I Tried It: Nia at Athleta Philly

An hour of floating and twirling around the Athleta store. What could possibly go wrong?

Photograph provided by Nia Technique (www.nianow.com)

I first learned of the fitness classes offered at the Athleta store near Rittenhouse Square when a reader tweeted at me about them a few weeks back. I was excited to discover that not only are classes offered several times a week before and after store hours, the sessions—everything from yoga to Pilates to strength conditioning—are completely free.

I looked at the list and one class, called Nia, caught my eye. Here’s the description: “Nia is a sensory-based fitness class which draws inspiration from dance, yoga, and martial arts. It is a fun, grounded workout, done to music and focused on the joy of movement.”

I asked a couple friends if they were interested in trying it out with me and was happy when they obliged (safety in numbers, right?). So last night we trudged to Athleta for the 7:30 class. Staffers had pushed racks of clothes and displays of sports bras off to the side to clear a space for our yoga/dance/martial arts workout. I was surprised to see that more than a dozen women had turned out for the class—several, I soon realized, who were repeats.

Before I continue, you need to know something about me: I’m a really terrible dancer. I tend to stay away from classes like Zumba because I’m so embarrassingly awful at moving my body. Turn on some music and tell me to dance, and I immediately clam up. It’s like I lose all rational function of my arms and legs, and my brain can’t remember what natural movement is supposed to feel like anymore. I overthink it, then I choke.

This is why I run and lift weights—those are things my body understands. As a rule, I don’t get my fitness fix from dance.

But Nia seemed interesting enough, with the promise of yoga and martial arts. How bad could it be? Besides, I sort of figured we’d be the only people there—so imagine my panic when I realized a room full of perfect strangers would bear witness to my awkward, oaf-like movements for an hour. I actually considered bolting, but by that point the first song was starting to play.

On the spectrum of dance, I’d put Nia somewhere between Woodstock hippie twirls and interpretive. The idea, our teacher explained, was to really feel the movement in our bodies, paying attention to how we floated and twirled through the space around us. It seemed to be more about learning body awareness than working up a sweat. And it was supposed to be fun.

The first song turned out to just be a warm up, which was fine by me (I can stretch and breathe deeply with the best of ’em), but the panic started setting in as we worked through the rest of the soundtrack. Luckily, the routines for each song had only a few steps, so it wasn’t super complicated. But I couldn’t help feeling like I looked like Phoebe on that episode of Friends when she dances for Chandler to seduce him (you know what I’m talking about). It was bad; I was bad. And my friends thought it was absolutely hilarious.

I will say this about Nia: We did have fun. Maybe a little too much, though, as I realized during our third laughing fit that we were the only people in the room who found the class so amusing. The other people were twirling and floating like it was the most natural thing in the world, but we just weren’t feeling it. Live and learn.

I’m still psyched to have discovered Athleta’s free classes—what a great way to try out new things without the financial risk. But next time I think I ‘ll stick with what I know: Body Strength with Robin is calling my name.