How Yaara Dolev gives space by not knowing and the wisdom of the body
Happyplaces Stories (video)
I met choreographer, movement director, and gaga teacher Yaara Dolev in front of Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art entrance. She is an established international choreographer, award-winning performer and Gaga teacher. After finding a place out of the wind in the museum’s beautiful garden, we became entwined in conversation about dance, life, losing and finding yourself again, being grounded, mothers, and much more.
At 10, Yaara joined the RAD-accredited Bat-Dor School of Ballet’ and later continued her intensive dance training in a kibbutz. Her professional dance career began at the age of 17. At 17, she joined the ‘Batsheva Ensemble’ led by Ohad Naharin, choreographer and creator of the Gaga movement method. After that, she followed her artistic vision, forming a dance group with her partner Amit Goldenberg, teaching and giving workshops, and forming international collaborations as a dancer and choreographer in multiple mediums such as movies, music clips, live performances, theatre and more.
Born in Israel, Yaara grew up gazing out over the hills of the Judean Desert to the Dead Sea. This powerful landscape has always been a source of endless inspiration, instilling quietness in her mind.
From the age of 16, she volunteered in an NGO that was active in the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Authority. This activity affected some of the dance pieces that she later choreographed. In addition, she promotes dance as empowering the human experience for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Thank you Tim Leberecht and the House of Beautiful Business for the beautiful connection.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Quiet space and not knowing
How I create space? For, it comes from the body. It is about feeling grounded, feeling my two feet on the ground connected to the earth, and to be in a space where I allow myself not to know. I remember the first time I was in the studio giving a session. There were many people around me. I allowed myself to stand, to not know, to have the quiet and knowing by not knowing, I would know. That moment also allowed me to give space to the other people in de studio. Because when I go to the studio, and I know, and I’m already in the ‘knowing’, or pre-planning what I will give in the session, I don’t give much space. But if I allow myself to tune myself to come ready for the session but then, when I’m actually in the studio, and I feel my two feet on the ground and have a moment of quiet with myself, then I give space also for the others. Then I give space for the moment to be. At that moment, all that I was planning to think about or bring from my body could disappear or be cancelled. Because it doesn’t fit anymore.
I allow myself to not know, to have the quiet and knowing by not knowing, I would know. This allows me to give space to other people.
I remember that when I was a less experienced teacher when it came to flow or being in the moment, I would sit and write down a lot of what I would do. I had planned everything, and I was very happy that I did that. When I was in the studio when I was teaching, I tried to remember what I had written down: ‘Now I want to feel like water. Now I want to feel like horses running in the fields. Now I want to be fire.’
At some point, there was a moment when I did a healing meditation that connected me to something outside the space of my body. Something bigger than what I will ever be able to know: the space between the people, the space that is not something we can grasp with our five senses. After I did this healing meditation, I was standing in the studio, and I think that was the first time that I realised that by not knowing, I gave space to myself to be greater than what my thoughts could be. And to give space to the other people to be through me.
For a good session, I need the other people to be in the space, involved and allowing themselves to want. This way, we create this web of will, passion, fire, or quiet.
Sometimes, after teaching a session on this free flow of movement, people would come to me and say something like: ‘You know, I was moving, and suddenly there was an urge in my body to shake. Or to run. Or to connect to my heart. It was not something that I had planned.’ It was by cancelling my knowing other people’s sensations or lusts could go through my body. For a good session, I need the other people to be in the space, involved and allowing themselves to want. This way, we create this web of will, passion, fire, or quiet. That is huge for me. The moment of stepping into this space, feeling my feet grounded and not knowing, is the best present I can give to myself and hopefully also to others — then it can come to a dialogue.
If I have a fixed idea about something, I don’t leave enough space inside me to listen to the other person. Or to hear an opinion that I think is new for me, that I may be may not be agreeing with. We are a beautiful puzzle of humans. Each person brings a different colour, and we are never done completing our puzzle. By knowing that, I have a true curiosity about other people. And to give space for this curiosity to be in me. Then it is rich. It is a bit like all the interviews you do. All these different opinions are what is interesting, not just one person’s view. But, of course, each person is interesting and beautiful. To have these rich colours create this amazing picture is what we are. That is real bliss.
Being an empty space
As I see everything as an embodiment, I see myself sometimes as a tube or an empty space, or as a place of cancelling myself in the most beautiful way. Not from a place where I think that I’m not important. I can be important or not important at the same time. I have this sensation of being a tube where everything can pass through, and this aspect of cancellation, of really listening. I once heard this: ‘When you really listen, you learn; when you keep talking, you say things you already know.’ So for me, it is about the cancellation.
As I see everything as an embodiment, I see myself sometimes as a tube or an empty space, or as a place of cancelling myself in the most beautiful way.
