Hi, I’m Jim. When I’m not doing Oula, I work part-time as a business attorney at a law firm in Minneapolis. I love cooking, traveling, gardening, hanging out with family and friends, and listening to all kinds of music. I especially like classical music, jazz, and old-time bluegrass. During my undergrad years at Iowa State, I often went with friends to the big disco palaces in Des Moines a ’la Saturday Night Fever. I didn’t have a white three-piece suit like John Travolta but loved the music and dancing nonetheless!
I was introduced to Oula in fall of 2014. Chelle Bird stopped by our Latin Hip Hop class and invited us to try a new dance fitness class she was starting at the Downtown (Minneapolis) Y. I had been taking freestyle cardio step classes at the Y for years but those classes had come to an end. I needed to find a new cardio fix. So I gave Oula a try.
Needless to say, I felt awkward and uncoordinated, with my long arms flapping all over, turning in the wrong direction, and contorting my 6’4" frame into a stiff body roll. I needed a hazard sign! But I kept coming back.
Sure I wanted to try to get the choreography at least halfway right, but there was something else about Oula. It was the welcoming atmosphere and the feeling of community. Being in a judgment-free, safe space. I loved the class curve from the warm-up to high cardio to the cool down. It wasn’t like other fitness formats. No boot camp instructor in my face yelling at me to punch him. Instead, it was about feeling your emotions, getting caught up in the music, and expressing yourself through dance. It also was a great workout.
I didn’t go to the first Twin Cities master classes in February 2015, because I wrongly thought they were only for Oula masters. As I continued with Oula, I started going to classes at other Ys in the Twin Cities. At one point, I was taking classes almost every day (and on occasion, twice a day). I made new friends and acquaintances across the metro. I finally got up the courage to go through training in February 2015 for the experience (it was amazing) with no aspirations to become an instructor. During the pandemic, I danced in all kinds of places: my garage (I hung white twinkling lights in the rafters), parking lots, picnic shelters, tennis and basketball courts, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 90+ degrees.
I guess you could say I’m an Oulakin.
So fast forward to now. I still whack my neighbors with my long arms and am great at wrong way turns and stiff body rolls (it’s not about how it looks but how it feels, right?).
As for how Oula feels to me, it can be hard for me to hold space for myself and explore the corners and depths of those feelings. But I’m learning and Oula helps me do that. Oula creates a safe place to explore our feelings. The stillness at the end of a song. The “this is me” moment. A dark room with a few twinkling lights. Music loud (or soft) enough to drown out distracting thoughts. And the power of sharing that space with others.
That’s how Oula helps me hold space for myself.
I’m also learning how to hold space for others. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone to express their feelings by listening and focusing on them. I don’t have to jump into problem-solving mode and try to fix something. I don’t need to think of what to say next or give advice. Just be there. After my cancer diagnosis in June 2017, I’ve come to appreciate hearing things like “I’ll be there for you,” especially when I’m not feeling terribly brave or able to do whatever it takes.
I read an interesting article the other day in the Smithsonian Magazine. It was about how scientists using the Hubble telescope recently detected the most distant star ever seen in outer space. The light now hitting Earth left that star more than 12.9 billion light-years ago. But that massive star—millions of times brighter than our sun—is probably now a black hole, having died in a gigantic explosion billions of years ago. Someday, the light from that explosion will reach us. Things like this blow my mind and remind me of the short time we have on Earth and how small we are in the grand sweep of the universe. We only have one life to live so there’s no time like now to think about what it means to hold space for ourselves and others. Having Oula to encourage that is pretty special.
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