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Last ballerina in Iraq - Channel 4


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Did anyone catch this 'Unreported World' short documentary? (the video is available via a swift Google).  I found it moving but so depressing. There are a handful of students attending the only ballet and music school left in Iraq. As general/official sentiment outside is that this is un-Islamic, they have armed guards outside and live in fear of a suicide attack - apparently the Minister of Education said he turns his face away when he passes the school.  One of the students died in a sectarian bus bomb attack, and there is one 17 year old girl who has reached a reasonable level, loves ballet with a passion but has absolutely no future - she cannot perform in public, and the school is unlikely to survive long enough for her to become a teacher.  It's unlikely that she's had good enough tuition to warrant being 'rescued' by some foreign company happening to watch the programme. How sad when religious nonsense tramples on people's passions...

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Slightly related Quintus one of my former pupils from Brighton aged only 18 was killed in Syria. His twin brother is wounded and the eldest one is luckily still okay apparently. These are boys who could have had a good future especially the eldest one he was very studious.

So for some religious/political zeal this boy is no longer alive. Such a shame. They are not Syrians.

It upset me to see his picture on the BBC website page looking about 14. What a waste. I worked with all the children in this family for three years. I know his mother will be absolutely devastated.

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This, of course, started some time ago.  I remember a lovely dancer from Iran in our class in the late 1970's when Iran was taken over by the hard line religious leaders.  Her family had fled the chaos which ensued.  

 

There was also a lovely dancer in our class in the 1980's - an American who married a Muslim man from Iran.  She was a Christian and had always worn a small cross on a delicate gold chain.  That very quickly disappeared.  Then she began wearing a small head scarf - the kind that one might wear on a windy day.  That got larger and larger until her entire head was covered.

 

She also began to wear baggy pants over her tights and a baggy top over her leotard.  One day when the pianist was sick and a male pianist substituted, she left the class.  She told me that her husband had forbidden her to dance in front of a male pianist.   Then, she was forbidden to dance if there was a male teacher and finally she was forbidden to dance in class if any of the male dancers showed up.  Since this was a professional level class there were always men in class.  So, everyday she would come and then have to leave if there were any men (pianist, teacher, dancer) around.  Then, that got to  include any male who might happen to walk by and look in the window or a father who might come to pick up his child from the younger classes.

 

Last I heard her husband wanted to take a "vacation" to Iran to visit his family - we never saw her again.

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Did anyone catch this 'Unreported World' short documentary? (the video is available via a swift Google).  I found it moving but so depressing. There are a handful of students attending the only ballet and music school left in Iraq. As general/official sentiment outside is that this is un-Islamic, they have armed guards outside and live in fear of a suicide attack

 

Please don't tell me someone's put it on YouTube :(.  Just the way to make it widely available including to those into whose hands it would be safer if it didn't fall ...

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Thankyou Ellie.

 

When I first worked with the boys the twins were 8-9 year and the older brother 10-11 year. There were also two younger brothers. They had an older sister who was delightful but I didn't work with her.

 

I lost contact with the family when they went to secondary school but often had a chat with the boys if they were playing football in the local park.

 

I remember when they first came they were not allowed initially to take part in music /dance or anything connected to Christianity. But the twins especially were so keen to be like everyone else in the class that they forced the issue and their father finally changed his mind so it wasn't long before they were joining in with everything except morning assembly!!

 

Mum particularly wanted them to have a good education here and was well educated herself.....a lovely lady in difficult circumstances in fact but can't say any more here.

 

I will definitely catch up with the programme by the way Quintus some time in the next few days when I'm feeling in the mood to face more depressing facts.

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There's a lot of information on the Channel 4 website (UnreportedWorld)including several short clips from the programme. I found it a very salutary experience-particularly the worn pointe shoes and the piano the gifted Mohammed was paying - we have so much to be grateful for. Sadly the future of the school and Leezan's career as a dancer looks pretty bleak.

