I recently had the opportunity to interview the lovely Marilyn Wong of Montreal about her experiences with Nia and the White Belt Training. She is pictured above (left) at Rancho LaPeurta, Mexico 2009. (Marilyn is pictured here with Judy, Debbie Rosas, co-founder of Nia and her team of master instructors including Kevin VerEeke (New York City), Caroline Kohles (New York City), Helen Terry (Houston Texas), and Danielle Eastman (Pullman, WA). To the right she is pictured with Martha Randall, Nia White Belt trainer at her Montreal White Belt Training.
Jennifer: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Marilyn. My first question is, would you describe yourself as a dancer?
Marilyn: Why I dance? If you asked me that question when I was a little girl, I would probably say that I dance because it’s so much fun. The fun factor continues to be important in making my connection to dance and over the years this connection has kept evolving but mainly on a physical and emotional level. My involvement with Nia brought an unexpected awareness and understanding of my connection with dance and it changed the way I related to it, to myself, and everything around me. To understand how Nia has effected this change in my life, there are a few things that should be known about me.
To begin, I have always embraced the idea of being healthy and active. To this end, I have been involved in many different activities. Dance and yoga have
been a constant choice. Yoga brought balance, focus, and helped release me from the negative stresses in my life and opened up my mind to a more healthy lifestyle. Dance gave me joy and made me feel like I was living full out. I took advantage of every opportunity to try any form of dance that would enrich my experience. Still now, as I think about dance, I cannot imagine my life without some form of dance in it.
Yet, there was a period in my life, when dance and other activities which I loved were put on hold for 16 years as I juggled to manage my father’s care and my own life as a mother and wife. This was a labor of love but it took a toll on my body. When my Dad passed away, I decided that if I was going to rescue myself from life as I knew it over the last 16 years, I needed to change. I needed to take time for myself and choose activities that would help bring me to a more healthy and balanced state. In this respect, I wondered if Nia might be of help getting me back on track.
Jennifer: How were you first introduced to Nia? Tell us about your early experiences with Nia.
Marilyn: I took my first Nia class at the YMCA not really knowing what to expect. AsI listened to my instructor talk about Nia, I thought I found something that was a good fit for me. Besides getting a good workout, I liked that Nia incorporated what I loved to do in a fun and creative way. As I did more classes, I looked forward to how Nia challenged my imagination and my emotions as I was encouraged to explore, play, and create with all that was around me . The more I got into this space, the more I felt compelled to draw from other layers of my being. I started developing a new awareness about how my body moves and
talks to me. I started to listen to my body in a different way and to trust what it was telling me- not to overthink it, just to be with it and enjoy it. I was taking pleasure in the dance and my body’s way and developing a deeper connection with movement. A new dialogue was emerging within me when I danced that involved more than just my body. Now my body, mind, spirit, and emotions were all engaged and getting a workout.
Something was waking up inside me and it seemed to be coming from the very essence of me. Push and Pull! It was hard sometimes (and still is!) to resist the urge to follow. My body had been conditioned to do that for so long. But when I did resist, I began discovering things about myself. I felt that my body could tell the whole story about everything going on inside me at that very moment. I felt exposed and vulnerable and I didn’t care. I was getting turned inside out and it felt great. This was empowering!
This was an unexpected but huge accomplishment for me. Although I had been exposed to many dance forms, I had never found comfort or pleasure in interpreting the dance my way. I think being able to follow and deliver another’s interpretation in dance is important for many reasons but I think what makes the
dance special is when we can surrender to that place within us that leads us to make the dance our own, to where we become the dance. Nia has inspired me to take this leap - not with fear but with anticipation of all my body can experience.
The great Isadore Duncan spoke of three types of dancers -
“first, those who consider dancing as sort of a gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques: second, those who by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling of experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul.” - Isadora Duncan
I like to think that Nia is inspiring me to be the third type of dancer.
On the path of change, I have found that I do not rely on any one thing in particular to effect change. I can’t say that without Nia, my life would fall apart. The beauty of Nia is that it works so well with other things that are important to me and has become an important part of a support system that empowers me to be all that I can be. I guess as long as I continue to embrace the need for change, renewal, and pleasure, I will be drawn to Nia’s “invitation to dance” and I can’t wait to feel the effects of my white belt training. For now, I am committed to continuing my Nia journey and incorporating it in my dance through life. After many years of standing still, I take my time to take it all in and make my dance through life a work in progress that keeps evolving as I do.
Jennifer: How long were you a student of Nia before taking your White Belt training?
Marilyn: It has been around two years since I began my Nia journey and I took this adventure without any real map or plan. I started out thinking that Nia would be transformational mainly on a physical level and I’d have fun doing it. I really got more than I anticipated and I continue to be blessed by my Nia experience. I can say now that I am liking myself again, loving my body, and relishing in the feeling that I can shine from the inside out. The dance has become a more true reflection of me and everyday it becomes more clear how Nia challenges me and helps me make my dance continue through life. I was and am inspired by Nia and empowered by the way it makes me feel.
