nia girl drawing
Self-portrait stick figure drawing of Mina doing Nia

A few weeks ago I went to my mother’s Nia class with her. I like trying new things. Especially ones that ask me to move my body. I was inspired, too, by Tracy’s report on her new SUP on this blog. I didn’t have any good idea about what Nia was. I had gleaned that it was something dance-y, with maybe a dash of martial arts. Yes. And more. I’ll get to that. I also assumed that it wouldn’t be too challenging physically. After all, my mother, who is vigorous but in her 70s, does the class. I imagined it peopled with other women her age. I imagined it would be a dawdle. Nope.

I go to a lot of new-to-me movement studios. One of the first things I do when I’m traveling somewhere is research my workout options (besides running) for while I’m there. Going to a studio in a new city is a fun way to check out the vibe of the whole town. On occasion I’ll look back through the studios that pop up on my Mindbody app, reminding me of some of the places I’ve been—yoga in Asheville, Toronto and Boulder; spinning in Phoenix, Calgary and Portland; aerial in Reno and Paris, plus rowing and SLT in New York. Susan Meehan’s Nia class in London, Ontario is one of the friendliest, warmest new places I’ve ever been.

I was still nervous. I don’t go to dance classes terribly often. I’m a bit awkward, and I’ve never been good at following choreography. I get self-conscious about my lack of grace. In this case, I added the extra fear of being a disappointing daughter, all elbows and knees. To be clear, that’s a self-generated thought, not anything my mother says!

First thing I noticed—the age range in the class seemed to go from mid-thirties through well into the seventies. I revised my expectations around anticipated exertion. The class started quickly, which I like because it keeps me focused. I was a couple of beats behind for most of the class, but the sequences repeated enough times that I started to catch the groove. Nia is indeed dance-related, plus martial arts, plus women’s empowerment, plus root-chakra-flirt, plus wild and free, plus a red face and a fast heartbeat. And a whole lot of sassy booty.

That’s another thing I’m not good at: inhabiting the traditional sexy-hips-and-shoulder moves. They feel false in my body, like something put on to please other people, not myself. I feel sexy when I’m just home from a strong run, or striding across town in my favourite green velvet boots. Have I mentioned the Nia outfits? Love them. Pants that widen outrageously below the knee, possible ribbon adornment, sleeveless off the shoulder on one side and sheer on the other. That’s just what I witnessed at the class I went to. This is a workout with fashion flair potential.

Photo of woman wearing black flared Nia pants with ribbon at the knee

The class also included a portion of free dance, or really free-to-move-however. I relish any opportunity to let my body climb inside some music and see what happens; so energizing. By the end of the class, despite my various bits of fear, I was sweaty and limber, and my heart felt big and full.

Will I go to Nia now that I’m home in New York? I’m not sure. I’d have to give up one of the other workouts I love so much. But just knowing that I have it as an option in my back pocket is great; for a day I might need a bit of vavavoom. And I have a workout for with my mum.

How about you—any Nia practitioners? Or other saucy workouts you suggest?

boats · canoe · Dancing · nature

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing (Guest Post)

Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!

Approximately 12 green canoes sitting on a hill on a island in Algonquin
A bunch (too many to count) of tents and people with a campfire nearby

There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):

  • the variety in skill level and equipment
  • the number of international students
  • how accessible the club makes trips like this
  • the cost
  • beautiful scenery
Scenic shot of a lake with fall coloured trees on islands on either side. It is raining quite heavily.

However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.

Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here

Dancing · fitness classes · motivation

Gloriously Awful – Christine Heads to Dance Class

You know how I can be when learning something new – I get all tangled up in helping my body move in the way my brain wants to and then I get annoyed with myself. My annoyance makes me tense and the tension makes me worse at whatever I was struggling with in the first place.

Yes, I do get on my own nerves just thinking about it.

One of the few times I have sidestepped this scenario is when I tried Zumba on the Xbox a few years ago. Instead of being frustrated when I didn’t ‘get’ it, I found myself laughing at my mistakes and then just carrying on. It was eye-opening.

Unfortunately, soon after I got into the habit of laughing at my ineptness, changes in the Xbox menu made it tricky for me to access Zumba easily. It was a tiny obstacle, but enough to deter me.

I remembered that feeling though. I am rarely casual about learning new things, and I hardly ever laugh in the process of making mistakes. I wanted to have that feeling again, in other contexts, but it didn’t happen.

Then, last spring, I was lucky enough to take a Nia dance class from my friend Elaine.