Even now, in this moment now. I can sit. There is a camera. I have to slow down and not run with what I know. We are here in a beautiful garden. There are noises, like industrial noises and birds. There is a ship in the harbour in the distance. Then I first take a moment to observe and not to know, enjoying this moment. I can feel the sit bones of my pelvis while sitting on this bench. I can feel my spine leaning a little bit forward because I am aware that there is a camera. But I’m aware and take myself a little bit backwards and just be. I feel the bench is hard, so I feel a slight pain in my butt. Giving yourself a moment like this to feel is so precious. Maybe I will change my position a little bit. I give space by also really appreciating this moment.
Every second is so precious.
Space for the elements
I don’t want to be just this one thing. I don’t want just to be water, accepting things. I also see space for the four elements. Sometimes you have a person entering a room, and he is all fire and it is all fun. The person comes in with a lot of colours, and it is beautiful. As a dancer, I can be in a space and being all fire. But then I don’t give space to others. I come with my own fire; I can be amazing and beautiful, bringing life to the space by bringing fire. Then I want to learn to give the space water. In the water, I can also give space to other people. Water can receive everything. Then I can be ground; I can be earth, knowing that I can be one with earth. Then I am so grounded that people can talk to me. Or I can sit and listen to other people. And then there is air. To fly and to see things from above, to have different perspectives or have time with the air.
My passion is to embody all of this. So I can decide that I’m aware of the earth and grounded in my body. That all of me is Mother Earth, that I am earth. Then inside of me, water can be running through the earth. And suddenly, there can be wind. The wind can come from the outside and shape me. I give room for that. I can be wind myself and also shape others. If I come as a dancer or a teacher of fixed movements, there is no room for real earth to be through me. Or real water to be me in the moment. And to have real fire. Then it is more artificial fire.
Every moment I feel it is the first time, I get excited. The first time I feel my spine, or how I feel it. The first time that I felt that I could taste the floor with my feet. I think it is about the understanding of ‘the first time’. Every moment can be a first time. (…) I want to feel my body as if it is the first time I’m in it. It is curiosity. It is how I give space for myself to be in my body to explore.
For me, it is delicious to talk about the elements. It makes me feel that I want to stand up, move and taste it. To have my feet feeling the ground like it is the first time. Every moment I feel it is the first time, I get excited. The first time I feel my spine, or how I feel it. The first time that I felt that I could taste the floor with my feet. I think it is about the understanding of ‘the first time’. Every moment can be a first time. I can hear a political opinion of someone, and I feel that it is not my belief, but I can also decide that I hear it for the first time. That can maybe help me to see things differently. It might give me a mirror for something. It is the same with my body. I’ve been dancing since I can remember myself. I never thought about whether it was something I wanted to do. It is a knowing within me that I’m a dancer. With that, every time I stand or sit on a bench, I want to feel my body as if it is the first time I’m in it. It is curiosity. It is how I give space for myself to be in my body to explore.
Collapse into curiosity
Five years ago, my world turned upside down. My father got a heart attack. His life was in danger, and he was slowly dying from that. At the same time, my body was dying at the same time as my father’s. All my systems collapsed. One system after the other. The doctors said that it was probably a very fast and aggressive cancer. I remember myself in the hospital bed. The space of the hospital and not that I like hospitals, not being at home, not being with my two children, but there was something very peaceful in this room. Being in a hospital is almost like being in a bubble outside of reality. Being in this bubble gave me a lot of quiet. It was in Berlin, winter, and a naked tree was outside the hospital window. I was in bed looking at the tree and decided not to know. To be there and look at the tree.
All my systems collapsed. One system after the other. (..) I felt that cancer came as a gift. It can be scary, but it was an alarm to my soul to say: ‘Hey, start to listen more to your heart. Listen more to your body.’
Slowly, a different understanding started to fall. The understanding that I had to change some aspects of my life. I felt that cancer came as a gift. It can be scary, but it was an alarm to my soul to say: ‘Hey, start to listen more to your heart. Listen more to your body.’ It is like a loving mother saying to the body: ‘Hey, you need to start listening!’ That was a turning point for me. A turning point that I took with my two hands and became the beginning of a beautiful journey. Of listening to the space of my body, to the space of my soul.
I have a good friend who was also dealing with cancer, and she asked: ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ I said: ‘Of course, I’m afraid. I’m a mother. I’m thinking about my children. But what is in a way more within me is curiosity. I know this allows me to start a journey toward healing in many aspects. And that curiosity is delicious.’ I would have given myself this space if I hadn’t had cancer. Then I would go with my life.
Doing groceries and thinking about what to cook didn’t give me space to dialogue with my soul. And then there was cancer, and suddenly I felt like a rich woman.
