Put Your Left Foot In Can positivity-fueled Nia activate your authentic inner dancer even if you’re uncoordinated?

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Lola Manekin leading class at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mt. Washington.
Lola Manekin leading class at Baltimore Yoga Village in Mt. Washington.

Dance steps intimidate me, so I’m apprehensive about taking my first Nia class— Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, by the way, which doesn’t exactly ease my (uncoordinated) mind. As I begin the Sunday morning workout with charismatic instructor Lola Manekin, in her flowing gypsy pants—her long black hair tied in a bouncing ponytail—and a group of about 15 women of all shapes and sizes, I relax.
The Brazilian-born Manekin’s theme for this session is the “joy of movement,” and she keeps repeating as much as she rhythmically marches one foot forward and one foot backward to warm up. She wants us to feel happy and alert. Even as I fail to copy her fast sidestepping five minutes in, I’m having fun—and when she shouts, “Smile!” I do. Choreographic perfection is not the point.
How it works: Each 55-minute Nia class aims to integrate your base, core and upper extremities. “The whole practice is 52 moves, so you can return and memorize them,” Manekin tells me after class when I apologize for being clumsy. “And you definitely burned the calories today,” she adds.
According to Nia—created by a couple in San Francisco in the ’80s—flexibility, agility, mobility, stability and strength are the five sensations a skilled apprentice will develop to achieve fitness, pleasure and self-direction away from pain. Everyone is welcome. Because Nia combines martial arts and modern dance, beginners who stick with it are on the road to achieving a white belt, while those who continue may earn a black belt like Manekin.
What I Love: The cheerful, world music high-energy aerobic workout makes me feel like a kid doing the Hokey Pokey. In fact, when I later perform some of the front, back and side kicks for my husband, Michael, he starts singing the song.
What I Don’t: Dancing barefoot in a bustling studio is not my top choice. I’m a wuss and hate having dirty tootsies, but it’s part of the tradition, so I mean to respect it—as I grin and shake myself all about.
Visit the Nia Baltimore website to find a dozen locations in and around Baltimore offering the classes. niabaltimore.com

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