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I think it is fair to point out that dance does exist in the Muslim world.  Last year I saw a fabulous dervish dancer in Dubai who had a high tech act that included a brief cameo of a woman with a baby.  I've also seen a Palestinian folk group and a Turkish belly dancer.

 

There are also a lot of ballet dancers that are at least nominally Muslim,  I can think of quite a few though I shan't 'out' them here, but Rudolf Nureyev never made a secret of his Islamic background, indeed, his grandfather was a mullah.

 

It seems that of late Muslims are becoming the new 'reds under the bed'; most are harmless such as my future Algerian sister-in-law, though a few are anything but, the difficulty in the future will be to identify the dangerous minority that exists in western cities before they can cause more harm - it won't be an easy task though.

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I made a mistake about the boys ....the other brother who is luckily unhurt is not the other twin but his even younger brother who is only 16. It us the older brother who is wounded. No more on this now but it's a very sorry tale. I still have some of their work from their first year in UK! This really is very sad. I hope the others will come home now.

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Please don't tell me someone's put it on YouTube :(.  Just the way to make it widely available including to those into whose hands it would be safer if it didn't fall ...

It's on 4OD,  and I think Channel4 limit access to content according to country so hopefully not immediately,  but I think if you put material out on TV you can assume that sooner or later it's going to find its way everywhere - which makes them all the braver for taking part.

 A similar thing was happening in Egypt just before the Muslim Brotherhood regime was overthrown - they were bringing in a total ban on ballet and opera (including the cash-cow son et lumiere performances at Luxor and Giza).  Hopefully under the current government that has been suspended.

I once lived for a year in Algeria and the hypocrisy was unbelievable - the same men who were ranting against women with uncovered hair were at the same time keeping mistresses and there was a general male attitude that any woman was up for it and was there to be 'won', regardless of age or marital status.  It's that kind of mentality that underlies these behaviours towards the arts.

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I don't know Fonty. I'm sure there will be nothing against music in the Koran but couldn't be sure.

 

The Sufi section of Islam has both music and a form of Dance though I believe this form of a Dance is to induce a spiritual state of being.

 

I suspect it has nothing really to do with religion just some way of controlling people's behaviour......especially us wild women of course!!

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But it is all tied together, isn't it Janet?  I don't want to discuss religion, not at all, just the thinking that tries to ban music and dancing, something that all cultures have in their different forms.  It is baffling. 

 

I think it says something that I am choosing my words very carefully in case a shadowy organisation is monitoring the posts, looking for keywords that might be considered dangerous!

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You see this sort of attitude - against women, against any sort of pleasure - in the hard edges of a lot of religions whose mainstream is more tolerant. Thousand-year-old religious texts can be interpreted in many different ways, and there's always been a mindset that if giving up some worldly pleasures in order to please their deity is good, giving up more is even better, and forcing other people to give up theirs is better still (not that dictators necessarily need religion in order to impose their will on the masses, but "this is what God wants" is always a handy rationalisation). Education seems to be one of the ways out of this spiral (at least, that's what happened in the west during the Enlightenment), but an education focussed entirely on religious texts isn't going to help, and that seems to be what's happening these days.

 

IMO the tragedy in this case is that Iraq was moving away from this hard-line religious attitude before the West barged in there with no thought for the long-term consequences of their actions, and now things seem to be getting indistinguishable from other countries in the region that are under the thumb of the Taliban and their ilk. I only hope that the exposure of this school on TV and YouTube doesn't have a tragic outcome, but these days I'm not holding out a lot of hope.

Edited by Melody
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But it is all tied together, isn't it Janet?  I don't want to discuss religion, not at all, just the thinking that tries to ban music and dancing, something that all cultures have in their different forms.  It is baffling. 

 

I think it says something that I am choosing my words very carefully in case a shadowy organisation is monitoring the posts, looking for keywords that might be considered dangerous!

But everyone else needs to take the same care and you did pose the question.

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But it is all tied together, isn't it Janet?  I don't want to discuss religion, not at all, just the thinking that tries to ban music and dancing, something that all cultures have in their different forms.  