I made a mess of the movements* but I was laughing at myself. I was only getting about half of the choreography but I was having a grand time.

Two white middle-aged women (one with blonde hair, one with brown hair -dressed in all black exercise wear. They are reaching up to the left with their right arms, their right legs are extended to the right.
A rare moment when I was in sync with the rest of the class with Nia on the Rock. That’s me in the star pants in the front. My friend Krista is in the back. She’s an expert at laughing when things go awry – I’m learning to follow her example. Photo credit: Stephanie Moyst of Fannie’s Photography. 

I have been trying to fit more Nia in ever since but I have only managed to make that happen in the past few  weeks. Every Thursday morning, I go to class, flail around ridiculously and enjoy the hell out of it.

I can’t hear the changes in the music that tell me I should change steps. I routinely head in the wrong direction. I start too early and end too soon. As I told a friend of mine recently, I feel like I am gloriously awful at it.

I’m not putting myself down here. I’m probably not particularly bad at Nia – and the nature of Nia is that it doesn’t seem to matter how good you are anyway – I’m just celebrating the fact that I am not getting into that cycle of frustration while I learn. I am not the least bit concerned about how slowly I am learning – I am just reveling in the fun of the movements. I’m sure it helps that there are martial arts-type moves in the dances so I have a feeling of familiarity but, mostly, I’m just going with the feeling of glorious awfulness.

I LOVE being gloriously awful. I feel no pressure to get better at it – even though I am, no doubt, improving as we go along.  Getting better just doesn’t seem like something I should focus on – having fun does.

Being in this space is really fun for me and it has my brain whirring – how can I bring this same feeling to other movement I am trying to learn? Can I enjoy being awful at a new pattern? Can I be gloriously awful at parts of Taekwon-Do while I learn?

I certainly intend to find out.

Are you gloriously awful at any forms of exercise? Is being awful part of the reason you enjoy it?

*Learning new moves WHILE matching them to music is a challenge, at the very least.

Dancing · fitness

The joy of being a dancing fool: thanks, Mom

This week I went to hear a band I’ve loved since the early 80s– the English Beat. I last saw them in 1983, when they played at my university student center ballroom.  Another good band opened for them.  You may have heard of them–  REM.

Back to the present day— looking around the concert venue at this week’s show, just about everyone I saw was in their 50s or so (like me).  That wasn’t too surprising– this band was at their most popular when people around my age were in college.  And everyone was having a whale of a time– the English Beat are a ska band (one of my favorite genres for dancing), so their music is about as danceable as it gets.  If you doubt me, listen here

The whole crowd was grooving and swaying, and my friends and I were dancing the whole time, jumping up and down, sweating, singing, shouting, waving arms, enjoying ourselves to our fullest capacities, expending all available energy.  The drive home was a bit tiring, the next morning a little slower-moving than usual, but the evening was completely worth it.

Today is Mother’s Day, and this week’s dancing episode reminded me of how my mother always enjoyed (and still enjoys) dancing and music.  We had music playing all the time in my house and on the radio.  In those days in South Carolina it was a lot of Motown– R&B and Soul.  In the 70s we welcomed in the funk, and my mom took me to see Earth, Wind and Fire.  Check them out here.

Her favorite song to dance to with my dad was Sixty Minute Man, by Billy Ward and the Dominoes.  They were experts at dancing the shag (apologies to English readers– it doesn’t mean the same thing here in the US), a dance still popular in the Carolinas.  It’s a lazy-tempo dance, but with interesting footwork.  You can see it in action here.

Jimmy Fallon got a lot of attention and laughs with his now-infamous Evolution of Mom Dancing collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama.  And it’s funny.  But let’s not kid ourselves– Michelle Obama can move.  So can my mom.

So thanks to my mom and all the moms for dancing with us, playing that funky music, and helping us discover joy in musical movement.

Happy Mother’s Day!  (And if you like, you can still order Mom some swag from our website here.)




aging · Dancing · fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · health · training

I like to kick, stretch, and kick and I’m 30

Sally O’Malley

A couple of moments have stood out to me lately – fitness-wise. One was during the cool down in my Zumba class (to the tune of R. Kelly’s “The Greatest.” I didn’t pick the song, and Mr. Kelly’s past indiscretions can be discussed another day) surrounded by women 10-20+ years older than me, and the other was this past Monday night – finishing up a dance class, surrounded by women 10-15+ years younger than me. And I was good with all of it. If this is fitness at 30, I’ll happily take it.

