by Sandra Yeyati
From the time she was 3 years old, Julie Wylie studied ballet, tap and jazz. Dance was her calling. Although she was shy and afraid to speak to adults, whenever she stepped onto the stage, she felt free to express herself. By the time she was a teenager, she began teaching the younger children all of her best moves.
When Wylie announced that she planned to make a living as a dance teacher, her father suggested that she choose another profession that would provide a better income. She still remembers the feeling of loss she felt that day. Following her father’s advice, Wylie went to college, studied business and embarked upon a 25- year career in retail management.
By the time she was 38, she was thriving—winning awards, making good money and throwing great parties for her friends—but on the inside, she says, “I was absolutely crumbling.” Behind a façade of success, she felt like a fake, small and as she describes it, “less than.” When called upon to speak before a group of people, her cheeks turned pink and her neck beet red. She wore high-collared shirts to cover up.
In 2000, her husband died suddenly, changing the trajectory of her life forever. Initially, she went to grief counseling, which helped her gain perspective on the heartache, but deeper healing and transformation was still to come.
In 2003, Wylie decided to leave her career in retail and take a year off to regroup. That’s when she took a Neuromuscular Integrative Action (Nia) workshop, which introduced her to a barefoot, free dance that combined a cardiovascular workout with movement awareness. After taking seven classes in seven days, “I felt like a million bucks,” Wylie recalls.
From that moment, she was hooked. Perhaps it was her childhood love of dance that propelled her. For the last 10 years, Wylie has been taking Nia classes and honing her skills as both a student and teacher of the Nia Technique. She has earned all belt levels, including the white, green, blue, brown and black belts, and received an invitation from the Nia organization to become a trainer. She completed the trainer/apprenticeship program last year. Wylie now teaches two to four classes a day, six days a week, in locations throughout Austin, including corporate gyms, yoga studios, churches, senior retirement facilities, spas and her home studio. “I work many more hours now than I ever worked in retail, and I love it,” she says.
Picture the once shy and fearful Wylie leading a class of students, showing them dance moves, helping them become more aware of their bodies and facilitating their emotional, mental and spiritual awareness.
A typical 55-minute class begins with the announcement of a focus and intention. “I might decide to focus on the base of the body, and our intention might be to move safely and pleasurably,” Wylie explains. To evoke a broader image, she may say, “We’re going to create the most stable, sturdy foundation that is possible in your body, and we’re going to do that by focusing on the legs.” When she turns on the music, Wylie begins to move. Nia music is complex, with intricate patterns, lots of instrumentation and creative vocals. The idea is to evoke emotion and stimulate the brain. As they ease into the warm-up portion of the session, the music is slow and soft, but it will intensify as the class progresses.
Wylie will use language that reminds her students to notice how their bodies feel. She’ll say, “I’m noticing my elbows. What are you noticing?” The woman who recently had knee replacement surgery will focus her attention on her knees, while the man who wants to strengthen his legs may be aware of how they feel when they are powerful and strong. Wylie will suggest, with language and movement, what he can do to strengthen his legs—lifting them higher or sinking lower towards the floor. She will also suggest less strenuous options for students at different levels of fitness. “I’m there to help them walk out feeling successful, from the very young athlete to the woman in her 80s aging gracefully,” Wylie explains.
In the next song, they might pretend to be ragdolls and fall off balance, to feel what it’s like to have an unstable foundation, or they may pretend to fly, using their arms like wings. Wylie may say, “put the drums in your feet,” so that they can experience what it feels like to be part of the rhythm. It’s often a cathartic experience.
With Nia, dancing and teaching again, Wylie has rediscovered and refined her calling. “My purpose in life is to inspire self-healing,” she says. “That’s what I’m doing for myself. I’m a little less fearful and a little more courageous every day of my life.”