It is a bit like a race. Two children, work and being a dancer are not earning much money. I was racing, teaching at every academy in Berlin where I could, and doing projects. Doing groceries and thinking about what to cook didn’t give me space to dialogue with my soul. And then there was cancer, and suddenly I felt like a rich woman. I had a lot of time to say: ‘Okay, start the dialogue. Start the dialogue with your soul, for real. Even if it is scary to make some decisions.’ What I did was that I decided to give myself more space. Before, I felt like a wonderful woman that is really wanted to teach everywhere and do workshops.
I cancelled everything. I gave space to reinvent myself. I gave space to not knowing who I was anymore. I even gave space to the idea that I might not need to continue living.
I just cancelled all of that. The first thing that I did was cancel all of the academies in Berlin where I was teaching, and I told them that I would stop working there. Suddenly I could not define myself as a successful teacher giving workshops because suddenly I was without work. I cancelled everything. I gave space to reinvent myself. I gave space to not knowing who I was anymore. I didn’t have any titles or things like that. I even gave space to the question, ‘why do I live?’ I gave space to the idea that I might not need to continue living. It was about cancelling. I asked myself: ‘Do you want to live? Or do you don’t want to live?’
I couldn’t find a real reason to live inside my space for some time. It gave space for new sparks to come to the surface.
The first thing that came to that empty space that question was: ‘Yes, for my children.’ That I wanted to live for them because it is necessary, then I said: ‘That’s great. I cannot live because I want to live for someone else.’ It is not a good enough reason to live. There could be other solutions for my children. So I had to dig deeper inside myself. I couldn’t find a real reason to live inside my space for some time. And to give this empty space inside me, that even this question is not clear for me, gave space for new sparks to come to the surface. Suddenly, enthusiasm came with these sparks, saying: ‘Yes, I’m curious! That is already a good reason to live.’ And I’m curious about healing. That is already interesting. From there, I think there was a puzzle or a beautiful architecture of things starting to rebuild inside me.
Going back to the empty space
I was reinventing myself through this empty space. But, then, it is not something that I do every day, but this is something that maybe I would like to visit every day, even by deciding to meditate every day, which I do now. It is in waves. In the meditation, I go back to this empty space of not knowing every morning. It is like washing my hands. How do I start my day? Not with knowing, not with continuing my life because yesterday as my reality. Every day I wake up, and I give myself at least 15 minutes to be an empty space, to not know. I even say to myself three times: ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing.’ And then suddenly comes something. Sometimes I allow this something to go, to pass. Sometimes I say: ‘Hey, something! Stay with me a little bit longer. I like you.’ It’s exciting.
Every day I wake up, and I give myself at least 15 minutes to be an empty space, to not know. I even say to myself three times: ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing.’ And then suddenly comes something. Sometimes I allow this something to go, to pass. Sometimes I say: ‘Hey, something! Stay with me a little bit longer. I like you.’
It reminds me of the wonderful book by Michael Ende, The Never Ending Story. I think about the movie too. In it, there was a space, a moment in Fantasia, the land of Fantasia where was the emptiness was taking over and it destroys Fantasia. In the end, Fantasia becomes just an empty space. It becomes just darkness. In the darkness, the emperor has a small seed of something smaller than a rice grain. From this seed, if someone has enthusiasm and imagination and will, all of Fantasia can rebuild again. I guess this is my morning pleasure, bringing darkness and nothingness to my space, brain, and thoughts. To kill off my thoughts, saying: ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing.’ But then there is this grain, this spark I would like to give space to every morning.
Wisdom of the body
One thing someone with movement as a passion can be sensitive to is seeing people that are not at all in their bodies. Because they are afraid to be in their bodies, there is this sensation of mocking when they see someone who is in their body. There is also a curiosity. Sometimes I see people that come to the studio where I give a session, maybe because their wife pushed them. Then they move, but at the same time, they are mocking the moment. They move, but they would do these mechanical movements. Then they look at me as if I’m offering them something silly. It is interesting because the brains of the thoughts are so small and limited, but there is so much wisdom inside the body.
There is something that is breathing us. There is something that allows our blood to stream, grow our fingernails, grow our hair, and breathe us when we are sleeping when the thoughts are not there. Sometimes we feel so smart, but the body, as a good parent, says: Yeah, yeah, okay. But I’m doing all the work here.’ So what if all these people, afraid to be in their bodies, would take a moment to stand? To just feel their feet on the floor, there will be a scary moment of not knowing. Not making movements with their hands because they want to finish with the class to have coffee or something. Suppose they allow themselves to stand, maybe barefoot and not to know. To bow to our body doing all of this for us in a way. That is walking us from one place to another, breathing, feeding, and growing us. To be in the moment of listening to the body. To appreciate and to try to learn from this wisdom of the body. Then sometimes, from that place, an instinct, a movement would come to us. We don’t need to know why. We don’t need to know this movement. From there, a dialogue starts. We can be like dolphins, riding the waves with our bodies, and then the body will smile and dance with us. At this quiet moment of not knowing, a beautiful dialogue starts. And that is such a pleasure. It is such a pleasure.
