Looking for something different to do on the mat, Yoga Sleuth hit the Upper East Side for House of Jai’s new DanceAsana class. Except when I got there I learned we wouldn’t be using mats at all! Rather than a traditional yoga class with elements of dance, this was to be a true fusion of the two, merging the mindfulness of asana with real dance choreography from an expert instructor, Nikki Nasto.
The absence of mats meant we were going to explore utilizing the entire space of the studio, but first we began in traditional yoga style.
“Just close your eyes and bring yourself into the space, becoming aware of what surrounds us,” said Nikki. “This is not about judgment, it’s about expression.”
We came into a seated cow and cat, opening our arms wide on the inhale and drawing into the midline on the exhale. We lied down on the bamboo floor in a supine X-shape, flexing and pointing our feet, then rolled our bodies over in both directions, letting our limbs lead us, and just experiencing the sensation of moving our bodies.
“We’re going to create a journey,” said Nikki, who trained as a child in classical ballet with the Royal Academy of Dance. Prior to her yoga training, she received her BFA from New School with the Joffrey Ballet and her MFA in Dance at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
We moved with purpose around the studio, playing with walking on our toes, then our heels. We picked up the pace, first trotting and then taking short leaps, then walking backwards and from side to side, opening our bodies to the challenge of moving in a different way. Soon we were running and leaping across the studio. Nikki put a yoga block in our path to remind us to activate the back leg. “Think of it this way,” she said. “The block is a puddle—we get a lot of them in Manhattan! If I don’t lift up my back leg, my foot is going to end up in the puddle. The back leg is what you use to push off.” We took turns running and jumping over the “puddle.” “You guys are gonna love me this winter!” laughed Nikki.
We progressed to more structured sequence choreography, starting with a “grapevine” line step. Nikki had us add a “brushing” movement with our legs, swiping our feet across the floor, then invoked Mr. Miyagi with a “Wax on!” as we swept the leg in a circular motion.
“Now let’s do a box step,” said Nikki. She snapped out the beats as our legs memorized the moves, then we added the earlier “brush” movement to the sequence.
Novices interested in exploring dance will be pleased to know that this aspect of class is never intimidating. Nikki is a playful and encouraging instructor whose directions are clear as crystal. We left self-consciousness at the studio door and threw ourselves enthusiastically into the movements.
We drew on the earlier cat/cow as we opened our arms to one side, turned and closed to the midline, then pivoted and emerged into warrior two. “We got this!” grinned Nikki. “We’re shaking up our chakras!” With new confidence, we put all the pieces we had learned together, added music (“Higher Love”), and the yoga dance party was on in earnest.
Sweaty but exhilarated, we began to slow our movements for the cool down. “Envision a ball circulating over your head and entering your body through the crown,” said Nikki. “Just imagine what it’s doing and let it lead your body and its movements. Take it around the room with you.” Soon we were waltzing around with our imaginary partners as Nikki dimmed the lights and “Sea of Love” began to play. Then it was time for traditional savasana, after which Nikki invited us to stay and chat about what we had learned.
She left us with some wise advice. “It’s all about just doing what you can do,” Nikki said. “Give yourselves props for trying something new. It all comes with time and patience. Just take the journey and see where it leads.”
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
DanceAsana is $10; regular class drop-ins are $30 with Manduka mat and towel included.