Our community journal this month interviews Professional Ballet and Modern Dancer, qualified choreographer and Dance teacher, yoga instructor and craftsperson, Didem Ertan. Our paths crossed with Didem several years ago when we attended one of her yoga, dance & meditation retreats on an undiscovered bay in the Aegean part of Turkey. Her journey and mindset fascinated us. We’ve attended several retreats since, each time departing from this haven in awe, revitalised and with an enduring experience of self discovery and calm.
Tell us about your career and how you decided to move to Datca.
My journey started when I was 8 years old, on passing the entrance exams for the National Opera & Ballet school. It was a tough exam, only 16 out of 600 were chosen and this is when my journey with dance all began. Ballet is both physically and spiritually an exhausting career path, and whilst they were hard, my school years were a lot of fun! Even though a lifetime of competitiveness awaited me, my love of dance and ballet encouraged me to follow a profession I loved.
After I graduated, I decided to move to Izmir to work at the National Izmir Opera and Ballet house, where I became the principal dancer. After a while I decided to move from Classical Ballet towards Modern Dance, so I started working at the National Ankara Opera and Ballet house.
The transition from ballet shoes to bare foot was a tough one, but it was a fun and worthwhile career shift. I learnt so much from Modern Dance! My physical attitude, my ability to understand and use my body, using my mind and breath; these all changed my perspective.
In particular it is was the improvisational work I did that took my movement repertoire and my mentality to a higher level. With this, a stronger Didem emerged, one with greater perception, control over her body, mind and breath.
It was during this time that yoga entered my life and opened up whole new horizons for me. Working with dancers I was able to create a new style of my own integrating yoga and dance. I started practicing in yoga studios and got lots of positive feedback. I then made a sudden decision to leave the community I had spent 15 years with, and quit my active dance life. I decided to only be an instructor.
I moved to Istanbul and focused on yoga and dance, whilst still teaching modern dance, improvisation and stage techniques in the Ballet department of Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Conservatory.
Things were great for the first 7-8 years. I’d fully established my yoga-dance style, I was loving my students and school and had even secured an important role for five seasons in a great performance at the Istanbul National Theatre. The experience was immense and reminded me of how much I had missed the stage. But by now I had spent a good 10 years in Istanbul, and the chaos was becoming unbearable and exhausting. An endless scramble, misery and restlessness had arisen and triggered my anxiety, which I thought had healed. I wasn’t enjoying anything. Everything was a duty and not a passion, I would leave home in fear and my worries were increasing.
We took a trip to Datca with my partner, a place we’d never seen before. We spent a dreamy week on a beautiful, quiet bay surrounded by nature, tranquility and peace. Within a week we were back in there and before we knew it, we were living there. My partner was concerned about how it would work out but somehow it did. For three years we escaped to Datca at every opportunity and it became my therapy. At the end of 3 years we made the permanent move and became locals here.
Loving the nature, the clean air, and being away from the chaos helps you turn inwards and your creativity flourishes as a result.
Dance and yoga are my primary sources of happiness. When I don’t move, my mind and soul get confused, I go into a dark place and my fears and worries resurface. That’s why I don’t stop… I do Batik dyeing. Each piece being unique and colourful excites me! Also gardening, spending time with my pets, taking long hikes all give me the energy bursts I need.
Minimalism has primarily helped my self-discovery. Time passes slower and you internalise every moment with pleasure. Life is more natural and calm. The interactions with people and neighbourly relationships are vital… a few select good people… less traffic, smiley faces and good food.
I’ve never really been a city person. A house amongst the trees with a garden near the sea, full of animals, looking over to the mountains is what I’ve always yearned for. How lucky am I to have found somewhere like here? I’m a true Datca local now! I know everything about it and even have a a big project coming up very soon! Having said that, even if I feel like a Datca local, I am really a local of the world. Whether I travel in Turkey or internationally, I feel local wherever I go.
Tell us about your current projects & workshops?
Before the pandemic, I regularly ran 7-8 workshops a year including Yoga, Dance & Movement, Meditation, Parent & Child and Art Camps/ Workshop but the pandemic meant we had to take a break from these and we are only just getting back in the flow.
However, on a positive note, we did manage to launch our dream space – SODA Datca, an art space where we exhibit various art, and do wellness and creative workshops for the locals. I’m so excited to be offering our services and reuniting our creative community!
What would you say are the challenges you face? What motivates and inspires you?
I wouldn’t really say I have many hardships, however, trying to convince people to come to Datca for the retreats can be a challenge. My motto is ‘It’s not easy to get to heaven’ and most of my participants agree once they’ve arrived.
Apart from this challenge, finding materials for my Batik work can be difficult at times. Being a small town, these could be pricey in Datca, so I tend to use the internet or Antalya when I go to visit my family.
Anything could motivate me. A film I watch, a sentence I read, animals, sounds of nature, colours, movement, clouds, a view, a piece of music, a painting I see, working with children. Children feed my creative soul. Their mindset is non-judgmental, direct and sincere, making it a huge learning experience and so much fun. I’m very lucky to work with them.
Observing people is one of my passions. Everyone is a different colour, a different world; it’s like I can read them. It has a huge impact on my creative work.
What does Wellness mean to you?
Waking up ‘Well’, the first coffee of the day, watching the sunrise over a meadow, greeting the day with my lover and animals, taking every healthy breath and being happy with the smallest things are the most important contributions to my happiness.
I tend to see the glass half full and try to see the positive side in everything. Everything happens for a reason and even the worst things can bring you a lifetime of happiness.
During the pandemic I was still. I didn’t want to do anything. Even though I had a demand for online classes, I couldn’t warm up to this. I prefer the eye contact, the physical contact, the interaction during the classes is what I felt was real. A misinterpreted instruction could lead to severe physical consequences in which I would not be able to control. Eventhough I did a few videos, this idea died down with time. I spent a lot of time in my garden, took long hikes with my pets, meditated by the sea. I became more aware of the importance of my freedom and health.
I developed a ritualistic meditation, to protect us and my pets which I do during the day and when I go to bed. I also have a simple swing meditation which I use a lot.
Many thanks Didem for sharing your journey of enlightenment with us, on our journey!