Imagining a world where people are not allowing themselves to be crazy or a little bit chaotic is really frightening for me.
I stop asking myself questions when I’m in that space. I’m not afraid to look silly. I’m not afraid to look crazy. I can be in a place with 60 others waiting to see what I will do. Then suddenly, I will say something that doesn’t make sense to me. And I love it because it is not coming from my thoughts. I can also feel that I am water, and it is wonderful. Suddenly my body will tell me to shake and be crazy, feeling chaos inside my body, and I become fire — and have to start to run now. Run! Run! Run in the studio! Then I don’t even know why. And I don’t care. It is because my body told me to. I might look crazy, but if I imagine a world where people are not allowing themselves to be crazy or a little bit chaotic, that is really frightening for me.
When you have space not to know, real knowing can come in. Blocked trauma in the tissue of our body can be released, which makes the body suddenly shake. And we don’t need to know why that happens. It is where we give space for dialogue, for healing, to be surprised.
When I allow myself to be a little crazy or chaotic, I realise that people start to laugh or feel relaxed. Then people come into the space of allowing themselves to shake, feel, or have tears coming down suddenly. They sometimes can’t understand why that happens, that tears come down their faces when we do a session. I think that is great. We don’t need to know why that happens. When you have space not to know, real knowing can come in. Blocked trauma in the tissue of our body can be released, which makes the body suddenly shake. And we don’t need to know why that happens. It is where we give space for dialogue, for healing, to be surprised.
One of my passions is kabbala, the ancient mysticism. One of the ideas of kabbala is how space was created. The idea is that this source, what some people can name ‘God’, is everything. So, if something is everything, there is no space for anything else that is not purely God. According to kabbala, when God had the idea once to create something, he had to make space. In kabbala, it is called zimzum, which means ‘to reduce something. To do that, God was reducing some of his everything a bit backwards. He created a sort of bubble that had no God in it. In this void, this bubble with no God in it, he put a line of remembrance, a line with a touch of God in it. Then it becomes more complicated.
According to kabbala, when God had the idea once to create something, he had to make space. In kabbala, it is called zimzum, which means ‘to reduce something. To do that, God was reducing some of his everything a bit backwards.
In this void, I see it as a sort of computer game, a simulator, a place of duality. Everything in this space where we are, this world, is a place of duality. Night and day. Good and bad. Black and white. It gives us space to be a bit less godly. We have a spark of God in us, but we can also make mistakes. By making mistakes, we learn. The only way to grow is to make mistakes. This void gives us space to make mistakes. This is beautiful. Every time children are reborn, they must learn how to walk again. If we do not give the children the space to fall, make mistakes, and try to stand and fall, they will not grow. I think it is the same idea with children and parents, where parents act as gods giving our children space to fall and make mistakes, allowing them to grow. This is also the big picture of God creating zimzum, the space for us to make mistakes; this is how we grow.
I like to embody this image of making a void inside myself. When I embody this void, I’m ready to receive the other person in me. I feel that it makes me more excited to receive other opinions and stories and that I can be a vessel to listen, which excites me.
Giving space is also inspiring for me. When I am in the studio, I forget everything I know as a choreographer, dancer, and teacher. The idea of zimzum inspires me; sometimes, when I have a conversation with a friend or a person I don’t know, I like to embody this image of making a void inside myself. When I embody this void, I’m ready to receive the other person in me. I feel that it makes me more excited to receive other opinions and stories and that I can be a vessel to listen, which excites me.
The duality — the big idea of zimzum and the remembering of the godly coming into this zimzum — is very much like the world of nature. Or femininity and masculinity, or even lovemaking. The woman gives the womb and space, and the man gives this input into the space. This way, we create something whole. If we want to create something whole, even in conversation, we want to give space for conversation and cancel or reduce ourselves, and into that, something can come in. Then you create some double door of communication.
If we want to create something whole, even in conversation, we want to give space for conversation and cancel or reduce ourselves, and into that, something can come in.
It is interesting also in Hebrew that the word for a female is this emptiness, the void. In the male, it is the remembering, also the remembring of the gods, the God inside. The male is the remembering, giving the input into the void. Then the female, by giving the space, creates life. I see it in movement, choreography, healing, and conversations with friends and strangers. This game of the void and the remembering always creates the whole.