Jennifer: What made you decide to take the next step and receive a White Belt?
Marilyn: Up to this point, I took every opportunity I could to learn more and deepen my understanding of Nia by attending classes and workshops, going on a Nia retreat, taking master classes with Debbie and Carlos themselves, participating in Nia events, and joining a Nia network where I connected with Nia practitioners from all over the world. Everything that I had experienced and learnt led me to white belt as what I wanted to do next to further my practice Teaching Nia was not what I went in thinking I was going to do but I didn’t dismiss the idea either. Also, I cant deny that knowing Martha was doing the training influenced the timing of my decision. Knowing that I would do the training with someone familiar and that I thought I could journey well with was an important consideration.
Jennifer: Were there any barriers that you encountered when deciding to take the White Belt Training? (i.e., financial restraints, scheduling, fear, confidence, etc)
Marilyn: No barriers as mentioned …. I had prepared myself for this for some time. It helped having the support of family and my Nia network of friends. The only barriers that could emerge were the barriers I set myself . I decided early on that I would have no expectations – I wanted to be open to receive … go in empty without preconceived notions- only possibilities. I had fleeting moments of fear, anxiety, lack of confidence but were overridden by the excitement of possibilities, the knowledge that I was not alone in my journey and the comfort of having a guide like Martha. Once I had decided that this was something that was important to me, I focused on things that took me in the direction of a positive experience.
Jennifer: Describe your 'a-ha' moments while doing the training (i.e., any experiences that struck a chord or resonated deeply with you).
Marilyn: If I have to identify aha moments which resonated more deeply with me during the training, there were two that stand out.
One was when we were exploring free dance. As I explained in my paper earlier, what I had gained in free dance from my Nia classes before WB had already given me some aha moments…. And then in WB all that got shook up again. I thought I had it all figured out until we started going into deeper levels of exploration. On the one hand, this was an exciting new adventure for me and on the other, I started feeling uncomfortable and unsure of myself. I felt like I was right back where I started … knowing nothing and in a place that was unknown to me – exciting and scary at the same time.
I thought about it and decided that maybe this was a good place to be and that great things could come from my discomfort if I allowed myself to be open to what was being presented to me. Then, things started to happen. At one point, I had told Martha how uncomfortable I felt with some of the movements – that somehow they felt disconnected and erratic and just didn’t make sense. She said something to me that haunted me for the rest of the training and changed the way I look at my dance. She asked me, “ Are you one of those dancers that has to make everything look pretty?”
At first I thought, “A dance looking pretty is ok- but the more I thought about it the more the term “look pretty” bugged me. It forced me to reevaluate. I was so conditioned to make it look pretty, to make it make sense that I ( my authentic expression) was getting lost in the dance. The desire to make it “look pretty” started to feel less challenging and more limiting. Pretty didn’t have to be what was suppose to be. It could mean having no boundaries, being different. Pretty could be something less calculated and more free.
As I experimented with this, it felt awkward and uncomfortable at times but I had moments where ugly felt so pretty. They were great aha moments because they revealed a more authentic me in my dance – my own uniquess that I value so much in my life was something I was now really bringing out in my dance. I still think of what Martha said to me whenever I free dance and cherish all the aha moments it brings me for they allow me to celebrate my uniqueness and creativity, the joy of dancing and being me….
I guess another aha moment came out of the process of my WB free dance exploration. Before white belt, I had discovered that I had the ability to free dance and had started to explore my own unique dance and was pleased with what was emerging. I thought to myself then “ it doesn’t get much better than this for me “. During white belt, I realized that there is so much more unknown to explore and the possibility for “getting better than this” is only limited by my willingness to embrace my uniqueness and being open and receptive to what’s unknown and uncomfortable .
Jennifer: What did you gain from doing the training? Have you been able to carry anything you learned from the training over into your personal life?
Marilyn: Besides a deeper understanding of the Nia principles themselves, I think I have a better understanding of how the principles can be applied i.e. the practice of Nia … a consideration not just within a Nia classroom but in my dance through life. Choose joy, seek pleasure, sense what you feel, RAW, the Four Agreements….. these have become part of my manifesto. They help me get through the ups and downs in my life, they help keep me centered and focused. They help me relate better with my world and offer me ways to extend myself in all that I do.
I’m taking everything from my better equipped Nia toolbox and trying it on my life again. Nia seemed to work well in my life before WB and I’ve had 6 months to apply my training. As I have done this , I have found WB has given me a new awareness and attitude that makes me feel empowered and more confident about doing I do and trying new things. Also, when you make joy and pleasure your goal, the world seems to look better and I feel better about myself and my relationships with others.
