By Krista Hiser, Nia Black Belt, first degree
My first encounter with Debbie Rosas left me sweating and crying afterwards: “I just feel so happy!” Although I had already discovered Nia and taken a Nia White Belt training, I had never danced with ‘the source’ of Nia, the co-founders Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas. My experience with the two of them at a fitness conference in La Jolla, California moved me powerfully.
Now I know that my felt sensation went beyond happiness to what Nia calls Joy. Now I know that I relate to Debbie as I relate to Joy, with a deep, always present connection. That first day, Debbie was a “star” to me, but now she is the light of that star, someone I can always access in my mind. In other words, she is a wisdom teacher.
Debbie terrified me the second time I met her, in my Blue Belt Training at Nia headquarters in Portland. She wasn’t even leading the training, but she click-clacked into the room in black thigh high stiletto boots, a tiny Starbucks cup perched in her palm. She no doubt taught something, but I only recall being scared of her.
Now I know that my response was attraction, not terror. Being around someone with a very powerful vibration can cause me confusion. I’ve since learned that Debbie’s vibration comes from years of consistent dedication and work, from practice. Debbie lives Nia; she literally embodies her work. Her practice results in tremendous personal power that emanates from her continually.
I have since experienced many different emotions in Debbie’s presence: in large intensive trainings (my Black Belt and First Degree Black Belt), at round dinner tables and online webinars, in phone calls, on Nia TV, and taking many, many Nia classes from her.
At some point, as a professor of writing, I took courage into my hands and summoned the nerve to offer to edit one of the Nia manuals Debbie had written. Her warm response has since given me the unique privilege of assisting Debbie with some of her stunning work, including Nia training manuals, a memoir, and The Awakening Project.
I once spent an incredible week working with Debbie in her hotel room. She sat on one sofa, I sat on another. She talked and told stories, and I typed. I listened to her stories and did my best to shape them into narrative. I visualized each story that she told as being in its own bowl. Crystal bowls, brass bowls, wooden bowls, finger bowls, salad bowls. So many stories spill out of this woman!
Her early childhood stories of intuition and compassion especially stand out to me. Debbie suffered terrible illnesses in early childhood that pushed her to develop intense sensory awarenesses. As a young child, she once tugged her mother’s hand at a crosswalk and said “wait” because she sensed that an accident was about to happen to a woman crossing the street; and it did. Her mother gently, supportively informed her on the spot that she was “fey”, intuitive. Later, volunteering as a teenage candy striper in a hospital, she held a baby with no arms and no legs. The wave of love and empathy that she felt for that baby deeply stirred her compassion and influenced the teacher that she would become.
In school she struggled with extensive learning disabilities and met those challenges by opening new forms of intelligence, learning, awareness and wisdom. In other words, everything that Debbie brings to her art of teaching, and to the content of Nia, comes from her lived experience. She is the most creative person I have ever met.
Debbie studied art at a community college and took a job early in her career as a medical illustrator. She continues to perform medical dissection of cadavers at least one week a year. Debbie’s fascination with the human body – whether in the stillness of death or while moving and dancing through life – is a signature part of her life path.
Married young and having two children, she at first lived a rather traditional life. After the overwhelm of becoming a mother, Debbie had her first fitness experience. This is my very favorite Nia story of her: the “ladies gym” she attended sported weight machines and pulleys lined with pink fleece – yes, pink fleece! She was so exhilarated by this first experience of “exercise” that she changed her life forever.
Debbie created a fitness company called the “Bod Squad”, became incredibly successful with a traditional high-impact aerobic studio, then gave it all up in 24 hours, defying the entire fitness industry to start a more holistic, barefoot, truly healthful movement practice… and the rest is Nia history.
Debbie stands at the center of a community of thousands of Nia teachers around the world who have made deep study, lifelong practice, and livelihoods from what they have learned from Debbie. If you can ever take a training with her, or join her Awakening Project – which starts this March, or dance with her on Nia TV, you should jump at that chance! But even if you never meet Debbie Rosas, you are learning from her through any Nia teacher you may take class with. Debbie is the teacher of the teachers, the leader of the leaders, the cherished friend and mentor and inspiration to many many people, including, I’m grateful to say, me.