Photo: Vera Nevanlinna

What I pay attention to, is growing.

What I do regularly, wins.

If I regularly pay attention to how I choose to see, my choice wins.

Helsinki, 2022

I try to look at other people with an innocent gaze, with a pure heart. I try not to think ill of others. I try not to judge other people with suspicion or scepticism. I see good in others and sensitise myself to their worlds.

When I look at you like this, dancers, you smile at me. It feels good.

Helsinki, 2023

When I see myself (in the mirror), I think about how I choose to see myself. When I dare to see myself without the need to analyse, define, or judge, only then can I perceive others beyond surface-level.

Can I feel the light by seeing?

Can I smell and hear by seeing?

Dare I surrender to being seen?

Train, 2023

Can I really stop, sit on a train travelling from one country to another, and give myself time to make the journey? See myself travelling on the train. Without the need to be effective and productive. Can I afford to see time? Do I have the courage to see time?

We humans know so much.

What if today I tried to think and feel without knowing anything? To see without naming what I see? To act a little silly and look around without the need to understand, solve, or analyse. To let go of control and surrender to what is now.

What really is now. What I see now. What I feel now. Practise being with it all.

Slowly, slowly.

write in tiles: "can you hear the scream of the butterfly?"
Photo: Vera Nevanlinna

Vrå, 2006

When I was a kid, I was taught in dance classes that there were eight directions: front and back and sideways. Between them were the diagonals. Like the cardinal and intercardinal directions. Then, I met Deborah Hay and she said: ‘What if front is everywhere?’ Explosion. I started to see in increments.

Frankfurt, 2008

We are performing in a huge hall with a large audience area. I can see every degree of the space. In one direction, there is the audience, nothing more. In the other directions, there is something else. Sometimes, there are a lot of people in the audience. I am standing on the stage and see a full house watching me. They are watching me, but what they do not know is that, in reality, I am watching them. Or rather, I am not watching them, I see them.

Dresden, 2008

I am standing in the wings. I am standing in the wings so that no one in the audience can see me. But it does not matter. I am practising performing. I am just as much here as I am at centre stage. I am making the space visible.

two people holding handle in a green field
Photo: Minna Saastamoinen

Bergen, 2000

I am sitting in the car. The driver’s child is sitting in the front seat, looking outside. Norway is beautiful, the fjords are fascinating. The child utters in a clear voice: ‘I wish I lived right next to the water.’ She does not pronounce the word ‘water’ as I would; instead, she pronounces it in a Californian accent like ‘waaadr.’ She repeats the sentence over and over.


I went on a first date for an entire weekend, despite a friend telling me not to go to an unfamiliar man’s home. He drills into rocks, draws maps, and measures. He can see all the directions. He tells me that he dreams of living by the water. Then he asks me if I have such dreams. I smile.

Copenhagen, 2023

I am riding a bike in Copenhagen. I am part of the effortlessly flowing traffic. No one gets in anyone’s way. The traffic runs smoothly. I see a man walking across the zebra crossing. He is carrying a tray. There is a spirit level on the tray.

Copenhagen, 2023

I suddenly find myself being a dancer and a teacher at the same time. I see differently than I used to. I see these people I talk to. I see a lot more than their surface. I am practising teaching. I do not know what is going to happen today.

I see a dancer smile when their eyes meet with another dancer. How lovely it is to see the smile of a dancer. Dancers smile far too rarely.

We dance without a destination or an attempt to solve anything. We can then find ourselves in the corner with someone. We do not know what we are doing there because we are not doing anything. We are not alone because we notice others. We do not just work here, no! We are dancing together.

We dance in the halls, on the roof terrace, in the lobbies, and in the toilets of the Opera House. There is music – ‘Elämä on juhla’. These dancers do not know Finnish. But they can undoubtedly feel it.

sequences of numbers such as 69895, alternating,  in piramid forms
Photo: Vera Nevanlinna

Helsinki, 2021

I see dad lying on the bed in a strange position. I call the emergency number. I ask dad if I should move him. He says he’s good. Nothing hurts. Dad stops breathing. I call the emergency number again. I put the phone on speaker and start pumping dad’s chest to the rhythm of the operator counting. She asks me to count out loud with her. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. The operator says it is important to maintain the right tempo. I detach from my emotions. I am thinking this is a choreography that I must do now. I know this. I am good at keeping the tempo. I am strong and precise. One, two, three, four. The resuscitation takes nine minutes, and I am wearing a snowmobile suit. It is winter and cold outside. I am feeling hot. The ambulance is coming. Dad is still not breathing.

Paris, 2009

The audience area is big and steep, like a wall, full of people. In the front row, there is a man dressed all in white. He gets up mid-show and walks slowly up the stairs that are situated in the middle of the audience. At the top, he turns on his heel and begins to walk down the same stairs, slowly and steadily, carefully. He returns to his place, collects his forgotten things, walks back up the stairs, and leaves. A bright, white angel.

