Are you ready to experience NIA?

So what’s it like to take your first NIA class? If you’re lucky enough to live in Richmond, VA, and have Heather Umberger as your teacher, the answer very well may be “a joyful workout where you’re smiling and laughing amid the sweat, and enjoying the feeling of moving to music in a carefree, nurturing environment.”

Heather is an inspiring NIA teacher, and clearly enjoys guiding students through NIA’s 52 moves and nine movement forms. Her enthusiasm is contagious. In a class of 12 people that ranged in age from teenagers to 70-plus, everyone was clearly having a delightful time moving to the upbeat music at their own pace, creating their own interpretation of the movements and level of engagement.

What is NIA?
Created in 1983 by fitness professionals Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas in their quest for a more meaningful way to stay fit, NIA is a non-impact cardio-dance workout that encourages participants to discover, explore and unleash their individual potential to live a more healthful life. It tones the mind and tunes the body. Practiced barefoot, NIA is adaptable to individual needs and abilities, leaving participants energized, mentally clear and emotionally balanced.

Heather Umberger is a Brown Belt NIA teacher, and has studied dance and movement with professional dancers for more than 20 years. “I believe movement is a major contributor to health, wellness, joyful aging and healthy active lifestyles,” she stated. “I love sharing the joy of movement and music with those willing to join the dance.”

What Can I Expect in NIA Class?
Heather emphasizes that the NIA philosophy is “through movement we find health.” Her attitude during class definitely encourages those goals. We dance, prance, shimmy, shake, throw our hands out and emit a guttural “oomph!” through intense moments like kicks and punches, and then gently embrace ourselves or expand our flexibility. Just when the movement seems too intense and my arms start to get sore, she takes it down a notch and we’re moving gracefully again, before ramping up to another intense crescendo where we are running in place or beating an imaginary drum alternately on the floor and on the ceiling.

NIA encourages body integration and exploring personal boundaries, so it is fabulous for athletic individuals, but the NIA’s focus on “Your Body’s Way” also enables people who have limitations to have as much fun and express their own body, mind, emotions an d spirit to their highest potential. Heather reminds us during class that if it’s too intense we can back off a bit and use smaller or alternate movements if necessary. I was glad of the reminder several times as sweat ran down the side of my face.

Can a Workout Really Be Fun?
Dancing around in a circle with 12 women I’ve never met before, missing a few of the steps without judgment from the teacher, and smiling at others as we spiraled into and out of a circle during one song combined to provide one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had in ages.

The closest thing I’ve ever come to the experience of a NIA class before participating in a NIA class is dancing in a circle with my girlfriends when I was in my twenties at a fraternity party or at a bar. NIA is more mindful, embracing the connection between body, mind, emotions, and spirit, and of course is practiced without adult beverages in hand. However, at 10am on a Tuesday, it is definitely the most fun you can have while simultaneously doing something beneficial for yourself and enjoying the pleasant company of like-minded people.

I smiled and laughed for the entire hour, and when it was over I was surprised how fast the time had flown. I know I got a good workout because my muscles felt sore and I was damp with perspiration, but I had so much fun dancing NIA that I didn’t mind a bit. NIA takes the day-to-day chore of exercise and makes it a pleasurable gift for our bodies.

Where Can I Learn More?
To learn more about NIA, visit To find a class with Heather Umberger specifically, contact Richmond’s ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers in Short Pump or Midlothian.

Don’t your mind, body and spirit deserve the gift of a NIA class or workshop with Heather Umberger?

Photo credit: godzax via / CC BY-NC-ND

Time Flies When You’re Dancing NIA
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