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."

 

Concern and grief as Britain remembers 2005 terror bombings

Iran nuclear talks: Will Ministers score diplomatic success?

Deadly US raids target ISIS stronghold in Syria

After Tunisia beach massacre, tourists switch to other destinations

Near Gaza Strip, Israelis live in fear behind concrete walls

Tunisia declares state of emergency after beach massacre

Erdogan moots possibility of snap election

Coalitions of Syria rebels battle regime forces in Aleppo

Lawlessness in Libya poses real danger for Tunisia

Hezbollah backs Syria army in major assault on border city

Syria mosque explosion kills at least 25 Nusra fighters

Egypt President in Sinai after jihadist attacks on security forces

Yemen Huthi rebels ‘attack’ various areas in Saudi Arabia

No guarantee of success as Iran nuclear talks inch closer to lasting deal

Egypt ‘in state of war’ on second anniversary of Islamist ouster

Ansar al-Sharia denies killing of Abu Iyadh in US air strike

Rockets from Sinai strike Israel

Palestinians arrest 100 Hamas members in West Bank

Erdogan inaugurates public mosque in palace

Islamists form alliance in battle for Aleppo

Top Tunisian jihadist reportedly killed by US strike in Libya

Emir attends joint Shiite, Sunni prayers in Kuwait

Hamas denies involvement in Sinai attacks

4 Qaeda suspects killed in US drone attack in Yemen

'Series of errors' behind Air Algerie crash in Mali

Ankara has no plans for imminent intervention in Syria

21 killed in clashes, strikes in Yemen's Aden

GCC states vow united stand against IS mosque bombings

Palestinians protest one year after teenager burned alive

Egypt vows to wipe out 'dens of terror'

Tunisia arrests eight in connection with beach massacre

Youth in Tunisia 'ripe for radicalisation'

UN sends mission to 'assess' South Sudan atrocities

Syria urges citizens to enlist

AQAP step up campaign to eradicate qat

Iraq Christians train for jihad against IS

British FM: 'No breakthrough yet' in Iran nuclear talks

UN imposes first sanctions on six South Sudan generals

Libya rival governments will not return to peace talks

Fighting rages in Yemen’s Aden

Egypt government adopts anti-terror law

Kurds warn Turkey against any ‘aggression’ in Syria

Kuwait makes DNA tests mandatory after suicide bombing

Kuwait parliament approves deficit budget on oil slide

Pro-Erdogan candidate becomes new speaker of Turkey parliament