Ahmad Joudeh: “To dance is to exist, to give up dancing was not an option.”

Eurovision contestants aside, our discerning eye has fallen upon one of the interval acts announced to showcase Dutch talent to the global audience. Performing during the Semi-Final 2, our collective eyes will be treated to a collaboration between classical ballet dancer Ahmad Joudeh and BMX rider Dez Maarsen.

Ahmad has made the Netherlands his home after leaving war-torn Syria and has since flourished in the arts, largely due to the release of his documentary, Dance Or Die that won an Emmy for Arts Programming in 2019.

Originally prepped to dance in Rotterdam last year, the pandemic laid waste to that idea when Eurovision was devastatingly cancelled. With Ahmad’s participation at Eurovision announced in March, Ahmad has been actively training to be able to bring his best self to the global audience. ESC Bubble’s Cain had a chat with him ahead of rehearsals.

Ahmad, thank you for speaking with us. Your Eurovision performance will be about the desire for connection and unity. Can you elaborate on how a ballet dancer and BMX rider from two different worlds will realise this on stage? [watch some rehearsal footage here]
Communication through movement is as important as communication through words. It is about knowing your boundaries and respecting them enough to know to when to move and when to stop. In this way you can build a balanced connection with others. That is not only on stage, but also for daily life.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has choreographed this performance, but you’ve also worked with other collaborators, who’ve have been some of your favourites?
Roberto Bolle has been a big role model for me from my early days of dancing and I am happy that I had an opportunity [during the Sting performance] to dance with him and become friends. This was a very special occasion–it was like a dream.

But I feel lucky to have had opportunities to collaborate with a lots of great artists.

What is the atmosphere like in the Netherlands right now?
Everybody I meet in the Netherlands tell me how excited they are to have Eurovision in the country. It is a big light of hope in terms of ‘open up’ [the theme for this year’s competition].

What happens inside your head when you dance?
My presence on stage while dancing, is not only a body. It is all about my experience in my life and the way I see my existence here and now. I do not unfold a leg or an arm, I unfold a story.

And your story has been particularly traumatic. You have Dance Or Die tattooed at the back of your neck, why is it important for you to be reminded of that?
When the civil war broke out in Syria, extremists came into the country. I started receiving threats from them simply because I am dancer and I was teaching dance to children. 

But for me, to dance is to exist, to give up dancing was not an option. That is why I got the words Dance Or Die tattooed in Hindu on the back of my neck. I chose Hindu because they have a god of dance. I wanted to make sure that whoever should cut my head off would see this tattoo before killing me!

Have young people reached out to you saying you’ve inspired them to dance?
Yes, it is happening a lot. I am honoured and happy to be an inspiration for younger dancers.

Your unique blend of classical ballet, contemporary dance and Arabic Sufi (twirling) is often in areas open to the public. Does it sound right that you want to share dance with everybody?
It is important for dancers to have a dance floor that is good for dancing. But having danced on rooftops and the streets in Syria, the type of dance floor does not stop me from expressing myself. I miss breathing the air of Damascus, which makes me feel embraced.

What sort of workout routine does keep you in shape?
I go to ballet lessons in the morning, gym for in the afternoon when I can, or I’ll do a workout at home. I always use a bicycle for transportation, even for a long distance. Aside from rehearsals, most of my days are spent training.

And your Italian-language memoir Danza o Muori, is getting an English release in September!
I am very happy that Dance Or Die is going to be published in English. It is not merely a translation, but a new edition, that I worked on during lockdown, when I did not have any performances. I went through all the text, have added new sections. The process has been mentally hard for me, as I had to relive all of the hardships. As a result, I feel more balanced and I’d like to maintain that balance, stay focused and in good shape to keep dancing and creating.

Photo: Feriet Tunc

How can we find out more about you?
The documentary is available for broadcast outside the Netherlands by contacting Dutch CORE Media (tell Lorraine we sent you).

You can view my website: www.ahmadjoudeh.com or Instagram: @ahmadjoudehofficial

 We’re so grateful to you for sharing your responses and can’t wait to see you perform at Eurovision!
Every one of us is a dancer deep inside. Just get it out and enjoy it, it does matter where you do it. It can be on the stage or in your room. The joy of dance is the same.

Semi-Final 2 will air 20th May at 21:00 (CET) and 21st May at 05:00 (AEST) on SBS in Australia.

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