And, He Continues To…..
“Continue dancing or get killed”……. The story of Ahmad Joudeh is hidden in this threat…..the story of his life, his fight and his art!
Ahmad was born in Yarmouk Camp – a 2.11sqkm district of the city of Damascus, populated by Palestinians – to a Syrian mother and a Palestinian father. Dance is his childhood love. The 26-year-old state-less Palestinian had ignored his dad’s advice to study medical science and become a ballet dancer. At the age of 16, Ahmad had joined the ‘Enana Dance Theatre’ in Damascus and performed in Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan.
“The Civil War changed the whole picture. When I was 20, the conflicts between rebels and the Syrian soldiers rocked the country. Then, the ISIS captured our area. My father threw me out of the house and divorced my mother because she supported me. I didn’t leave Yarmouk, as I had to support my mother and my younger brother and sister,” recounted Ahmad.
The IS had imposed a ban on dance and other forms of art after capturing major parts of Syria. “They hate male dancers. Dancing in the Palmyra Theatre was my way to fight the ISIS. It was my way to tell them: you can kill people, but you can’t keep me from dancing. It was a dangerous thing to do, we couldn’t stay there longer than one hour, and it was 50°C in the sun. But I did it because I knew I would never have the chance again. And I was right. The ISIS have destroyed the theatre. I cried for two days when I heard the news,” he told the press last week.
Joudeh performing at Palmyra Theatre
Despite receiving death threats from the terrorists, Ahmad not only continued to dance, but also made a living mainly as a dance teacher. Then, he had the words – ‘it’s dance or die’ – tattooed on his neck. “I am prepared to fight all my life for the feeling that dancing gives me. It’s a feeling of freedom. Being a Palestinian refugee, born in a camp, I always felt inferior to other people. But when I dance, I feel like a king,” stressed Ahmad.
His moment of glory came in 2014 when he reached the semi-final of the Arab version of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ in Lebanon. “I made it to the semi-final. But then I was told that I couldn’t win, because as a Palestinian I have no nationality. That was a tough blow. But I had had an audience and I had reached hearts, so in a way I was a winner after all. After that I was asked to do a series of choreographies for dance festivals at the Opera House in Syria, which was great,” insisted Ahmad.
Joudeh in Palmyra
2014 was an important year for Ahmad. Dutch journalist Roozbeh Kaboly arrived in Syria that year to cover the civil war. When he reached Palmyra, Kaboly had seen a young man dancing near a destroyed house. Ahmad told the journalist that his maternal uncles used to live in Palmyra. The IS terrorists killed his two uncles and destroyed their house. Later, he started using the damaged house as his stage as a symbol of protest. Kaboly, then, made four documentary films on Ahmad for a Dutch television channel. After watching those films, members of a voluntary organisation, ‘The Dance for Peace Organisation’, invited Ahmad to visit the Netherlands in 2016. His life changed radically in August 2016 when he joined the Dutch National Ballet.
The Dutch National Ballet
Ahmad has performed in various European countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, Norway and Spain, in the last couple of years. His father, too, arrived in Germany as a migrant in 2017 and reunited with his son after 11 years. “It wasn’t easy to face my father again. I don’t really feel he is my father, to be honest,” said Ahmad. He purchased an oud (Arab lute) for his father. “He used to be a musician, so this was my way of saying: you tried to keep me from my art, but I am giving you yours back. It was the first time in my life we hugged. My father was crying all the time. He told me he is proud of me now, that he is sorry for what he did,” the dancer told the press.
Today, Ahmad’s life is surrounded by the warmth of security. However, the tattoo is still there on his neck. “This tattoo makes me dream. I know that the war will end, I will return to Syria and give dance lessons to orphaned children in war-torn Damascus. This tattoo is my past, my future,” concluded the talented ballet dancer.
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