Nejla Yatkin: What is Dance?






This is a very difficult but worthwhile question. To me dance is the language of the soul; it is the way that humans communicate what is inexpressible and it is a fundamental way in which people connect – beyond and prior to words. For example, the very first dance performance that I remember was at a Turkish wedding in Berlin. I was five years old and sitting with my parents when all of the activities of the event were stopped. A space was made for this woman in an amazing costume and emanating some kinetic energy. The music started and she was simply phenomenal. I was so impressed by the dance that I still have the image of the dance and the dancer clearly in my mind.

The dancer seemed not to be from this world. It appeared like her feet were floating on the ground as if gravity did not affect her. Throughout her dance she transformed and became fluid like a string of energy moving through space and time. Real time stopped, space became infinite, and nothing else mattered. I was mesmerized by her being. For a moment I forgot where I was, I forgot who I was and I wished that the feeling would never stop. At some point, she turned, spun and reflected the light. I think everybody felt dizzy watching her. At the last beat of the music, the dancer dropped down on her knees in a perfect hinch, giving into gravity and becoming one with the floor. What an ending it was. I will never forget this moment. It was a moment of total silence. For a second everybody was holding their breath – individually as well as collectively. We were all so moved. In that space/time, the crowd seemed to be one thought, one feeling, and one experience.

This was my first experience when I consciously felt that human beings could connect with one another beyond the spoken word. Mary Wigman, one of the great German modern dance expressionists, once wrote that “dancing is a living language, which speaks directly to all mankind without any intellectual detours. The mediator of this language is the human body, the instrument of the dance.” After living through that moment, decades ago, I knew what she meant and could not agree more.

Nejla Yatkin is Artistic Director of NY2Dance.

Bourgeon’s mission, through our online publication and community initiatives, is twofold: to increase participation in the arts and to improve access to the arts. Bourgeon is a project of the not-for-profit Day Eight.
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