First Published: 2003-01-07

 
Iraqi tots cling to beauty of ballet
 

Young ballerinas, oblivious of war threats on their country, dance to rhythm of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

 

Middle East Online

By Marwan Naamani - BAGHDAD

The teacher came back home to pass her talent on to her students

As Baghdad ballet teacher Zikra Minhaim surveys her young charges enthusiastically rehearsing their steps, she sees a glimmer of hope, a rare glimpse of beauty amid the grim war clouds gathering over her stricken city.

"What amazes me is when people outside are buying generators, stocking food, the only worry these girls have is how to have a good dancing position and how to stand on their toes elegantly," says Minhaim.

"Look in their eyes, you see hope and you see beauty."

Twenty girls aged between six and 13 take their dancing lessons at the Baghdad School for Music and Fine Arts.

In a humble room surrounded by mirrors, the young ballerinas dance elegantly to the rhythm of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake under a portrait of President Saddam Hussein.

Founded in 1969, just a year after Saddam's Baath Party came to power, the school has clearly seen better days.

Twelve years of UN sanctions have taken their toll on both the school and the middle classes who used to form its clientele.

That the dance classes carry on at all is entirely down to the dedication of Minhaim, who returned from a better life in Europe to foster the school where she herself studied before going on to win a master's degree in choreography in the then Soviet Union, Iraq's Cold War sponsor.

"We were four teachers ... During the sanctions we all left, including me - I travelled to Switzerland. But my love of the children and the ballet brought me back to this institution," said the 42-year-old redhead, who is one of scores of graduates of the school to have gone on to win distinction abroad.

Minhaim is full of praise for her young pupils' dedication in the face of the difficulties and threats of the world outside.

"We have a whole life ahead of us. Despite everything, these girls are trying to make the best of themselves.

"Dancing these days has become a kind of escape from the grim realities of everyday life. In our situation ballet is a luxury ... The girls dream of a better life and a better Iraq."

Her commitment is amply repaid by her young pupils, who follow her every word in awe and appear desperate to win her praise.

"I love to dance. Ballet is one of the things that is beautiful in this life," said 12-year-old Shajwan Kurdiyeh, with a smile on her face and a glitter in her wide black eyes, as she practised in her black leotard.

Like ballet schools around the world, the children at the Baghdad School are rehearsing for a mid-year show, but with the difference that here they do not know whether their performance will be to the accompaniment of US bombs.

More than 65,000 US troops are already deployed around Iraq's borders poised for a threatened attack and more are on their way.

But both Minhaim and her young pupils remain determined that, come war or peace, their show will go on.

"There will be a mid-year show - before, after or during the attack, we do not know - but the show must go on."

 

Syria army agrees to respect truce in Syria’s Aleppo

Davutoglu to step down after failing to escape Erdogan's shadow

Israel strikes Hamas sites in Gaza

UN urged to take action over rebel fire on besieged Yemen city

Will London elect its first Muslim mayor?

Yemen foes discuss key issues in Kuwait talks

Egypt's Sisi touts economic accomplishments

US aid ship docks with food for Sudan war zones

Israel court recommends returning Palestinian attackers' corpses

Saudi allows Binladin Group tenders after mass layoffs

Long Erdogan-Davutoglu honeymoon coming to an end

Tunisia confident border trade with Libya will resume 'very soon'

Malta likely to become first EU member to open Libya mission

Qaeda threatens to target homes of Yemen security forces

Anti-ISIS coalition pledges additional military commitment

UN warns Eastern Aleppo may soon become besieged

London set to elect its first Muslim Mayor

Fierce fighting rages in Aleppo as diplomacy efforts intensify

Riyadh's $22.5 bn Metro project on track

Egypt court sentences prominent activist to six months in prison

UK to take in more Syria child refugees

France to host Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Turkey FMs for Syria talks

US expects more military resources for anti-ISIS fight

Standoff escalates between Egypt journalists and authorities

Turkey says ready to send ground troops to Syria 'if necessary'

Hamas accuses Fatah of organising military cell in Gaza

Egypt court acquits Mubarak's last PM

Israel to upgrade ties with NATO as Turkey lifts veto

Passengers injured as Etihad flight hits severe turbulence

Israeli tanks fire shots over Gaza border

5th edition of Middle East Homeland Security Summit to be held in Amman in November

Money and revenge push Syrians to jihadist ranks

EU conditionally backs visa-free travel for Turks, overhauls asylum system

Airstrikes resume in Damascus as fighting 'freeze' ends

Relief in Yemen's Mukalla after year of al-Qaeda rule

Saudi oil minister visits Sudan to cement improving ties

Warnings for Assad as Syria talks shift to Berlin

Is Erdogan-Davutoglu tandem coming to an end?

US troops facing growing risks in Iraq, Syria

Fierce clashes rage in Syria’s Aleppo

Yemen warring parties back to peace talks table

OPCW warns ISIS may be making chemical weapons

French court says 'Carlos the Jackal' must face trial for 1974 attack

UN demands protection of hospitals in armed conflicts

Jewish settler who led burning alive of Palestinian teen receives life sentence