September 24, 2018 Interviews
Reclaiming Pleasure with the Dancer and Designer in her Los Angeles home
London-born with Ghanaian roots, Nana Yaa has seen her fair share of the world. In her current role as the Head Designer at Jonathan Simkhai she has transitioned to the United States - splitting her time between New York City and Los Angeles. Yaa is known for her performative movement, her personal form of dance that knows no rules and no boundaries. Nana reveals to BGM an insight to her inspirations, how she stays in touch with her sensuality, and how she remains grounded.
With Amora Miller
Photographed by Carolina Salazar
Who is Nana Yaa, in your own words?
I'm Thursday born (Yaa) and whomever I want to be at any given time. I am still learning, still processing, still receiving, still giving and learning about unconditional love.
In what ways have your movements made you feel more comfortable in your skin?
You know when you're lying in bed and you begin to fall asleep, your body starts to relax, it starts to let go every muscle, wrinkle, vein falls into place... and then you fall asleep and start dreaming. That's how I feel when I start doing my movement. I'm in the dream state and nothing matters, I let go of all negativity, in fact, I let go of everything. However, it doesn't always mean I feel great afterward. There is always a range of emotions that happen during movement that makes me feel a certain way, but I have to embrace all of the feelings because it is apart of the process of learning to address how to feel comfortable within your skin.
What have you freed yourself from through movement?
The act of sharing with the public is freeing. That vulnerability is both scary and beautiful and needed. I guess what I am freeing myself from is my ego... And that has been very meditative for me in a way; so when I share I let go of my fear. It's something that I am learning or wanting to go through in my everyday life. It is a process as with everything but slowly and surely I'm chipping away at my ego and freeing myself more so breathing can become easier.
How does your sensuality connect you to your femininity?
I think my sensuality and femininity are very aligned at this particular moment in my life. Finally, they have come hand in hand. It definitely took awhile for me to embrace them and feel comfortable enough to allow myself to enjoy it too. I used to be very shy. However, when I am in movement mode both come out in full force without any apologies or warning. I probably learned to embrace it through movement first, in a way, and I am glad I did because it was in a meditative way. It makes me think of Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman". Her words speak the essence of sensuality and femininity in our daily lives, especially as black women.
During your last performance, the rawness of your emotions were prevalent. How do you remain connected to Self? How do you use these feelings to connect with others?
I wanted to be at one within the space, music, and artwork. It wasn't so much about trying to connect with self but more about being a vessel - the communicator. Connecting with others is an added bonus when freeing myself in that space, such as in the collaborative performance 'Feel For' where the concept was unrehearsed. I think that because what I do is improv. I don't really think of anything before I start my movements. Whatever happens, happens and somehow it makes sense to the viewer. Of course not everyone, but when the connection happens, that is a spontaneous moment for the spectator. We live in a society today where we are forever trying, sometimes forcing ourselves to do something to connect with others as if its a must. For me, it's more interesting to see if people are able to connect within themselves whilst viewing art and are able to find that association themselves by also letting go at that moment. I wouldn't want to force a connection. I think it's also a process of allowing oneself to feel.
What draws you to collaborate with other artists, like your latest performance - Feel For, with Kennedy Yanko?
The collab with Kennedy was so natural, it was meant to be. The feeling was right. She contacted me, invited me to her studio and I fell in love without even really knowing what it was we were going to do. There was a trust immediately to let each other do what they wanted and knowing it will be more than what was expected. When it comes to other artists, it's the same way. I really have to feel it. There is no sense in doing something just because it might be cool. For me it has to feel emotional, warm in my stomach and challenging. Very recently I did a collab with a jewelry company. It was the concept that drew me in and the thought of being exposed and uncomfortable that I liked... I felt like I was in a Dali painting. I really like being out of my comfort zone.
Where in the world do you feel the deepest connection to? What makes it Home?
Probably Ghana as that's where my family is from. I go every year and my eyes are opened more and more each time I go. I feel like I can breathe again, deeply. Being in the rural areas really grounds me, I get my batteries recharged for when I go back to New York. It’s really a special feeling being in Ghana just taking in the energy of the land, family and friends. It smells like home, but with that being said, I'm bicoastal at the moment between LA and New York. I'm happy to say New York is also my home. I never imagined I would ever say this... But New York has contributed to the person I have become today. It has taught me so much and allowed so many opportunities and beautiful people to come into my life. The house I live in there has the most beautiful energy too. Now that I really think about it, it's all about energy. I was born in London but have no connection at all with the place. I grew up in Holland but have no connection. I lived in Paris and Milan but have no connection. But then I came to New York and fell in love with the energy. Ghana is the only energy that has been with me since birth.
is part of
a theme that the Black Girl Magik collective explored and invited the community to investigate with us through a practice of communal healing and coalition building.