Dance or Die: Dutch National Ballet sets up fund for dancers from Syria & other conflict zones

Naarden / Studio / Ahmad / Danser / Nationaal Ballet / NOB

They say dance is a universal language which reaches beyond borders, cultures and countries. The elite world of ballet is a million miles away from the conflict and hardships experienced in war torn zones around the world.

The innovative Dutch National Ballet has created a fund to support talented dancers from Syria and other conflict zones. Ted Brandsen, DNB’s Director was inspired to take this unique step after seeing the documentary with Syrian dancer Ahmad Joudeh called ‘Dance or Die’.

Naarden / Studio / Ahmad / Danser / Nationaal Ballet / NOB
Naarden / Studio / Ahmad / Danser / Nationaal Ballet / NOB

Ahmad Joudeh grew up in the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in Damascus. He wanted to dance from a very early age. His father wouldn’t allow it, but he did classes in secret. When his father found out, he was beaten. Once, he hurt his legs so badly that Ahmad couldn’t dance for a while. Despite everything, he kept on dancing.

Until very recently, Ahmad Joudeh was still giving dance classes to children in Damascus, among the rubble and the atrocities of war. In the summer of 2016, journalist Roozbeh Kaboly, from the Dutch news programme Nieuwsuur, made the documentary about Ahmad. This documentary has changed Ahmad’s life radically.

On seeing the documentary, Ted Brandsen decided to do something to help bring the Syrian dancer to the Netherlands. By setting up the fund Dance for Peace and through donations from private individuals, Ahmad Joudeh has successfully made the journey to the Netherlands.

Director Ted Brandsen: “Ahmad persevered with his passion for dancing under the most difficult circumstances. I found it very moving. He looked like every other dancer with the same passion, only he was living through the war in Damascus”.

Naarden / Studio / Ahmad / Danser / Nationaal Ballet / NOB
Naarden / Studio / Ahmad / Danser / Nationaal Ballet / NOB

Ahmad has now started his four-year training as a student of the National Ballet Academy, in Amsterdam, in order to develop his talents as a dancer and choreographer. In the December production of Coppelia, Ahmad will be making his debut on a Dutch stage in a supporting role.

Ahmad talks about moving to the Netherlands: “After the broadcast of Dance or Die, I received many invitations, from people in the US, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Italy and Belgium. And the Netherlands. When Ted Brandsen contacted me, I knew straight away that that was where I wanted to go. I’ve been following Dutch National Ballet on YouTube for a long time, watching the clips over and over again. And now I’m here. I’m so incredibly happy”.

A second documentary that Nieuwsuur made about him shows his journey from Syria to the Netherlands and his experiences in his first weeks in the Netherlands. This documentary, Dance for Peace, was shown recently on Dutch television:

Learn more about Dance for Peace here.

Photo credits: Ahmad Joudeh – photographer: Michel Schnater

Wonderful Team

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