This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?


Sometimes, I think I’m doing something and really I’m not.
Or I think I’m not doing something but I actually am.

Lately, I’ve been exploring new music* with the particular intention to expand the variety of what I listen to and use in my classes. I’ve been working on a playlist for weeks: combining a variety of styles and rhythms, tempos and lyrical themes. Satisfied, I sit back, look at what I created…and see that it was a playlist of entirely white artists.

Dang it.

In conversations, I can get excited. I want to share something so I interrupt people. It’s an annoying habit that does nothing to create connection or build relationships. Just ask my husband. So, I pay attention and breathe when I have an urge to jump in and say something. But when I ask Frank how he likes it now I’m not talking over him, he raises his eyebrows, “You mean you were doing something differently?”

Double dang it.

I notice this in Nia and yoga, too. I’ll be moving around the studio, feeling like I’m really breaking into some new moves only to realize that I’m doing the same exact thing I always do with my feet. I think my hips are nice and square in Twisted Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana). But when I put my hand on my low back, I can feel that it’s all cattywampus. I catch myself in the mirror, or someone catches me in a photo and there it is: I’m doing what I usually do the way I usually do it.

It’s normal to find a groove and stick to it. Habit is, as an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon said, the most powerful force in the universe. Habits develop to save energy and allow us to focus on threats and problems that haven’t been solved yet. But if I walk on the same parts of the carpet all the time, those parts get worn down to the nub while others go untouched. It is healthy to break out of habitual patterns and find new pathways in the body and brain.

Habit-breaking is not only healthful for the nervous system, but it give us options when circumstances shift and we are unable to do things in our habitual way. If you never, ever use your non-dominant hand to open doors or brush your hair or eat, what will happen when you injure your dominant arm? (Answer: You will stay in one room with messy hair and be hungry.)

Much of any body~mind practice focuses on us noticing our habits and making different choices. In Nia, many principles focus on creating movement variety and breaking out of our habitual patterns. We use the Principle 2, Part 2, The 9 Movement Forms (and a bevy of other Principles) to create new skills and possibilities in the body.

However, not one of those principles will effect a single pingle thing unless we witness how we do what we do. We have to actually know what we’re doing if we’re going to choose something different. Without that awareness, we are swimming in an unconscious sea of habit. Even after years of practice, I find myself continually going back to doing-it-the-way-I-do-it – and the only way I can make that statement is that I know how I do what I do. It’s only from there that I have a choice.

Whether you dance Nia or garden or chase after toddlers, spend some time and attention on noticing how you do it. Without judgment or criticism, be a witness to your own patterns:
Oh, I tend to step back onto the ball of my foot and lift my elbows when I free dance.
Ah, when I pick up my daughter, I always put her on my right hip.
Hmm, no matter what the time of day, whenever I get home, I have a snack.
Look at that, I interrupt people.

The first step in creating real, actual change is to witness how I do what I do. There is no skipping that step. From there, the possibilities are endless.

* I’m always interested in knowing what you’re listening to and especially what you are dancing to in the car/kitchen/shower. I’d love it if you’d share your current favorites in the comments below, on the Focus Pocus Facebook page, or email me at

First, the difficult news: it is with deep sadness that I share that our friend and long-time Nia dancer, Marie-Therese Pain died unexpectedly last week. We will miss her bright smile and generous, positive energy in classes. When it’s ready, her obituary will be here and a funeral mass will be held at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church (401 Alderman Road Charlottesville, VA 22903) at 11AM on Saturday, May 13th.

It’s been a week of wobbles. Which is a good thing…albeit often an uncomfortable one. Whether it’s in body, mind and emotions, it’s easy to run from awkward wobbly feelings but then we lose the chance to learn and grow and get stronger. So wobble on, my friends.

All the playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Dance for free at Spotify! Sign up, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

This week’s announcements and news:

• Interview on Home Grown on Sunday, May 7 at 10am
Listen in on Sunday, May 7, to an interview on Home Grown: Your Show about Local Art on 94.7 WPVC FM, Charlottesville. Susan will talk with hosts Leslie M. Scott-Jones and David Vaughn Straughn about movement, stillness and art…and dance.sit.create. It will also be on a Facebook Live Stream

