I write about a 77-year-old yogi named Amazing Grace in the Dreamslippers Series. A lifetime devotee, she can get into advanced poses that leave others unable to follow, even if they happen to be many years her junior and in perfectly good shape. Through the first two books, Grace draws on yoga to give her insight into the tough cases she solves as a private investigator. I tried to bring the longevity of yoga practice to the Dreamslippers Series both in Grace's spryness and in its role in her granddaughter's apprenticeship.
My own twenty-year yoga practice inspired this aspect of their characters. I took up yoga in my twenties with an at-home practice following along to a video tape called Yoga Mind and Body. Actress Ali MacGraw was the guide, with master yoga teacher Erich Shiffmann teaching the sequence. In my thirties, I graduated to studio classes, trying first Bikram-style hot yoga and then Baron Baptiste's vinyasa flow. More recently, I've practiced with a master yoga teacher we're lucky to have as resident in our small town. I'm convinced regular practice helped see me through to my mid-forties still in good shape despite the daily struggles and pain of scoliosis and an occupation that means many hours hunched over a computer.
The third book in the Dreamslippers Series released this week, and in it, Grace tries on a new practice: Nia. This no-impact dance incorporates some aspects of yoga, along with several dance styles, elements of the martial arts, and healing arts. Here's the scene where she first discovers it:
It was time for a new class she was trying out, something called Nia, a dance class that was low-impact and supposedly choreographed with healing movements. She’d watched a few videos online.
The class was at a small studio that had just opened up at the top of Queen Anne, within walking distance of her old Victorian. Though it was a little pricey at twenty-six dollars for a drop-in, Grace pushed herself to pony up the cash anyway, thinking that it was good to support a local business. But lately she had been questioning whether or not Seattle’s quickly skyrocketing prices were sustainable for her in the long run. To her delight, she discovered that her first class would be free.
The owner, Yvette Malveaux, wore what Grace could only describe as “yoga clothes with flair.” The hems of both her shirt and pants extended past their usual lines into scarves that fluttered as she moved about. A row of cutouts ran down the sides of the legs. She also wore a good deal of makeup, not the usual for yoga teachers in Seattle, more of a theatrical gesture. A magnolia blossom was tucked into Yvette’s cornrowed hair.
After the usual questions about her experience level and physical fitness, plus a brief explanation of a “barefoot dance class,” Grace walked into the studio and found a place to stand. She surveyed herself in the mirror, being careful to turn off the voice in her head that liked to call attention to the less savory aspects of herself at seventy-nine, like the rings of puffy flesh around her ankles. What was it her granddaughter called them? Cankles.
Soon, a bevy of students bedecked in similar scarf-hemmed attire poured in, and Grace suddenly felt as if she were backstage at a dance show. In her simple leotard and leggings, though, she’d be playing the role of straight man. Yvette waltzed in—literally—and talked about proper form, demonstrating how to pay attention to one’s center of gravity and not exaggerate the footwork.
“Small movements sometimes work better,” she said. She cued the music, and they were off.
Grace wasn’t the least bit intimidated or reluctant as the music swelled. Her muscle memory took her back across time to other moments in her life when she’d danced in a studio: ballet as a small-town girl, modern dance in college, African dance in the seventies, and that undercover work she did serving as a backup dancer for a drag queen. Plus, the movement incorporated a few poses from other practices she knew—yoga, martial arts, tai chi. Yvette’s bare, toffee-colored shoulders shimmied and shook, and Grace’s followed suit. She mimicked Yvette’s quick steps and followed the instructions Yvette belted out through a headset microphone. Grace was mindful not to give herself any trouble for her own missteps. It was her first time, after all. And what a time it was. They alternated between structured dance led by the instructor and moments of improvised “freedance” that allowed the students to whirl throughout the room, letting their bodies move as desired. Grace enjoyed these moments best, using them to work out a kink in her low back that had sprung up during her fight with Mick.
The class ended on the floor, with crawling, slithering movements that to Grace felt luxurious and self-indulgent. She hadn’t allowed herself to move like that since the last time she’d gotten down on the floor to play with a friend’s kid. By the time the class ended, with everyone taking two steps forward into their day and applause breaking out across the room, Grace wondered where this Nia had been all her life. She vowed to get Cat in that studio as soon as she could.
The lovely Yvette, sweaty and breathless herself, beckoned them to the rear of the studio, where she retrieved towels from what looked like a microwave but turned out to be a newfangled towel warmer. They were hot and scented with eucalyptus. Grace accepted her towel gratefully and, following the others, swabbed her face, neck, and arms.
“How was that?” Yvette asked Grace.
“I feel reborn.”
The comment brought a thousand-watt smile to Yvette’s face.
As with yoga, my own practice informed the writing this time, too. I've been dancing Nia for a year now and have earned a white belt, the first belt in the Nia system. I've found Nia to be especially helpful in fighting carpal tunnel syndrome from computer and device use. There's one move in particular called creepy crawlies that I perform several times a day to keep my fingers, wrists, and forearms loose and mobile.
Nia isn't just about fun and games for Grace, either; in Bound to the Truth, she uses it to heal from a significant injury. It's important to the story in other ways, too, but I don't want to spoil that discovery for readers.
The worldwide ebook launch for Bound to the Truth was Nov. 11, and that day I gave signed print copies away at a Nia Jam to benefit Standing Rock. It was perfect for me to celebrate the close of the trilogy by dancing for two hours to support a worthy cause. It's exactly what Grace would've done.