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Amber Bonnici, One of the Bravest People I Know

By Renée Tillotson

13 years ago, Amber Bonnici did one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do. I mean nerves-of-steel brave. I’ve been waiting all this time to tell this story, and finally asked her permission.

Turns out, she is still one of the bravest people I know! She’s allowing me to tell it to all of you today, now that she is launching her first book.

You know her, too, if you’ve ever noticed her beautiful paintings that grace Still & Moving Center.

Amber and I were Nia “sisters” attending the same Nia Black Belt intensive training in 2009. And intense it was.

The Black Belt training in the Nia world aims at diving into the Unknown, into the black darkness of the terra incognita, where our fears and shadows hide and lurk, waiting to catch us unawares. The Black Belt training prods us to go into places – psychologically – that scare us, put us on edge, and make us extremely uncomfortable.

Black Belt is about mastery.

And until we can navigate our ship of Self through the waters of the unknown, we have not achieved mastery. So it’s another rite of passage, isn’t it?

After teaching Nia for years and advancing through her White, Blue, and Brown Belt trainings, Amber stalled out at home – mostly alone – with her two baby boys. She was doing her best, yet barely managing to keep her head above water.

Determined not to drown, Amber took her gumption and precious dollars and she found a way up to Nia Headquarters International for the Black Belt training. There I met Amber for the first time.

As she might have expected, she arrived to find herself in a group of about 50 advanced Nia teachers dancing through the room, most in lean, athletic bodies. Our trainers, the co-founders of Nia, were the fashion-maven Debbie Rosas and the dashingly handsome Carlos Rosas.

Still carrying her post-pregnancy pounds, Amber weighed 30 pounds more than she now does, 13 years later.

With that physical weight, Amber came into the training carrying a much heavier load of body-image problems. As a stay-at-home mom, no longer a classy, out-and-about businesswoman, Amber felt fat and frumpy amongst these svelte goddesses of the dance floor. Not that Amber couldn’t dance up a storm with the best of them: she’s a dance dragon! Not to mention an incredibly beautiful woman at any size!

After the first day, though, Amber just felt like hiding.

By the second day, Amber felt all sorts of her not-worthy, insecurity buttons getting pushed.

Many attendees at various intense trainings or retreats simply evaporate, disappearing by the middle of a week. I almost did so myself in my White Belt training, for my own reasons.

By the third day of our Black Belt, Amber might have wanted to leave. But for every wish to go hide, Amber fortified herself to stay and strive and THRIVE!

Our trainers challenged us in Black Belt to do things that felt awkward – like sitting with our arms or legs crossed opposite of what we were used to – and to wear things that we would never consider putting on in our ordinary lives.

On the fourth day, I wore big, clunky, flashy jewelry to push my comfort zone.

Not Amber. She showed up to the fourth day of training in her one-piece bathing suit. And she went out to lunch with a small group of us to Flying Elephants in downtown Portland (a much less casual, beachy city than downtown Honolulu) wearing only her bathing suit and shoes. She got a few strange looks.

By the fifth day, I bought and wore an outlandishly gaudy floppy hat I would normally never wear.

Not Amber. She came to the training in her bikini, seeking to own every square inch of herself – even the parts overflowing the edges. And she accompanied us to lunch again at Elephants. This time in her bikini and shoes. She got quite a bit of visual attention.

By the sixth day, I felt as though I had sufficiently pushed my fashion boundaries and was back in my normal dance wear.

Not Amber. This girl was absolutely determined to push through any remaining body image limitations that might be holding her back. She now appeared in only her underwear. Nude-tone in color. This time when we went to the same place for lunch, people could not keep their eyes off her, nervously jerking their gaze away.

I have to say I felt more than a bit uncomfortable lunching with a woman nearly in the nude. More than that, though, I felt INTENSELY PROUD and protective of Amber for the “I am beautiful at any weight” affirmation she was making to herself and the world.

Management had had enough, though, and told her she would have to leave the premises if she wasn’t clothed. I happened to have an oversized shirt in my bag, so we managed to finish our meal there without getting kicked out. In terms of making a statement, Amber had already hit it out of the ballpark by that time!

As we finished the training on the 7th day, our trainer Debbie Rosas singled out Amber for special recognition for her bravery in diving into the Unknown. She had inspired the rest of us with her willingness to defy norms in her quest for Self-discovery.

Amber and I became fast friends.

Amber is naturally an extremely private person. For her to openly share her life struggles with us takes “chutzpah” (nerve) at levels few of us achieve. Today, on her 45th birthday, Amber does it again in bringing out her autobiographical first book: Creativity Unleashed.

Mahalo and Happy Birthday Amber!


Find Amber’s book here:




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This post is also available in: English (英語)