• Love Warrior: embody an evolving movement ~ Sunday, May 7, 3-430pm
a moving experience of activism in support of a local Syrian immigrant family
Join Susan to experience a new and evolving routine called Love Warrior. This is a movement experience designed for everyBody that allows us to experience the sensation of the change we want to see in the world. We can then translate that sensation directly into action. If you’ve not done this routine before, this is a great time to experience it. If you have, come do it with us again ~~ it’s always changing.
The way we treat the most vulnerable among us says the most about who we are. Enjoy an evening of movement, music, and community and at the same time offer support to a Syrian immigrant family. Home made Syrian baked treats will be available for sale after class!
Donate-What-You-Can ~ All proceeds from the event will go to our Syrian neighbors

Memorial Day Nia – Monday, May 29 from 11-12:15pm
For the holiday, acac has a slightly modified schedule so on Memorial Day (and all Monday holidays), Nia at acac Albemarle Square will be from 11am-1215pm! Come spend some of your day off with your body and with us!

dance.sit.create… RESCHEDULED Saturday, Jun 24, 2o17, 8:30am-5pm
Turns out that Mother’s Day weekend is a terrible time for a retreat. So, we will dance.sit.create…now on June 24. Come spend a delicious day playing at the sweet intersection of movement, stillness and art. We’ll explore the creative magic of the number 7 and the power of play for inspiration and restoration. No experience in anything is necessary. All you need is a willingness to see what happens and eat delicious, healthy meals. The retreat provides everything you need for an uplifting, rejuvenating day. Susan offers the structure and guidance for movement, meditation, and creative jaunts. Rebecca caters extraordinary vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal food (tea, snack, lunch). And it doesn’t stop with one day. Also included is a 6-week series of music, meditations, and prompts to keep you in the flow.
Early Bird: $100 if registered by May 24. Late Bird: $125 if registered by June 20
Limited to 20 participants.
Checks to SusaNia LLC and mailed to 1255 Sunset Avenue Ext., Charlottesville VA 22903 with registration form or at

Our friend, mentor and Nia Trainer, Helen Terry is coming to Charlottesville to offer a White Belt training! White Belt is the first level of Nia training, designed to provide body-centered training to anyone interested in living better in a body or teaching Nia. Helen is a First Generation Nia Trainer, chosen years ago by the creators of Nia to be one of the first Nia trainers. She’ll be retiring soon, so don’t miss your chance to learn from this amazing teacher and trainer! For more information and to register, please visit: Please feel free to contact Mary Linn at with any questions!
As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, May 1, 2017, 1045am ~ Wobbly

Helpless 4:15 K.D. Lang
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) 5:32 The Tao Of Groove
No Quiero Nada Mas 4:46 Sancti Spiritus
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Red Alert 4:17 Basement Jaxx
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
In Focus [Intimate Mix] 4:49 Popcorn
Beguiled 4:46 Tim Story

Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 840am ~ Wobbly

Helpless 4:15 K.D. Lang
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
Mulatica Mia (Cuba Remix) 5:32 The Tao Of Groove
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Red Alert 4:17 Basement Jaxx
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
In Focus [Intimate Mix] 4:49 Popcorn
April Come She Will 2:06 Tracy Grammer

Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 11am ~ Wobbly

Whole Thing 5:27 Big Blue Ball featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Andy White
Habibe 7:12 Big Blue Ball featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes, The Hossam Ramzy Egyptian Ensemble (Adel Eskander, Wael Abu Bakr, Momtaz Talaat
Shadow 4:28 Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
Braided Hair 4:03 Neneh Cherry/Speech
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Kate 3:14 Ben Folds Five
Drumming Up a Storm 6:01 Bob Holroyd
New Shoes 3:22 Paolo Nutini
Life Is Better With You 3:19 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Champs Elysees (Stephane Pompougnac Mix) 4:51 Clémentine
Don’t Give Up 5:56 Peter Gabriel
Tibet Part II (Nia Movement Meditation, Stillness) 4:54 Mark Isham

Thursday, May 4, 2017, 840am ~ Wobbly

Whole Thing 5:27 Big Blue Ball featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Andy White
Habibe 7:12 Big Blue Ball featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes, The Hossam Ramzy Egyptian Ensemble (Adel Eskander, Wael Abu Bakr, Momtaz Talaat
Shadow 4:28 Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Fall Down 3:22 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Drumming Up a Storm 6:01 Bob Holroyd
New Shoes 3:22 Paolo Nutini
Champs Elysees (Stephane Pompougnac Mix) 4:51 Clémentine
Don’t Give Up 5:56 Peter Gabriel


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

photo by Rebecca George ~ find her art at

My friend and colleague, Loring Myles, is teaching her last Nia class at acac today. The mother of one of my closest friends is dying. And it feels sincerely unclear to me what the Sam Hill is happening in the world. Endings and uncertainty can leave me wobbly. Which seems like an excellent time to revisit this post from late summer 2013


‘The old is not old enough to have died away;

The new is still too young to be born.’ ”

– from John O’Donohue’s poem For the Interim Time

The past few weeks have been full of everything at our house: family visiting from Minnesota, planning for upcoming travels near and far (including buying a camper!?), a parent’s serious illness (and then amazing recovery!), and then yesterday, we took our second (and last) child to college. Lots of broken routines and unexpected twists, lots of emotions of every color and intensity.

