The fencing room of an on-campus athletic center might not be where you would expect to see a college president, but that is precisely where you will find President Jo Ellen Parker at 5:30 p.m. every Monday and Thursday as she leads her weekly Nia classes.
Developed in 1983, Nia is a movement practice that draws from three traditions: martial arts, dance arts and healing arts. Parker began the practice eight years ago and, when she qualified as an instructor in 2011, began teaching classes at Sweet Briar to promote health and wellness on campus.
This year, Parker is asking her students to move not only for their health, but for others around the globe. She and other Nia instructors have joined the One Billion Rising for Justice campaign that encourages individuals worldwide to “rise and dance” to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Parker has pledged to lead a special routine in her class at least once a month that encourages those in attendance, primarily women, to take control of their bodies and find power through their movement.
“I truly, profoundly believe in the mind-body connection,” Parker said. “Building flexibility, strength and agility in your body builds the same awareness in your mind.”
Parker remains dedicated to her avocation, receiving her brown belt over the summer after a six-day session that included 12 hours of physical instruction and exercise each day. Though she didn’t need it to teach her classes, Parker said it was a personal endeavor that signified her commitment to moving forward in the practice.
Her next goal? A black belt next summer.