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!

white teacher with navajo students“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” ~ Khalil Gibran

My stepdaughter is disappointed about the teacher she has for her course this semester. I don’t like her, she said, She didn’t teach us anything last time I had her. I taught myself everything from the book. I am sorry she isn’t happy with her teacher but I keep thinking wow, what was an extraordinary thing to learn.

“Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?” ~ Walt Whitman

My yoga teacher told us about one of her teachers who yelled at them in class and was generally nasty while holding them in difficult postures. Why in the world did you stay with a teacher who treated you like that? I asked. She stopped and got serious. Oh my gosh, she said, I learned so much from her. It’s where I found the serenity in my practice.

Teaching and learning are happening all the time whether we realize it or not. But we often think about teaching and learning narrowly: the teacher is up there teaching and the students are out there learning.

teachers & students 1

Sometimes teachers will say things like I learn so much from my students! Making the exchange of teaching and learning look something like this:

teachers & students 2

But that’s not quite accurate either. Here’s what’s actually happening all the time. Everybody, whether they know it or not is both teaching and learning from everybody else. So it actually looks more like this:

teachers & students 3


We’re all teachers. We’re all students.
We teach by the choices we make. We learn by the perspective we take.
What do you want to teach? What do you want to learn?
When I am clear on this, I know how to live.

Whatever it is, remember this little mind-blowing nugget of brilliance from Momastery blogger, Glennon Doyle Melton:

“You do not teach by teaching – you teach by loving.”

Imagine standing in this room

// & students 3

if all those colored lines, were lines of love.

Nia class extendingMy yoga teacher recently said to an experienced student in full January class: “I know you know what you’re doing, but be aware that there are lots of new students in class today.”

We are all teachers. What do you want to teach?

A thoughtless act teaches me to be kind.
A stingy act teaches me to be generous.
A harsh word teaches me to be gentle.
A half-truth teaches me to be honest.

We are all students. What do you want to learn?

Teachers and students are everywhere. Have the courage to learn from everyone and to teach everyone.

10000 teachers packing sjmWhatever is happening is the path to enlightenment. – Pema Chödrön

This week, my husband and I are leaving on a big adventure: a month in Costa Rica. For 16 years we’ve talked about this and right up until this past week my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea we are actually going.

Now here it is, just days before we fly off for a month, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. I’m excited, definitely. We have piles of clothes and gear and snacks (of course) on the dresser and the bed. We have lists of things to bring and things that have to get done before we go. There are colorful books of birds and beaches and monkeys and bats laid out on the coffee table.

I am excited … and I also feel anxious.

But it’s not the traveling that’s got me. (Frank and I could have fun together anywhere — as long as we have Scrabble and Frank’s willingness to repeatedly remind me that I don’t actually have control over anything.) No, as long as I remember to breathe and relax, I’m okay traveling.

I’m anxious about leaving my teachers and my students.

My normal life is so full of great good fortune that part of me is reluctant to leave it, even for a month. The instructors who lead my yoga classes and the students who I have the privilege to guide in movement each week are what I don’t want to leave behind.

But then I have to laugh at myself, since if I pay attention, teachers and students are everywhere. I’ve learned hugely from and been inspired deeply by the people who come to my classes and from my fellow yogis and yoginis who I get to practice with. All around me, a sea of teachers! I also know that the choices I make affect the people around me whether I know it or not. Everywhere I go, there are “students” taking in what I say and do.

So ask yourself, in this life, what do you want to learn? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that all of the following (and much more!) can be your teacher?

Your body and sensation ~ When I pay attention and listen to my body, I can learn to simultaneously challenge and heal it. I can learn when I can do more than I thought and what my body truly needs.

A beloved or admired person ~ Notice the people you admire, the ones you love to be around, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to emulate. Recognize that no matter how magnificent the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use admired people to remind yourself to cultivate those qualities in yourself.

An avoided or annoying person ~ Notice the people you avoid, the ones who annoy you, and ask yourself what qualities they embody that you would like to curtail in yourself. Recognize that no matter how horrendous the other person is, you, too, possess those qualities. Use annoying people to remind yourself not to feed those qualities in yourself.

Nature ~ The wisest of teachers, Nature’s cycles and processes reveal the dharma of life (the way things are). If we pay attention, Nature shows us the many faces of beauty, life, and death.