After all that, I feel fragile. Like I might crack if I move too quickly. Or at least bruise at the smallest thing: like when I see a parent laughing with (or angry with) their child, or an elder slowly and gingerly crossing a road, or the rich blue late summer sky filled with plumes of white clouds.

My friend calls it “wobbly.” It’s true. The past few days, I’ve felt all kinds of wobbly.

This week, on her (wonderful!) blog, author (and Nia student!) Deborah Prum posted a quote from Frederick Buechner that is full of paradox and wisdom and speaks directly to how I’m feeling. In part it reads, “We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” This is the interim time that John O’Donohue’s perceptive poem blesses. This is the uncomfortable, in-between time when even a familiar path feels uneven and strange. It’s the time when one thing is over but the next hasn’t yet begun. We’ve cast off from shore into a fog bank with no land is in sight.

In part, it’s the time of year. Kids are going to school, sometimes for the first time, or leaving home. I suspect I am not the only one who watched my boy walk away and wondered how my days will be, how my relationship with my partner will be, and who I will be with him gone. Wobbly questions, indeed.

But it’s not just a fall thing and it’s not just a child-going-to-school thing. We are all in transition all the time. We are all letting go of something and waiting for whatever comes next. For you it may be making plans to move, have or adopt a baby, change jobs or embark on a creative project. You may be preparing for retirement or travel or going to school. And of course, navigating the ultimate transitions of aging, illness, and death in ourselves and in others is so filled with uncertainty and fear that it can plop us smartly on our butts. Whether it’s an exciting something you want, or a troubling something you fear, there is always that in-between feeling when you’re leaving one thing and haven’t yet come to the next.

Most of us shrink from this interim time. The discomfort can be intolerable and we will do whatever we can to avoid it. Our unwillingness to be in the awkwardness of transition can lead to all manner of poor, short-sighted decisions. Fear of the interim time is at the root of rebound relationships, ill-considered next jobs, and even trashy magazine reading in the doctor’s office.

Whatever transitions you are in right now, whatever interim time you are wandering in, remind yourself that this is fertile, important ground to walk. It’s worth spending time in the uncomfortable liminal space. It’s important to stay here, breathe, and not run. As John O’Donohue encourages us:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to sqauander

This call which is loosening

Your roots in the false ground,

That you might come free

From all you have outgrown.

Fear not the wobblies. Welcome them, as they are necessary for growth. Fear not the transitional, in-betweenie feeling. Allow yourself to walk wobbly but wise through the transitions for it is the only way to recognize what you have outgrown and see clearly what is next.

This week, I started an 8-week writing class. It’s the first time I’ve taken an in-person, honest-to-goodness writing class so I’ve been intently working on my pieces for that. Today, I thought I had one ready to submit to my instructor and classmates…until my Chief Reading Officer (my husband) and I realized there was a huge disconnect in the middle of it. So I’m beginning again.

Which seems like an excellent opportunity to return to this post on practicing that from last year.
Big breath. Begin again.

Originally posted on March 15, 2o16.

awareness begin again 031416

Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

There is something you want to do. Or something you don’t want to do anymore. You have a habit you want to break or one you want to start. You want to create something or go somewhere or build something up or clear something out.

That’s awesome.

Here’s the thing, though. You will mess up. Or something will go wrong. Or you’ll forget. Or you’ll put it off. I wish I could tell you that it will all go swimmingly just exactly as you’d like with nary a bump in the road.

And yeah, NOPE that’s not the way it’s going to go.

Which you could see as a bad thing or you could see as a way to practice beginning again. Let’s go with the latter. Here are 3 ways (plus a bonus) to practice beginning again.

1. At the Start ~ Plan to Begin Again

When setting an intention for something, think about what you want to do (or not do), when you’ll do it, with whom, and all the details of how you are planning on doing it. AND, include in those plans what you will do when you get off track. What will you do when you notice that you are doing what you didn’t want to do or vice versa. Expect to get off track and plan to begin again.