It seems the deeper I delve into Nia, the more I realize how well Nia fits in my life, how it helps me to be the best I can be and how it keeps me grounded and open to a world of possibilities. On the path of change, I still find that I do not rely on any one thing in particular to effect change. I can’t say that without Nia, my life would fall apart.
However, WB training punctuated for me the beauty of Nia - that it works so well with other things that are important to me and has become an important part of a support system that can inspire me, empower me, and transform me to be all that I can be. I guess as long as I continue to embrace the need for change, renewal, and pleasure, I will continue my Nia journey and open myself to the guidance of my Nia trainings.
Jennifer: What are the major differences between being a Nia student and having a White Belt?
Marilyn: No matter which belt I pursue I hope I’ll always be a Nia student. That being said… in terms of differences, I guess as a WB, what comes to mind (in no particular order) is that I have
1. A new appreciation for what goes into the class in terms of prep
2. A deeper sense of community, sisterhood
3. Much more conscious of sensing what’s going on in my body, mind, spirit and emotions
4. A better knowledge and understanding of my Nia practice in my relation to other things I do in my life. For example Feeling sad- choose joy seek pleasure
5. Free dance is very different, WB lets you go to deeper levels of exploration in free dance and you cant help but be changed by it. Doing free dance in class is just not the same anymore.
6. Feel a sense of responsibility that now that I have the belt that I do represent Nia
7. As a Nia student, there is some awareness of the potential impact of Nia on your life . Through deeper exploration and discovery, WB brings new levels of awareness to body mind emotions and spirit and their interplay… and this can’t help but change the way you look at dance, at yourself, at everything. Connections are different for everyone but they are unavoidable and can be empowering. As a WB, I do feel more empowered and excited by and open to possibilities.
8. Every person will have there own aha moments which can’t help but transform you. The difference in the before and after WB is that before you had the moment but weren’t quite sure how you got there and After, you gain more understanding about the process and how you can move yourself in the direction of joy and pleasure.
Jennifer: What would you say to other Nia students who might be considering doing a White Belt training?
Marilyn: I have never met anyone who has taken WB who hasn’t valued the experience. There is no pressure in WB to compete or pass any formal tests. By the end of the training, you will be tired but feeling great about all that you’ve learned about yourself and Nia, and you’ll have a Nia tool box (so to speak) for helping with your Nia practice and teaching if that’s what you want to do. I will always remember my journey to white belt . It was tranformational, empowering, inspirational, and fun. So get ready to dance a lot, laugh a lot, be moved, share as much or as little as is comfortable for you. Allow yourself to be there in body mind and spirit and emotion- it will be an experience you wont forget.
Some people are concerned with teaching after white belt. Not everyone is meant to teach. Sometimes it’s a question of timing and sometimes desire or ability. And that’s ok. Teaching is an option after white belt not a requirement.
Jennifer: Now that you have your white belt certification, what's next in your Nia journey?
Marilyn: I guess my Nia journey will always keep evolving as I do. I still continue to take classes and I don’t see that changing even if I decide to teach one day. I would like to keep expanding and cultivating my network of Nia friends for they continue to be important to me on my journey. They are for me a great source of friendship, inspiration, and support.
For now, my direction is not so focused on teaching Nia in a class but rather on sharing what I’ve learned and discovered through leading by example. This is challenging but the process can provide opportunities to share, inspire, nurture, and empower. I think sometimes we forget the powerful messages we provide just by the way we live our life everyday. In terms of Nia , this means that my practice of Nia extends to my dance through life and my connection with Nia becomes a source and resource for acquiring the best in me. As a mother, wife, sister, friend, neighbor, citizen etc., I believe that my Nia practice gives me some powerful tools to help me do my best, to shine, and to lead the way to joy and pleasure.
In terms of any other goals for my nia journey, I’m trying not to expect too much. Looking at my Nia journey as an adventure and letting my goal be to let joy and pleasure lead me down life’s path. … so wherever that leads me that’s where I’ll be… so many possibilities….
Jennifer: Thank you Marilyn for sharing your wisdom! You are the sweetest! I am so grateful to you for the energy you put into this. There is so much authenticity and expansiveness in your responses. I resonate with your experiences and think you have presented your message in a really identifiable format.
Marilyn: Jennifer, I have benefited a lot from my Nia experience and if anything I say can help promote Nia or help someone else, I am happy and honored to do so. I agreed to do this interview and entrust with you words that come from my heart because I had a feeling you'd understand what I was trying to say and I knew you'd use my words wisely. Thanks again for the interview. I benefited greatly from it. You have always been an inspiration to me.
For more information about Nia White Belt Trainings in Canada (with Martha Randall & Roberta Mohler), please click on their names to visit their websites or go to nianow.com.