The language of dance is universal

There are no linguistic barriers when it comes to dancing, as its language is shared by all of humanity. Neither can there be a single correct interpretation of dance, as everyone is free to translate it in their own way.


– This is exactly why dance is so fascinating, says Minna Tervamäki, choreographer and multidisciplinary dance professional with a long career as an étoile ballet dancer. Tervamäki took part in many ballet competitions in her youth. Today she is the vice chair of the board for the Helsinki International Ballet Competition.

According to Tervamäki, dance as a form of expression and interaction is deeply ingrained in us all. It’s a universal language, one of the oldest in the world. 

She emphasises the positive effect of dance on brain health and physiology. It also improves our ability to focus and handle stress.

Classical ballet is typified by extreme precision of form and movement. It’s fine-tuned to the last detail, and reaching the top requires many years of work. 

– Ballet combines physical and artistic expression, which are in turn fused with music, Tervamäki explains. 

Ballets like The Sleeping Beauty or The Snow Queen have very clear storylines. However, the more abstract works revolve around a certain ambience or emotion. 

– You can’t put these works into words, just like you can’t always find words to describe your own mood or emotions. That doesn’t make them any less real. 

Tervamäki points out how dance appeals to us on different levels, many of them unconscious. 

– You don’t need to understand every emotional process you go through. Just let it come to you and feel it. You’re close to a magical experience that doesn’t have a rational explanation. 

Minna Tervamäki’s life still revolves around dance and choreography, and the way the two can be combined with other art forms. She has always been fascinated by expression that brings movement and music together. 

– It’s clear that dance is very demanding as a hobby and profession, both mentally and physically. It takes a lot, but it has also given me so many incredible moments and experiences. That’s why I carry on dancing, because I really enjoy it. I enjoy my everyday work and rehearsing.

An ambience of passion and excitement

The Helsinki International Ballet Competition will be organised for the ninth time this year, beginning on 1 June. 

Minna Tervamäki sees ballet competitions as an easy introduction to the genre, as performers and works change in quick succession. The excitement and passion in the air reminded her of athletics championships. For a first time visitor, competition can be a revelation that ballet isn’t remote and alien after all. Instead of staying for the duration, it’s possible to just pop in too.

– Ballet isn’t that extraordinary in the end. Ballet competitions radiate with the energy and enthusiasm of extremely skilful young competitors who are really giving their all. I personally love the wow factor that you get in their performances. 

The audience plays an important role in encouraging the young dancers. Without the audience, there would be no competition and no opportunity for the young people to have their progress evaluated.

The International Ballet Competition will take place at Helsinki’s Opera House. The grandeur of the location is emphasised by the stunning beauty of the Töölönlahti bay and park in the early summer. 

 – Despite its splendour, the Opera House is very welcoming. It’s the ideal setting for rooting for your favourites who perform under intense pressure.

Text: Marita Kokko, translated by Anna Kurkijärvi-Willans
Photo: Minna Hatinen