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."

 

Extremist groups capture last major regime holdout in northwest Syria

Deadly fighting rages in Yemen southern towns

‘Islamic State’ suicide bombers target Iraq-Jordan crossing

Four Egypt Islamists killed while preparing bombs

France opens preliminary probe into forced labour allegations in Qatar

‘Islamic State’ kills Iraq senior officers in Anbar province

Entrepreneurs encourage people to ‘buy Syrian’

Over 100 children killed in Yemen since March 26

Libya militia alliance 'carries out air raids' against IS

UN 'confident' rebels will sign Mali peace deal

Petraeus gets two years probation for info leak

Iranian ships turn back from Yemen

Palestinians mourn as Jews celebrate

UN chief set to appoint Mauritanian diplomat as Yemen envoy

Obama takes 'full responsibility' for deaths of Qaeda hostages in US operation

Turkey warns Austria over decision to condemn ‘Armenian genocide’

Yemen conflict poses dangers across Gulf of Aden

Hopes for final deal on second day of Iran nuclear talks in Vienna

Security tightened at Saudi shopping malls

US returns stolen Egypt artifacts

EU mulls military action against human traffickers in Libya

Libyan journalist shot dead in Benghazi

Arms experts warn of 'Faustian bargain' with Iran

Fresh Saudi-led air strikes target Yemen rebels

Rebel-IS clashes in Syria kill at least 42 fighters in 24 hours

Who’s more dangerous: Jihadists who left their countries or those staying at home?

France foils 'imminent' attack by jihadist sympathiser

Algeria army kills three armed Islamists west of capital

Israel removes Palestinian teen's name from memorial wall

Egyptian businessman testifies at Al-Jazeera retrial

Kenya asks donors to save world’s largest refugee camp

Sanctions, possible Congress intervention to dominate fresh nuclear talks

Arab army chiefs kick off work on building regional force

One year after agreement, Palestinian reconciliation hits rock bottom

Arab coalition resumes airstrikes against Huthi rebels

UN member states urged to protect Iraqi cultural sites

London mulls ways to help Europe's refugee crisis

Finalising of Iran nuclear deal set to begin

Saudi–led coalition declares end to Yemen air war

Palestine teenager inscribed on Israel memorial wall

Deadly attack targets busy restaurant in Somalia capital

War in Yemen raises profile of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Libya condemns 'death smugglers' after shipwreck

Sudan security agents detain opposition activist

Main Kurdish party vows to be 'sultan' Erdogan's nightmare