Your self ~ Observing yourself with neutral, compassionate eyes can throw light on habits and tendencies that may be hurting you or getting in your way. See if you can loosen any defensive stance about the way you do things and simply witness yourself.

Your practice ~ Notice what’s happening in your practice (whatever that may be) and consider that your practice is a metaphor for your life. Consider the possibility that how you do anything is how you do everything.

Your life ~ as Pema Chödrön says, “Whatever is happening is the path to enlightenment.” Whether I’m balancing in Tree Pose or waiting in a serpentine TSA line or walking through a dripping rain forest, I have the opportunity to see it all as a teaching me something and leading me a little further along the path.

And how about your students? As you fly through a yellow-light-almost-turning-red, what are you teaching the teen-aged driver who sees you? As you interact with a gate representative at the airport, everyone around you is learning from and affected by how you choose to speak to her. We are all teachers offering guidance and modeling choices to the people around us. So, what do you want to teach?

Teachers are not always the ones at the front of the room. Explore the possibility that you are a student surrounded by teachers and that you are a teacher yourself surrounded by students. What do you want to learn? What do you want to teach? If we pay attention our life can be our practice and our practice can be our life.

eggbeaterLive as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”  ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Yesterday, I wrote about all the things I learned on my Radical Sabbatical – and then promptly didn’t do when my sabbatical was over!  One perspective on what might seem like illogical behavior can be found in the Four Stages of Competence.

I learned some things and had some insights, but I hadn’t practiced them enough to embody them, so I went back to my old habits (I moved from Stage 1, Unconscious Incompetence, to Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence).  Learning was important but it wasn’t enough to change me.  Change and mastery happen in a cycle:  Learn, Practice and Embody (and repeat!).

Ever borrow a friend’s car and feel like a complete spaz driving it?  You go to put the turn signal on and the windshield wipers start?  It feels like someone’s put an eggbeater in your brain. That feeling of being confused and bamfoozled?  That oogie feeling?  That, my friends, is the sensation of learning or Conscious Incompetence!  We know what we want to do but we aren’t able to do it.  It feels strange and gawky, but no worries, it is just part of the process!

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  “Practice, practice, practice.” ~ old joke

After learning (Stage 1 to 2), the next part of the cycle is practice.  I’m practicing when the intense awkward feeling passes (mostly, anyway), and the focused work begins.  In practice, I do the newly learned skill over and over with concentration and attention.  At the beginning, I may fluctuate between learning (Stage 2) and practice (Stage 3) and then back again.

Many teachers and trainers believe that all we need to gain a skill or change our behavior (or thinking) is the information:  the learning that shows us why we should do it.  But most people do better with the information and experience to really learn it.  (Ever try to eat more green leafy veggies or go to bed early instead of watching Downton Abbey until all hours because you know that it will be better for you?  Ever have a little trouble with that?  Yeah.  Me, too.  For ideas about how to start a new habit, click here.)

Practice might seem like grunt work:  the discipline that comes after the spark of learning and before the grace of mastery.  Practice in its pure form, though, is both indispensable and energizing.  When I am practicing, I am absorbed in the process and noticing the details.  This kind of attention allows for on-going discovery and refinement.

With continued practice, I move from Stage 3, Conscious Competence, to Stage 4, Unconscious Competence, when I can do the skill without thought or effort.  This stage of complete embodiment or mastery then cycles back into Stage 1.  The very nature of Stage 4’s unconsciousness can lead to a tendency not to consider advances or other approaches which could improve my abilities and outcomes.  On some level, no matter what our level of expertise, there is always more to learn and new details to practice.  (Remember the Beginner’s Mind post?)

While this cycle may seem like an endless series of awkward learnings followed by never-ending practice, there is tremendously cool news!  The process of learning and then practicing changes your brain.

“What is the strongest force in the Universe?” “The force of habit.” ~ another old joke

Your brain wants to be efficient, so whenever it can, it creates shortcuts and habits to reduce the energy it takes to do things we do often.  Imagine the effort of typing or driving a car if you had to really focus on all the details of those skills?  It would be exhausting just to drive across town or write an email!

