Nia Meets Odissi in Santa Cruz

Jillian and Roberta

Members of the Santa Cruz Dance Salon met for a three hour workshop on Sunday split between two forms of movement: Nia, taught by Jillian Engbers and Odissi Temple dance taught by Revital Carroll. Jillian warmed us up with a 30-minute, non-stop, follow-the-leader dance session. After a break to catch our breath, Revital gave an informative lecture on Odissi history and lead us through an Odissi-like practice.

Nia is a fusion wellness/fitness system invented by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas in the early 1980s with current headquarters in Portland, Oregon. It borrows qualities of movement from 9 disciplines: 3 dance systems: jazz, modern, and Duncan technique; 3 martial arts: tai chi, tae kwan do, and aikido; and 3 healing practices: Feldenkrais, Alexander, and yoga. Nia’s goal is to address the whole person through the movements of the whole body.

Jillian, Varvara, Roberta performing Nia

Jillian, a certified instructor, produced a long choreography just for our group emphasizing Nia’s first principle (it has 52), the joy of movement. And oh, was it joyous. The movements flowed through every dimension of space and utilized every joint in my body. Energy flowed as well, as we pushed and pulled, grabbed and released ki and created a magnificent charged atmosphere. Since each movement is repeated several times, we just picked up Jillian’s prompts and followed along. But it was also easy to layer your own expressive style over the basics. Between that liberty and Nia’s hybrid of movements, I could bring to bear a lifetime of movement experiences and express it all in the same dance! It was exhilitating. Plus, it’s a fantastic workout and it is suitable for any body, any age, any ability. Jillian, for example, was not a dancer when she began her training in Nia technique. At the end of our workshop, though, we agreed that if she wasn’t a dancer before her training, she is a dancer now by any measure.

Revital explaining Odissi to the group

Temple Goddess Workout with Revital

Odissi is quite a different story. Its history and development trace back thousands of years to early Indian temple dancing and tantric yoga. It is rich and profound in symbolic meaning. As a classical dance form, its techniques are exacting and training requires a lifetime of devotion. (For more details on Odissi, see my blog of 7-12-10 “Yuva Bharati Presents An Evening of Odissi”)

Because of its classical nature, a 30-minute introduction to Odissi technique is difficult to produce. Instead, Revital—who has been working in this style for over 20 years—prepared a short introduction to Odissi’s long history then led us through a series of exercises she calls “Temple Goddess Workout.” This series provided us with a small sampling of the movement and postural qualities of Odissi. At our insistence, and because many attendees were not familiar with Odissi, Revital performed a short piece for the group. We marveled at the exquisite curves of her hips and torso, the grace with which she moved, and the sweet expressions of her face.

Following our workshop, several of us dropped by nearby Namasté tea house for chai (check out this review by another SC blogger) and to continue our conversations about dance. It is a rare pleasure to sit with other dancers to just talk about our experiences and share our ideas. It was, for me, the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon.

Revital, Marlene, and Jillian

Revital, Marlene, and Jillian

Jillian at Namaste

Santa Cruz Dance Saloners sharing chai






You can find Jillian teaching Nia at Dance Synergy in Aptos and at Body & Soul at Squid Row in downtown Santa Cruz. Check her website for more details: Revital teaches Odissi at Pleasure Point Dance & Fitness on 41st Avenue and at the International Academy of Dance. For more information go to You can also see her perform next weekend at the Pacific Cultural Center for Rhythms of Culture’s presentation of world dance (which looks to be a fantastic event).

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3 Responses to Nia Meets Odissi in Santa Cruz

  1. Leslie Sachs says:

    Inspiring and wonderful!

  2. arden sumner schwartz and Allan says:

    sounds yummy. have not moved like that in years. Arden

  3. Shelley says:

    Thanks Renee, They have Nia at the dance studio, Jump n Jive here in Middletown. I never new what they were talking about. Maybe I could try it.

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