Barcelona, 2021

The length of the performance is 50 minutes. There is a clock offstage. I can see the time. The stage manager is standing under the clock ensuring that everything goes smoothly. Everything is going fine. There is no fire, and I am being served by how I see you, stage manager. I guess I’m not supposed to look at the clock in the middle of a performance; I am a dancer after all, and I can feel the time. I do not need, or get to need, a clock. But the clock-face serves my dance. The clock-hands serve my dance. The stage manager serves my dance. I try to forget the names of everything I see.

child like drawing of a person
Photo: Vera Nevanlinna

Cologne, 2016

We are dancing on the stage when the audience comes in. They do not know that I am the one who will guide them to their places. They assume I am one of the dancers, but actually, I am a security person disguised as a dancer. I am dancing with them as they pour in. I am not pouring. I am precise.

Helsinki, 2017

I see my daughter sitting in the audience in the middle of the stalls. She is asleep.

The next day an audience member writes in the newspaper’s comments section that he was disappointed with the performance because it did not have a beginning, middle, or end. It did not, thankfully. It had just a now. And now that is already gone, too.

Helsinki, 2023

I see her practising life with me. I can see her irritation, anger, and frustration. I say to myself that they are just feelings, you do not have to be afraid of them. In another moment, she comes to me and hugs me and says she is so happy and would not choose anyone else to be her mother. I do not know how I should act. So, I do not should myself. I invite her under my warm blanket, even though she is already eighteen. My other one is only thirteen and never seems to get older, but she already sees herself living alone.

frame with big text written: THIS KITCHEN IS FOR DANCING
Photo: Vera Nevanlinna

Barcelona, 2021

Two young women are watching us dancers. They are choking with laughter. I would like to tell them that this often makes me laugh too. That this IS crazy, just plain impossible. How can you ask anything from the cells of your body?

Helsinki, 2023

I am in a nursing home leading a one-to-one dance session with a dementia patient. We are doing a mirroring practice where I am leading. But I am not really leading. I am dancing with her. Suddenly, she asks me if this is her dance or mine. I laugh. I tell her it is our dance. A moment goes by, and she does not remember who I am any longer. I tell her that I am her dancing friend. She hugs me and thanks me from the bottom of her heart.

Helsinki, 2022

I am teaching dance to a group of 3- to 4-year-old kids. We are looking into the autumn forest with binoculars. We can see birds. We are taking off. We can also be aeroplanes or butterflies. We are looking into the binoculars again. We can see white. We are dancing white. It is soft and light, translucent and bright. We look into the binoculars one more time. Now we can see nothing. We are dancing nothing. And that dance is fuller and wilder than any other dance we have ever danced.

The text is inspired by working with Deborah Hay, studies of restorative yoga with Kirsi Saivosalmi and studies of Enpowering photography by Miina Savolainen.

Vera Nevanlinna has had a long and distinguished career as a dance artist, working in the dance field since 1998. Nevanlinna studied at Helsinki Dance Institute and Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts in Helsinki, Finland, from where she graduated in 1998 with a M.A. in Dance Studies. Since then she has been performing in the works of numerous domestic and international choreographers such as Deborah Hay, Eeva Muilu, ChameckiLerner, Miguel Gutierrez, Kirsi Monni, Janne-Camilla Lyster, Mart Kangro, Thomas Leh men, Ervi Sirén and performed all over the world. In addition, she has made choreography and several multidisciplinary collaborations with artists from various fields. Her latest collaboration was with photographer Elina Brotherus in Règle du jeu: Carte Blanche PMU (Centre Pompidou, Paris) and Playground (Serlachius Museums, Finland). Vera Nevanlinna has worked regularly with Deborah Hay since the year 2007.

Sustainable Dance Training

Vera Nevanlinna’s text  PRACTICING LIFE is written as part of the Nordic Sustainable Dance Training project (SDT). SDT is a collaboration between Dansehallerne (DK), Danscentrum Sthlm (SV), PRODA (NO) and Tanssille Ry (FI), institutions that offer training for professional dancers. During fall 2023 and spring 2024, SDT has been carried out with the intention to share resources, expand and bridge various Nordic artistry with local dancers in Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm – while touring environmentally friendly.

Within the framework of this new Nordic co-operation, one artist/teacher has been selected from each country to rotate between the cities. Each of the 4 artists has teached daily classes woven into each organization’s regular program. The artists are Daniel Sarr (NO), Dorte Bjerre Jensen (DK), Linda Blomqvist (SE) and Vera Nevanlinna (FI). These artists represent versatile and specific dance knowledge and artistic pedagogical practice of highest quality. Bringing them on tour to the other Nordic countries has been a possibility for enriching each country’s dance competence. The development of sustainability in the project includes facilitating a wider range of activities in addition to the Nordic exchange within our training programs. SDT’s activities have been expanding into the dance field in each country, including several other collaboration partners and activities, giving different possibilities to share knowledge, create meeting points and new connections between a wide range of dance artists in the Nordic countries. In addition to the daily classes in our organization’s program, we collaborate with 15 different Nordic dance/cultural organizations. The artist have engaged in several extra activities each week, approximately 30 different activities: They have been teaching, writing texts for publishing, taking part in public talks, artist-driven conversations and sharing about dance, choreography, its general social context, and Nordic impact.

SDT is funded by The Nordic Culture Fund.