Lately I have been ruminating on one of Nia’s 52 Moves, the Cat Stance. As one of Nia’s 6 stances, we hold the stance for at least counts and we connect to the sensation of stability and rest. Although this can seem pretty simple, it requires attention to detail and conscious intention to truly rest into the feet. Energetically, this is what we might call grounding. The stances invite me to take the attitude of staying, if only for a moment and to rest with my energy connecting to a peaceful place within. Sounds easy, but do this: Stand with both feet on the ground and bring all your energy to rest into your feet. Then stalk your energy field. Is any part of you already moving off your feet, anticipating what may come next, preparing for what I might next ask you to do? If you are already moving off, take a deep breath and on the exhale melt into your feet. This is how I find the sensation of a stance. Even if I am only going to be here for one count, or 2 beats in non-Nia nomenclature.
When I bring all this to bear to Cat Stance there is a whole other set of sensactions and skills to develop. A classic Cat Stance comes from the Martial Arts. Shift your weight to one leg, bend the knee of the other and bring the knee up to hip level. The standing leg becomes the sole support for the body, the core is activated more dramatically than in the two legged stances and we are now more specifically into the realm of balance. And indeed, in the less pure form, in Nia, any one legged stance is called a Cat Stance and gives us the opportunity to develop more balance.
Cat stance, balance stances, develop the intrinsic muscles near the core of the body, near the spine. The small movements that we need to do to keep the integrity of stability and mobility gets stronger when we are supporting ourselves on just one leg. We engage our psoas, the deep core muscle that originates on the 12th thoracic vertebra, travels below the viscera, and attaches at the lesser trochanter, a small notch on the medial side of the upper femur – the inner thigh. By holding a Cat Stance, we also strengthen the innermost muscles that connect the small bones of the spine to each other. If these muscles are not used they become marbled with fat and we lose mobility and stability of the spine. Without challenging obalances ce, it is possible to have strong extrinsic core muscles but not so strong intrinsic core muscles. And practicing Cat Stance while dancing makes it so easy to develop strength in all the layers of muscle in the core of the body.
Dancing a Cat Stance is another thing altogether. Even more of the core gets engaged, especially when we play with on and off balance, using our body weights, the pelvis, chest and head, moving in and out of alignment as we dance. When I begin extending the leg in a Cat Stance, I find kicks which can be done in a Martial way or expressive Dance Arts way.
Dancing Cat Stances are often the most challenging to students who first come into a Nia class. They often come in with a story about not being “good” at balance. As if this was something that could not change. But it does change and greatly improve, balance does, all practice of all the stances, but especially Cat Stance. Why all the stances? Because before we have the ability to stand on one leg we must achieve the ability to truly rest into two legs. Building the foundation from the ground up, we can shift the weight to stand on one leg and allow the core of our body to grow down into the standing leg. Like a tree trunk that gets wider with time we can cultivate the sensation of width into that standing leg so that it feels as sturdy as the trunk, the standing leg merging into the core of the body, even as we dance to the beat.
It is exciting, to feel like I can dance as creatively and be as expressive on one leg as I can be two. Simple fascination.