“With Cat-Like Tread”

When I was young, my mom would take my sister and me to see Gilbert & Sullivan productions.  If you’re unfamiliar with Gilbert & Sullivan’s work, they wrote comic operettas in the late 19th century and they are silly beyond silly.  Each is set in fanciful “topsy-turvy” worlds where faux dramas unfold in absurd plot lines and usually end up various cases of mistaken identity and babies switched in their cradles and mostly everybody gets married in the end.  I loved them when I was a kid and I love them now.

My mom was clever about the way she introduced us to these hundred-year-old musicals.  Before we went to see The Mikado or H.M.S. Pinafore, Mom would get out the soundtracks of the shows and we’d listen to them.  She’d explain the crazy stories and point out the jokes in the lyrics.  Her (smart as a whip) idea was that the more familiar we were with what we were going to see, the more fun we would have.  And she was right.

This week’s focus is a quote from one of my favorite G&S songs, “With Cat-Like Tread” from The Pirates of Penzance.  If you don’t know it (and even if you do), here’s a version with Kevin Kline as the leader of a gang of pirates who are stealthily sneaking up on the Major General’s house to seek revenge:

Even now, as many times as I’ve heard this, I get to giggling as they stomp around the stage and sing at the tops of their lungs about how they’re going to silently sneak up on their unsuspecting victim.

Funny thing, but I often find the same thing happening to me in Nia:  I get excited and enthusiastic about the enterprise and I don’t realize that I’m stomping my feet heavily as I dance.  And I’m not alone, it’s one of the most common things that Nia students do, this stomping thing.  Ever notice it in yourself or someone dancing near you?

The story goes that when people started doing aerobic exercise, they did it barefoot.  They jumped up and down a lot and many injured their feet with stress fractures and the like.  So the athletic footwear industry started designing aerobics shoes with lots of padding so aerobics could continue bouncing along without changing their movement.  The sneakers got fancier and fancier with air pockets and springy material, but most people didn’t question the WAY they were moving.

One of the many revolutionary things Debbie and Carlos did when they created Nia was to question everything they were doing in traditional aerobics.  They believed they could get fit and stay injury-free by using the grounded and mindful movement of dance, martial and healing arts.  So one of the first things they did was take off their shoes and stepped (and kicked and danced and eventually, jumped) with awareness.

This week we’ll be dancing the explosive and exciting Firedance (on Wednesday, March 14 at 1045am at ACAC Albemarle Square, for those in Cville), and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves not to get carried away with the enthusiasm of the moment, not to get all Pirates of Penzance with our dance, but do really, truly step with cat-like tread.  Even when we are totally excited about the movement.  Even when the music is fast.  Even when we jump.


  1. It really is amazing how moving with awareness affects the body differently than just jumping all over the place. A 60-minute Zumba class kills my knees and hips, but a 90-minute 5Rhythms class in my bare feet–even when I may be moving ecstatically or wildly–never hurts that way and sometimes even EASES pain I may have had at the start of class.

    And I appreciate the PoP reference; that was our high school musical my sophomore year, which I choreographed! 🙂

    • That is a great observation, Jennifer! I have to admit that sometimes after doing 5R, if I’ve really gone into chaos, my neck will be sore the next day and what that tells me is that I wasn’t really in my body when I was dancing. The body wants to move and it wants to heal itself – so if we move mindfully and with sensation, that’s exactly what she will do! (And too cool that you choreographed Pirates!)

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