At the beginning of September 2011, Nia Black Belt and NGT Sophie Marsh hosted a week-long Nia retreat at the Daku Resort in Savusavu, Vanua Levu (Fiji Islands) – a beautiful location made all the more magical by our daily Nia practice. We basked in the beauty of the space where we danced each day, nestled into the side of a hill, surrounded by lush vegetation and overlooking a picturesque bay whose view subtly changed with the weather. One of the highlights of our retreat was a visit to the remote village of Wailevu, thanks to the collaboration between Daku’s owners and two American Peace Corps volunteers. What an experience!
On arrival the women of the village greeted us with a kiss on the cheek and the gift of beautiful flowers and greenery arrangements placed around our necks. We were then officially welcomed with a formal yaqona (kava) ceremony where we shared the kava drink, followed by a refreshing drink of green coconut juice drunk straight from the coconuts that had been picked that morning. The villagers had lovingly prepared the most fabulous lunch buffet made from ingredients grown right there. The food was absolutely spectacular. Then after lunch the Medicine Woman/Naturopath of the village took us on a tour to show us the many plants she uses in her treatments. We ended up by the ocean taking in the view and chatting and laughing with our new friends. Later we were shown how the ladies of the village have launched a cottage industry (with the help of the Peace Corps) preparing beautiful virgin coconut oil. As we sat with these warm-hearted women they wove baskets, fans and children’s toys from coconut palms and pandanus, often breaking into spontaneous laughter and song.
Sophie can’t resist a good tune and sensing the energy of these beautiful people, she gathered our group of “Dancing Ladies” (as we were lovingly referred to by the locals) to dance Nia while the women sang. When we performed outward blocks with an accompanying ‘ha’ from the hara, the delighted Fijians upped the volume and clapped even harder, which drew the attention of the men of the village who applauded that move!!!
After they finished their song, they immediately broke into a new one “I wanna Taki Taki” (which means I want to Dance Dance). One of the ladies stood up and starting swinging her hips to the singing and then spun around until the singing stopped at which point she picked the next person. It was no surprise that she pointed to someone from our group: Me!! I then start swinging my hips and spinning until the music stopped. Everyone erupted into laughter, smiles and claps.
The day ended with both the men and women of the village singing the ‘Isa Lei’ – Fiji’s farewell song - in the most exquisite harmony and then a thank you speech delivered beautifully by Sophie.
There were so many touching moments throughout the day and so many takeaways and memories. At the forefront what this day showed was that music and dance have no language, skin color, ethnic, nationality or gender boundaries. We were able to communicate with our hearts, bodies, souls and spirits through music and dance. When Sophie led us through one of our last Nia classes together - “R1” - it had new meaning. We are all indeed connected!!