Enter through the door on the Lark Street side of the building and walk up the flight of stairs. The first thing you will notice is the beautiful wooden floor and tall windows in the otherwise industrial style, over-sized dance/yoga studio. Continue through the lounge past the meeting rooms and finally into the Moroccan Room, and you will have experienced the cavernous maze of rooms and hallways, each with its own character, decor, and function. This is the Center for Nia and Yoga at 4 Central Avenue in Albany. Casey Bernstein has been here for 22 years, teaching, organizing, and serving the community.
Bernstein was working on a Master’s Degree in Nursing in Syracuse when she became interested in Nia. When she first moved to Albany in 1990, she taught at Women’s Healthcare Plus in Guilderland, which was then affiliated with Bellevue Hospital. In those days of high impact aerobics classes, Casey saw that Nia was different: not aerobics, not classical dance, either. Upon reflection, Bernstein knew she had to open her own Nia space, and she did just that. The Center for Body and Mind Awareness at 286 Central Avenue was that space for three years. Then came the move to the corner of Central and Lark, where the Center for Nia and Yoga sits at the confluence of three very active Albany neighborhoods. It has become a community center for women (although men are not excluded) where they find friendship, health, and community. Bernstein proudly describes it as “the alternative dance center”.
Nia is an eclectic, expressive fitness fusion program, a form all its own that combines dance arts, martial arts, healing arts, and mindfulness. A complete description can be found at NiaNow.com. Nia was developed 34 years ago in Portland, Oregon, by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Aya Rosas, as a better and more organic way to be fit. Today, it is practiced internationally. Teacher training starts with the white belt designation. The five core areas of Movement, Anatomy, Science, Music, and Philosophy are addressed in the training. Additional progressive trainings for teachers are given, and teachers go on to serve their own communities with classes.
Casey Bernstein’s Center for Nia and Yoga offers classes in Nia and several forms of yoga, as well in Butoh dance, body-mind centering, and other kinds of alternative dance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butoh. In any given week, as many as 80 people may pass through the Center’s door. Twenty or so regular practitioners of Nia meet on Friday mornings. Groups can rent space and teach classes. Bernstein herself teaches as many as 10 classes per week in Nia, yoga, and special applications. In serving the Albany community, Bernstein has specialized her classes to meet the needs of particular groups, including people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, women in recovery, children with emotional issues, and women with breast cancer. She even designed a yoga class for CSEA. In her three-day workshop, The Art of Stepping In, participants examine assets and liabilities. For instance, women in recovery may confront body issues, shame, and trust. Teaching movement equates to training the nervous system and keeping the mind in the mental learning mode, which allows you to learn without stress.
Casey Bernstein always counts the community in. She holds special events where everyone is invited, and outreach is emphasized. She sees her next step as teaching and writing and she says she wants to “get more out there.”