Moving to Heal
Ekin Bernay is a dance and movement psychotherapist and performance artist from Turkey. Becoming a Nike Athlete aged just 18, Ekin has performed all over the world and been on a journey of self-discovery through movement. Now, she’s sharing dance’s innate power to heal with those around her—and those who need it most.
Ekin Bernay began dancing aged nine, training in ballet and jazz in her hometown of Ankara. “Even in the first year I started classes, I dreamt about being a famous dancer,” she says. “But I think the first time people thought there was a dancer in me was when I did my first solo in a musical the next year. I knew I wasn’t moving like everyone else—when I moved, I felt so powerful.”
Only eight years later, Ekin’s childhood dream started to fall into place. Alongside four other young women from around the world, she won Nike’s Dance to LA competition. “It was magical,” Ekin recalls. “It showed me I could tell my story on a global scale.” And it didn’t end there either: the competition wasn’t just a one-off award to throw on her resume. Ekin was signed as a Nike Athlete—aged just 18.
Ekin’s power shone through her performances around the world. But for her, dance was always more than just performance. It was a need, and it was about self-discovery and healing—and, eventually, this began her journey towards a career in dance therapy. “There was a time when I didn’t dance and didn’t get to express myself like that. I think I was depressed at the time,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do something that would benefit and help myself and other people—becoming an entertainer wasn’t enough for me.”
So Ekin shifted gears—she’s now a fully qualified dance and movement psychotherapist, working between Istanbul and London. Clinically, she works in adult mental health—running weekly group therapy sessions in housing for adults with severe and enduring mental health needs. In the sessions there is of course plenty of movement—and almost always music—but there’s also a lot of sharing, talking and connecting.
“I knew I wanted to do something that would benefit and help myself and other people—becoming an entertainer wasn’t enough for me.”
Dance and Movement Psychotherapist
Ekin has also worked with refugee children across Turkey, running workshops with International Medical Corps in Istanbul, Sakarya and Izmir. “There are so many ways in which it’s beneficial,” Ekin says. “It gives so much insight into the person’s physical, emotional and psychological state—as well as where their needs are at that moment.”
One of the greatest benefits Ekin sees in her sessions is when relationships are formed right in front of her. “There are all these moments of acceptance and support and vulnerability within the group work. It gives so much meaning to being with other people—and in a society where it’s so easy to be isolated, these lived experiences with others mean a lot.”
And it’s only natural, then, that Ekin sees dance and movement as a unifying power, bridging diversity—even in terms of her personal relationships. Ekin dances constantly with her friends and the creative people she lives with; they’re at the very core of her performance group and it brings them closer. “The moments when we exist as moving bodies, understanding each other, sharing and respecting space, moving together, to this frequency that’s affecting us in similar ways—those moments are so magical,” she explains.
Alongside her clinical work, she still works on solo projects, both commercially as a choreographer or consultant, and independently running workshops or as a performance artist. Ekin clarifies that even the commercial work has its healing qualities, but she views her performance art in particular as a personal tool for processing and balancing life. “That is my therapy.” she says. “That’s where I heal.”
When asked what she hopes for the future, Ekin’s vision is as generous, prophetic and spirited as she is. “My hopes for the future are for more people to express themselves, and to have more kindness and care in the world,” she says earnestly. “Love really is going to change it all. If we have a chance at all to change things, it’s going to happen through more love.”
Ready to show off your dance moves? Sign up below for workshops with Ekin and other community events around the city.