Learning something new, on the other hand, burns new neural pathways in your brain.  Learning makes connections where there weren’t connections before.  Which is, as previously mentioned, entirely and tremendously cool — especially since 15 years ago, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was  not only finished growing but that neurons were being pruned in the brain.  For a long time, science told us that an adult brain couldn’t change!  But loads of current neuroscience shows that the cycle of competency actually allows our brains to transform and develop – no matter how old we are.

Practicing Nia is a process of learning, practicing and embodying.  By moving in a wide variety of ways, speeds, ranges of motion, and patterns, your body and brain are always learning.  If you are new to class, you are doing a lot of learning/Stage 2!  If you are doing movements that you’ve done before, you may be doing more practicing/Stage 3.  Eventually, we can embody the movements in Stage 4/Unconscious Competence…but in Nia, we don’t stay there very long!  It is The Body’s Way to be in this cycle of learning, practicing and embodying, constantly stimulating not just your bones, muscles and connective tissue, but your brain and nervous system!

I hope you’ll join me this week in finding something new to learn and practice.  Enjoy the oogie sensation and know that it is expanding the capacity of your brain – keeping you vibrant, young and alive.

The_Four_Stages_of_Learning_1“A mind stretched by a new idea never shrinks back to its original dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Last summer, when I took a Radical Sabbatical, I set out to learn what I needed to keep my teaching practice alive and vibrant.  Over those four months, I learned that I needed to have dedicated time and space for creativity.   I learned that I needed to have time outside under the sky.  I learned that overscheduling leads to stagnation.  I got it.  I really did.  But when I returned to teaching in the fall?  I filled my calendar to the brim and spent most of my time inside at the computer.

I felt frustrated with myself and my behavior.  I couldn’t understand why I was doing what I was doing when I knew what I knew!  What was going on with me?

Then I remembered a classic approach to the learning process called the Four Stages of Competence.  The Four Stages are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – when I don’t even KNOW what I don’t know
  2. Conscious Incompetence – when I know what I don’t know and I still cannot do it
  3. Conscious Competence – I know how to do it and it takes focus and attention
  4. Unconscious Competence – I have embodied the skill and I can do it effortlessly

(For a more complete description of each stage, please go here.)

It was a relief to recall this theory and see that I was just in the learning process – not failing miserably to carry out my intentions.

Before my sabbatical, I was in Stage 1, Unconscious Incompetence:  I didn’t know what I needed to make my teaching practice thrive.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  During my sabbatical and in the months that followed, I experienced the ineptness and discomfort Stage 2:  Conscious Incompetence.  I understood, on an intellectual level, what I needed to do but I wasn’t able to do it.  A few months later I am now moving between Conscious Incompetence (sometimes I don’t do what I intend to do) and Conscious Competence (I’m able to do what I intend if I focus and concentrate).

Another way of looking at the process is a cycle of learning, practicing and embodying.  The awkward and uncomfortable sensations of moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is the sensation of learning.  That’s what learning feels like – unfamiliar and clumsy. Then, we need practice to move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 and even more practice to take us into Stage 4, Unconscious Competence, when a skill is effortless and embodied.

Often, there is a misconception that learning won’t feel awkward and uncomfortable, so when it does, people think they are doing it wrong.  Discomfort is inherent in Stage 1 but many people want to avoid that feeling.  The whole learning thing can be an awkward affair, so if we avoid it, we can avoid the anxiety or embarrassment.

I am convinced that the number one reason that people don’t want to take a Nia class is that they think they’ll look silly or uncoordinated.  To avoid that feeling, they get on a treadmill!  For many folks, it was risky enough to get into workout clothes and walk out of the locker room.  Why in the world would they step into a studio with windows and … wiggle??

Two reasons:  (1) Learning new things keeps us from becoming entrained to our habits and (2) learning keeps us vibrant, animated and alive!

If we keep doing things the same way and don’t endeavor to learn new things, we become entrained in our habits until our habits become the only way we can do things.  Our brain gets so hard-wired in one direction there simply is no other way for it to go.

And perhaps more importantly, learning keeps us alive and vital.  Learning creates a literal spark in our bodies and energy in our minds.  Practicing then develops our discipline, determination and focus.

So are you ready to get awkward with me?  Tomorrow, I’ll say more about how we can use current brain science and the Cycle of Competence to do anything better and move into mastery.

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