From Chicago to Lima to Antananarivo: ‘Dancing Around the World’ with Nejla Yatkin

CHICAGO — World Dance Day is not merely an annual event to Chicago-based choreographer Nejla Yatkin. After growing up in Berlin with familial roots in Turkey, Yatkin has spent the better part of her dance career on the road performing her own work or with world-renowned companies such as the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance, and Danza Concierto. As a result of her ongoing geographic explorations, Yatkin frequently builds global ideas and perspectives into her choreographic and teaching work.

In 2013, after completing an international tour of her ensemble piece Oasis, which was inspired by the Arab Spring, Yatkin was compelled to bring together diverse global groups through dance as a way to balance the negative news cycles and dividing conflicts that are commonplace in our international community. By 2015, after substantial planning, this initial inspiration grew into Dancing Around the World, a multi-phase global dance project spanning twenty countries that used site-specific dance as a tool to build empathy, cultural curiosity, and somatic awareness amongst its participants.

Yatkin and videographer Enki Andrews traveled from Chicago to remote locales around the globe (see the full list below) conducting and documenting site-specific movement workshops that inhabited public spaces and encouraged local dancers to embody the pulse of their unique environments. The trace of each workshop is encapsulated in a dance for the camera that captures the essence of the places and the people involved. These individual videos were interwoven into a culminating documentary on the project, which was made possible through support from 3Arts and the Jay Pritzker Foundation, will have a special one-day screening in each workshop location in celebration of World Dance Day on April 29.

photo credit: Enki Andrews

The documentary and the events that inspired it serve as a moving meditation on dance as a communicative art form that relies wholly on human interaction and bonding. Through it, we find the means to gather and create communities, to connect with ourselves, and to both critically reflect and heal through its ritual. One workshop participant from Italy, Sara Azzarelli, reflected:

“Dance for me is a way of connecting with people and it’s a way of sharing. It’s the best way I know to share, to give, and to transmit. I also dance because it’s a continuous exercise for me to be present, to be here. I think that dancing in public spaces is very important. It should be done more often because it involves people who maybe couldn’t go to a performance in a theater, so it’s not always the same people who have access to dance but maybe someone who just happens to walk down the street, sees a dance performance, and they can participate.”

Dancing Around the World offers us a much-needed affirmation of the value of cultural diversity and our interconnectedness as human beings.

— Alyssa Motter

To join the World Dance Day screening, visit this link on April 29, where Yatkin will be streaming the full documentary for one day only.


Dancing Around the World trailer and complete list of residencies

(click location to visit YouTube)

Bogota, Colombia

Instituto Distrital de las Artes

Lima, Peru

Instituto Cultural Peruano Norte Americano

San Salvador, El Salvador

Escuela Nacional De Danza Morena Celarie

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Mujeres en las Artes

Goiania, Brazil

Nomades Grupo De Danza

Bologna, Italy


Istanbul, Turkey

Mimar Sinan University Dance program

Tunis, Tunisia

French Institute in Association with the Cinema and Dance Institute

Nairobi, Kenya

The Kobo Trust Foundation in partnership with the Moving Cultures 

Antananarivo, Madagascar

Goethe Institute

Hyderabad, India

Goethe Institute

Kochi, Japan: 

Museum Of Art in Kochi 

Manila, Philippines

Daloy Dance Manila

Hualien, Taiwan

Tai Body Theater

Headline photo credit: Astrid Riecken