On an unusually steamy summer afternoon, Santa Barbara’s quiet Hidden Valley neighborhood seems to slumber in the heat. Nothing stirs on Veronica Springs Road, but through the open window of one house drifts the steady beat of pop music. Inside, eight adults are dancing with glee: tapping their toes, wiggling their hips, and occasionally stretching out their arms toward one another and making contact, fingertip to fingertip. Most are in bare feet or socks. One man wears Lycra bike shorts. One woman does her dancing from a wheelchair.
This is Jodi House, one of two sites for the Brain Injury Association of Santa Barbara. Named for Jodi Wustman, the 19-year-old Santa Barbaran whose life changed forever when she was hit by a drunken driver, Jodi House offers day services to Santa Barbarans with acquired brain injuries. Among those services is a twice-monthly session of Nia, a fitness technique whose name is short for Neuromuscular Integrative Action. Created in the 1980s by a couple of fitness instructors, Nia aims to integrate physical exercise with mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of being alive.
The song that’s playing comes to an end, and while the dancers pause to catch their breath, one of the class leaders passes around a bowl full of marbles, encouraging everyone to take a few. “We’re working on the stability,” she said as the people begin dancing again, kicking their legs and punching the air with their fists, this time holding the little glass orbs tightly in their hands. “Don’t lose your marbles!” she said. The joke’s not lost on this crowd; everyone giggles.
At the end of class, after a cool-down, the dancers gather in a circle to share their experiences. “I consider it a miracle that I knew my right from my left today,” Don jokes, and everyone cracks up again. “See, we still have a good sense of humor,” says Maxine. Pierre agrees, adding, “We all support each other. This place is like family.”