 

I suspect it stems 1. from an association of dancing (and by extrapolation the music accompanying it) with licentious behaviour and 2. the view that any leisure activity that is not direct worship or study is an unworthy distraction.  The more po-faced religions have always been concerned to cover women up as far as possible to minimise the temptations to men - though the assumption that that temptation arises  itself rests on a more general assumption that we are all constantly struggling to contain our promiscuity. The Middle East of course does have its parallel secular tradition of patently erotic dance, and there is indeed a strong sexual element persisting in the hip-wiggling, bum-shimmering folk dances that still break out at private celebrations and parties. So there's a base there for the clergy to extrapolate from, but to our eyes it's then a ridiculous (indeed offensively stupid) leap of logic to go from that to condemning all forms of dance by association. I don't personally believe in gods, but I'd have thought that if you believed a god had created the human form, then showing that god the amazing things of which humans are capable through dedicated application and effort would be a form of worship in itself..  The West has had restrictive attitudes to dance inits past too, rooted in some of the same concerns, but has largely moved on - because its main religion allowed interpretation of its holy texts to keep up with the times. When you get a text-based religion that explicitly forbids interpretation, then you find yourself mired in the values of the past.

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My partner.....I'm sure erroneously.....has this view that the comparative freedom that we enjoy......religious and other.....comes from the use of the English Language!!

He says it's one of the few languages which doesn't designate objects as male or female!! "The" is just "The" so to speak.

He thinks this allows for a more "equal" approach to the sexes.

 

Hmmm! I wonder what the French,Spanish, German et al think of this!!

 

Ive downloaded that programme and will be watching later this afternoon.

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One of the things that some reliigions have against dancing is  the temptation for men and women to dance together.

 

 From what I've read, there is dance, music and singing in some very strict religious cultures such as Islam, very strict Orthodox Judiaism,  (the Hassidim are known for their dancing), and some strict Protestant groups (litergical dance).  They are not without dance and music.

 

In the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible, dance is explicity mentioned as Miriam led the women in dance and song to celebrate the crossing of the Sea.  Here is an example that shows us there was dance, it was celebratory of a religious occurence and it was gender separate.

 

 

Today, dance in strictly religous communities  occurs with the genders separated  - men in one room, women in another.  It is also done to celebrate a religious occasion such as a marriage.  It is not done casually as in "let's have fun."  And certainly not in the context of boy meets girl.

 

In much of folk dance, almost throughout the world, men and women dance separately (think of African, Hindu, Japanese, American Indian, etc) and if they do dance together there is very little touching.  Sometimes they each hold a corner of a scarf.  At most there is a hand on a waist or shoulder. Sometimes gloves are worn.  You can see this even in the ballet such as the Bournonville style.

 

As I understand it, a form such as what we commonly refer to as belly dance, was originally done privately.  A private party - gender separated.  It was also done by women who were kept in a harem to amuse themselves and shared only with their husband.

 

As time went on and such dancing was pubilcly performed such as in a cabaret setting - this was always done against the norms of the ethics and morals of extant religious views - when a more secular prince was on the throne or the country under the influence of colonization.  

 

When someone from a strict text based religious community looks at something like ballet - they not only see the body on display - but often splayed (see another thread for that discusssion) - which, we too, sometimes find offensive.  They also see a great deal of inappropriate touching, grabbing, rubbing and innuendo (often explicit) between the genders.  Many of us who enjoy dance in its many forms sometimes find ourselves feeling violated by "stars" of the celebrity world and their ideas of dance - think of a recent "performance" of Miley Cyrus.

 

I do agree that  many religions have had various forms of "reformation" - rethinking, acclimating to science and a more expanisve view of the world without losing their essential ethical basis.  Islam, too, has had reformations but that reform has usually been a hardening of its views.  This happened in Spain (Al Andalous) when the radical Berbers attacked those Muslims they considered tainted by less strict observance - and ended up defeated by a resurgent Christianity.

 

As for those who ban all types of dance, music, kite flying, or any enjoyment - it's not about religion but about control.  