When I actually turned 30 in March, I was surprised by the reactions of those in my peer group. Some noted how excited I seemed about turning 30, almost relieved (maybe they had nothing to fear!), others blatantly informed me that they didn’t want to turn 30 and were absolutely terrified. What that tells me is that we’re all still dealing with a lot of fears around life milestone “shoulds” and other delightful expectations.

However, the journey I did not expect to really appreciate at this age was the fitness one. I think back to when I was in my mid-to-late teens, seeing adults in the gym or in dance classes, and wondering what my body would be doing at their ages. I am grateful to say I’m in much better shape than that mid-to-late teenage Jess and that is cool!

I am also grateful that for the most part my life has embraced physical fitness in a body-positive way. It’s become my outlet, my way of getting back to myself, and my way of letting off steam. And in the past 3-5 years, my way of showing appreciation to my body.

Watching my grandma, who loved to dance and was mobile until her 80s, lose her ability to walk made me realize that I wanted nothing more than to move as much as I could, while I could. I sprinted, I danced, I punched, kicked, grappled, and lately, I have even come to love jump lunges. Yes, that’s right! JUMP. LUNGES. Give me a HIIT class any day, I eat that stuff right up now. My body is eating it up. It actually wants it.

I stretch every morning, and I say thank you. I sweat every day (even just 15 minutes if that’s all I have free) and I say thank you. I enjoy food immensely and I refuse to beat myself up, and I say thank you. I rest more than I ever did, I say thank you, and I still kill my work outs! (Because burning out is what will truly make you feel “old.”)

Someone told me once that as you get older, you give fewer fucks. And it’s true! But you give more fucks around what matters. I will give a fuck about my health. But not about looking a certain way, or choosing not to do the advanced yoga move this class, or being around people who are better than me, younger than me, or older than me. Instead, I smile to myself a lot more when I’m moving my body because I can say I’m here, bring it on, I’m ready. And then I jump lunge the shit out of it.

Excited to see where the next decade takes me, and I hope I can encourage others to get excited too.

JESSICA IRELAND-4In addition to jump lunges, Jess has been dancing for the past 20+ years of her life, the last few years as part of the Breath in Mvmt. dance company in London, Ontario (involving some of the most amazing humans in the city). She’s also been MMA-ing for four, and doing whatever else she can to keep moving, including axe-throwing, indoor rock climbing, interval training and more. She is a practicing (but not perfect) vegan, a full-on vegetarian, and generally an open book. She is a feminist (and sometimes an angry one). She loves crystals, astrology and is a bit of a peace-loving unicorn, unless you piss her off. She sometimes has a bit of a trucker mouth. But generally, Jess feels pretty lucky to be spinning around on this big blue ball with everyone else

Dancing · Sat with Nat

Joie de vivre


I started a new job back in June. It’s very sedentary. I’ve always had desk jockey jobs, from being an Air Navigator to not for profit work, they are all office work. My current job though is completely at a computer. No lugging and slugging but I did have a ergonomic assessment early on that has me set up nicely. I continue to walk to work but I’m noticing my hips and shoulders getting tight with the more sedentary role. I had been stretching in the hall when I took my breaks but I was getting odd looks. I decided to switch it up with some dancing in the hall. Well, it’s really caught on as my dancing is reciprocated with other people’s boss moves. I’m feeling good, I’ve got my joie de vivre back and it seems to be catching on.


aging · athletes · body image · Dancing · fitness

Guest Post: Lynne on being “fit for life”



When I grow up, I want to be like my Mom. At 84, she walks her dog, goes to the gym every day, and works out with a personal trainer twice weekly. In good weather, she’s busy in the garden.  Spring through fall, she swims outdoors in a freshwater lake. She reads and has an active social life. We’re planning a trip to Paris, so she’s working on increasing her walking endurance to see the city by foot as much as possible.

Having goals helps us all guide our fitness choices, and for me, actual activity goals are best, like having quicker foot speed and smoother movements in tennis. Tell me I’ll look better in a swimsuit and my motivation plummets.

So, the fitness question I love most is: what do you want to be able to do that you can’t do now? Your answer will guide your training, and step by step, rep by rep, you’ll get there.

I’ve got decades to go before my 80s, but the things I see as life enhancing for my elders are crucial to cultivate at every stage of life.  Fitness is about having the capacity for activity. The challenges may vary, but we know this: Our bodies work better with use, and we feel better, think better, laugh more, do everything better if we move quite a lot every day.

