The Palestinian ballet star who is fighting ISIS with dance
A Palestinian ballet dancer has won wide acclaim using dance in a defiant stance against ISIS in the Middle East.
Ahmad Joudeh shared his journey of loss and perseverance with The Guardian. His story is told in the Dutch documentary 'Dance or Die', where Joudeh, 26, speaks of the freedom and power that dancing gives him.
'I will never give up dancing,' he said. '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.'
Joudeh suffered for years living in Syria during the civil war, and received death threats from ISIS. In the 2016 documentary, he visits the rubble of what was the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk, where he grew up. He danced upon the ruins of the site: 'I did it for the souls of my five family members who were killed there,' he said.
He also danced in front of the Palmyra theatre, a site previously used for mass execution videos by ISIS.
'Dancing in the Palmyra theatre was my way to fight 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 50C (122F) in the sun. But I did it because I knew I would never have the chance again. And I was right. Isis have destroyed the theatre now. I cried for two days when I heard the news.'
Joudeh also had to face the opposition of his father, who vehemently despised Joudeh's passion for dance. 'My father forbid me to dance,' he said. 'Because in our culture, to be a ballet dancer is the worst thing your son can choose to do for a living. He said it was a shame for the family and wanted me to study English or medicine. But I said no, this is my life. I went to dance class secretly.'
Joudeh was beaten by his father when he was found out, but Joudeh refused to give up on his dream: 'I said to him: it's dance or die.' Joudeh had the words 'dance or die' tattooed on his neck.
As he has followed his dream, Joudeh has become increasingly well known. He has appeared on Arab talent shows, Dutch operas and high profile dance festivals. He has reconciled with his father. He now studies at the ballet academy in Amsterdam.
He says there is 'No time to do anything but dancing. Because I am the only hope for my students and for my family in Syria. They count on me now. They say: the only good news we hear is your news'.