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As I recall, the Taliban branch of Islam forbids flying kites, too.

 

But, happily, not cricket (see "History  'From Zero to Success in 10 Years'") at which the Afghans show exceptional promise (see "Afghanistan could be playing test cricket in 2018"), The phenomenal rise of the Afghan cricket team is a rare good news story from that unhappy country.

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But, happily, not cricket (see "History  'From Zero to Success in 10 Years'") at which the Afghans show exceptional promise (see "Afghanistan could be playing test cricket in 2018"), The phenomenal rise of the Afghan cricket team is a rare good news story from that unhappy country.

 

In another thread - you mentioned, Sacre Bleu - how we morph threads into other areas from which they began.

 

Ah - so now you have morphed this thread into Afghans playing cricket.  :)

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......................

 

Ah - so now you have morphed this thread into Afghans playing cricket.   :)

 

Ah but only because you flew a kite. :-)

 

NB. I could subsist in a country without cricket so long as there was ballet and I could survive in a world without ballet so long as there was cricket but I need both to flourish.

Edited by terpsichore
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To comment on this programme finally the first thing that comes to mind is how wonderfully brave these people are.......I just can't imagine carrying on attending this school on a daily basis under the threat of such danger. Things don't seem to be getting any more stable in Iraq so I cannot see that the school will survive on a long term basis which is a great shame.....I just hope it can somehow.

 

It will be interesting to know what will happen for the two main young people featured.

Where the young dancer is concerned I do have mixed feelings. She obviously has a lot of passion and had great feeling in her upper body and good expression but her general technique is fairly poor and she is in desperate need of better training really........If she should leave Iraq for Europe or America to get this training she may be in for a bit of a shock at the standard she will find there as she talked about being a star etc. I wasn't sure of her age but thought it was 17-18. I'm not sure for this young lady whether her dreams would be rather crushed. Though obviously she would be a lot safer. She could concentrate on teaching of course and get a very good level of qualification in this respect........which could be very worthwhile if she were ever then to return to Iraq if happier times should return.

 

It seems this school in its current form is okay for younger students or people just enjoying to do some dance but for more serious students they probably need to find better training by the time they are 14 at least.

I think a lot of teachers had already left because of the danger so you cannot help but admire those who have stayed to keep this going.

 

The young pianist was such a lovely young man and obviously had a very good talent. I wonder what he will do. Leave Iraq to train as a musician or stay and train as an engineer!!

However it is not easy to leave unless they have family living abroad who can help them.

He needs an electric piano with headphones so he can practice in secret if need be once he leaves the school but otherwise making the choice to leave his parents and possibly not be able to see them for a long time in order to keep playing is a rather stark choice for him I think.

I hope there is a good outcome of sorts for both these young people anyway.

 

The film for me was both uplifting and depressing I think

The people were wonderful and made me feel good about human beings and what they can achieve in difficult circumstances but the oppression of spirit and continual physical threat surrounding them did not make me feel too hopeful in the end.

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No, me neither :(  I'm afraid I became very aware of just how easy it would be for standards to deteriorate significantly if the only person to pass on the teaching is not trained to a sufficiently high level.

 

On the other hand, there was a report on the news the other day of a renaissance in the Cornish language.  I'm sure that last time I heard anything about it there was only one native speaker of it still living, but things have clearly picked up since then, with several people conversing in it, so a more positive outcome isn't necessarily a total impossibility.

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  • 4 years later...

Just remembered this thread as I saw this posting on Facebook, and thought it might be an appropriate place to park it:  https://www.facebook.com/job_opening/1267314556742439/?source=post_homepage_stream&__tn__=HH-R

 

It's a job advert for a ballet teacher at a dance school in Cairo.  Would make an interesting alternative to teaching English on a gap year for someone...  I remember that under Morsi there was a full clampdown on ballet and opera in Egypt, so despite the country still being considerably more conservative than it used to be, it's heartening to see that ballet schools can still exist there.  From a brief look at the website, they claim to teach the Vaganova style.  The kids are also in normal ballet clothing, not covered up.

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