2. In the Midst ~ See the Magic Moment

While you’re in the process of your new habit or plan, be on the lookout for thoughts calcifying around the practice when it goes awry. Notice if you think things like, “See? I can’t do this.” Or, “I keep forgetting, I might as well give up.” Or, “This is just not something I can stop doing. It would be easier to just keep doing it.”

Instead, see the moment that you realize you’ve lost connection with your intention as a magic moment. Use it as an opportunity to begin again. The magic isn’t in being perfect. The magic is in noticing when you’ve gotten off course and choosing to begin again.

3. At the End ~ Be an Awesome Rebounder

In basketball, the best rebounders are the ones that count on the ball NOT going in the net. The best rebounders can’t wait to make something great out of a misfired shot.

Once a project is launched or the words have been said or the soufflé has been baked, there is no taking it back. If the reviews are terrible or if feelings are hurt or if you have a lump of egg baked in the pan, what can you do now? How can you start again or repurpose what’s happened? Begin again by reworking or rethinking the project, apologizing and saying what you meant to say, or calling it a quiche.

Be an awesome rebounder and begin again from a missed shot.

BONUS: Close your Heart to No One

Pay attention if your heart closes to anyone, especially yourself. Remind yourself that everyone ~ EVERYone (even that one person you just thought of) ~ is doing their best. If you feel that tight clenching around someone, take a breath and let your heart soften. More skillful decisions come from an unclenched heart. (It’s important to note that keeping your heart open to someone does not mean to stay in a hurtful or abusive situation. My heart can stay open as I say, No, you may not do that to me or say that to me or treat me that way.)

And if you forget, and you close your heart to someone, that’s great! It’s a magic moment when you realize it and a chance to begin again.

This post was originally published on August 18, 2013.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Bottom line: Comparing myself to others is pointless. Any time I start a little tally going on how I’m doing as compared to someone else, it’s time to take a breath and a step back. We all do it (in fact, our culture encourages it), but comparison is a habit worth breaking. Leo Babauta in his ZenHabits blog has written a bunch of posts about comparison (and they’re all good), but I love this one for pointing out how absurd it is to compare ourselves to others. There are too many variables, too many unknowns, too many incomparables. Comparison just doesn’t make sense.

And yet, it’s so tempting, to either knock myself down (“she’s my age and way more fit than I am”) or make myself superior (“I would never talk to my child like that.”) as compared to someone else. It’s so easy to do, but our absolute uniqueness makes it completely meaningless. As they say in AA, don’t compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.

Contrasting, on the other hand, can be a delicious practice of wonder and appreciation. Last year, my husband and I visited his parents in Arizona. One afternoon, we went to a skydiving center to watch people jump out of airplanes. It was strangely mesmerizing. Dozens of us sat on the grass craning our necks skyward and watched tiny colored dots fly out of the plane, cruise around for a while, and then pop their parachutes and float gracefully to earth on a rainbow of fabric. After watching several plane-loads descend like colorful thistle down, I said to everyone and no one in particular, “People are amazing.” A stranger, a woman sitting near me said, “You could learn to sky dive, and then you’d be amazing, too.”

And without missing a beat, I looked at her, smiled and said one of the greatest things I’ve ever said, “Oh, I am amazing…only in a completely different way.”

Few words have ever felt so good to say. I could easily have gone with, “Oh no, I could never do that” or “Yeah, you’re right, I should try it” or something that in one way or another compared me to the skydivers. Instead, I loved appreciating them for what they were doing and recognizing that their achievements in no way diminish my own, totally different, coolness. This is contrast, and contrast is delicious.

One of my favorite things in Nia is the Joy of Contrast. In my very first class, after years of aerobics and traditional dance classes in which the whole class basically has the same energy and the same feel, I loved the feeling of contrasts in Nia. I loved feeling tight then loose, linear then circular, big then teeny-tiny. My body devoured the sensations and the challenge of completely shifting from one to the other. My mind focused intently on crisp shifts between those sensations.  And my spirit loved the expansive possibilities that were inherent in every contrast…even the possibility of blending and integrating them.

Strong isn’t better than flexible. Mobile isn’t better than agile. Fast isn’t better than slow. Skydiving isn’t better than Nia dancing.  The Joy of Contrast is appreciating the amazingness of it all.

The next time you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, experiment with appreciating the contrasts instead. Acknowledge that you and the other person are both amazing…just in different ways. Then move on to be your amazing self without keeping score. Whether you jump out of airplanes or knit baby blankets, you are amazing. Just being yourself is amazing. Be that amazing and let everybody else be their amazing. That’s the Joy of Contrast!

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