As I’ve moved through my life, my fitness and play activities have changed in somewhat predictable ways. In my early years, I danced all year, swam and rode my bike all summer, and was once the tether ball champ at our nearby park. (I was so proud!) I learned to play tennis at ten, and still play weekly matches. I loved playing varsity lacrosse in high school, but left it behind in college. All through college, my bike got me everywhere. Instead of going to the massive graduation at Camp Randall stadium, I commemorated the day with a long bike ride into Wisconsin’s countryside with friends. In grad school, I briefly took up squash and raquetball, but never liked them as much as tennis. Strength training became important when I learned how quickly women lose muscle mass as we age, and I became a gym rat hitting the weights starting in my late 30s.

What started with a somewhat negative motive (fear of impending weakness) switched to positive motives once I engaged.  I still keep regular appointments with a trainer who helps me meet strength goals, but I don’t spend as much time at the gym as I once did. I realized I couldn’t afford that kind of time.

One thing that has stayed constant is my belief in the importance of maintaining 4 equally important capacities: strength, endurance/cardio capacity, balance, and flexibility. These last two are too often ignored.  I often hear gym buddies say they are fitness fiends, and all they do is cardio. Or they lift, but they only do enough cardio to warm up. Except for yoga classes, I almost never hear people say: “I just love to stretch” or “I’m so happy to be meeting my flexibility goals!” And there’s an issue: the gym is as balkanized as the high school lunchroom, with people tending to keep to their zones and routines, and forgetting the importance of the whole package of activities we need. I get it.

I’m guilty too, at times. Lately, I’m at tennis or in the weight rooms. I love cardio when I do it, in fact find it addictive, but getting started is always hard. The call to stay at my desk is deafeningly loud and when I’m at the gym I want to do things that are available only there. I make excuses like, “well, I walked 3 miles around the lake with my dog today, so that counts.” Yes, it counts, but my heart rate never spiked and stayed up, so it doesn’t count enough for my own goals. Running sprints on that walk would make a huge difference to my cardio fitness and to my speed ‘off the blocks’ in tennis. (Note to self!)

Balance and flexibility are crucial for athletics and for life. They become even more crucial as we age and face the various physical degradations that time throws our way. So, go ahead, love cardio and weights, but I want to encourage more mindful attention to balance and flexibility for their power to stave off injuries, and keep us moving more fluidly through our days.

My understanding of the need for balance and flexibility was ingrained early, in serious ballet classes starting very young and lasting until I was about 14. There’s so much feminist critique of ballet that I want to explain its virtues without opposing those critiques. Yes, ballet tends to promote unhealthy body image problems, demand thinness, and instill an aesthetics of ‘the line’ are absolutely unrealistic for most girls and women.  My beloved aunt, a ballerina, used to say she could tell a woman’s weight to within 2 lbs with a mere glance at her thighs. A dubious skill, acquired through a lifetime in ballet. As a skinny little kid who just loved to move, these messages just blew by me. What I learned was the importance of the barre, that warming up well meant moving well when it counted, that strong legs and a strong core meant everything. Also, in ballet, I learned to leap and spin and use my eyes and head to stay upright. My favorite was the grand jete entrelace, a big leap with a half turn to the back. You cannot do a pirouette without learning to balance on your toes, and maintain proper head balance so you don’t get dizzy. What I learned about real discipline in ballet made it a breeze to understand Brandom’s “Freedom and Constraint by Norms” when I got to grad school, for without the discipline, the invigorating moves are unavailable…But I digress…

With ballet, one must be flexible, maintain balance, and have aerobic stamina. One learns to stretch effectively and this can change your body for years to come; the range of motion I developed in my youth is still with me, a surprising bonus decades later.  It has surely helped keep me injury-free in my sports. Ballet requires a strong and flexible core, amazingly strong legs and don’t let the flexible arms fool you: holding them in that soft graceful line takes strength. So for me, ballet was a great start to understanding the ways that stamina, strength, balance, and flexibility are all crucial components of fitness.

Some people talk a lot about their sports or fitness activities and goals. I don’t. For me, it’s personal. Writing this has been a challenge. I know how much I can deadlift, and I know how many miles I can run. Others don’t need to know these things about me. But for those who do like to share such info, I say, good for you for inspiring others to get moving. And as we move, let’s all be mindful of improving our balance and flexibility as complements to our strength and stamina. If we keep developing all four capacities, we will, indeed, be fit for life.

Lynne Tirrell is a professor of philosophy at U Mass Boston, where she also teaches in Women’s Studies.  She plays tennis, trains in various ways, and loves long woodsy walks with her wonderful dogs.