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By Maya Norton
Global Voices
January 18, 2008

Every once in a while, you hear about a story that makes you stop in your tracks. One that is so outside the norm, that is seems as if the central figure has been born in the wrong time or place.

Ayman Safieh is a 16-year-old Palestinian Muslim hoping to make it big in the world of classical ballet. His teacher is 81-year-old Yehudith Arnon, an Israeli Jew and Holocaust survivor, who is known as one of Israel’s top dance instructors.

Safieh has loved to dance from the time he could walk, his mother tells us. Five years ago at the age of 11, Safieh saw the movie Billy Elliot, about a boy who defied the traditional gender roles of his small English mining town and insisted on dancing ballet. “I have to dance ballet,” Safieh told his mother. “I dream to be like him.”

The challenge, then, was to break the news to his father. Seeing him dance for the first time, his father says, “I cried. I had no idea my son was that talented. You know, I have a bit of understanding about sports and art, but when I saw my son dancing, I was shocked. This was my son. This was his body, his legs, his muscles, and shoulders. I just wished I could see him more often and on a bigger stage.”

Safieh says, “People told me me it’s not right for men to be so romantic. It’s too feminine. I say, why can’t men be romantic and passionate? Why is it only for women?”

Safieh was discovered by Raba Murkus, a Israeli Arab dance instructor whose studio was in his home town of Kfar Yasif. Murkus invited Safieh to join her children’s dance troupe, but quickly learned he was meant for bigger things. “He was just amazing,” she says. “In rehearsal, he was great, but on the stage, suddenly I saw, I saw the dancer in his heart and his soul, and he surprised me. And I said, ‘Okay, we have a dancer here and we have to take care of him.’”

Murkus introduced Safieh to her own teacher, Yehudith Arnon. Dance embodies passion and Arnon has her own story to tell.

Arnon is a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Holocaust’s largest Nazi concentration camp. A recognized ballerina, the Nazis ordered Arnon to dance in their Christmas performance. She refused, knowing she would likely be killed. But that was not her punishment. Instead, the Nazis forced her to stand barefoot in the snow for hours on that freezing December day, clad in her thin camp uniform. “If I survive this, I will dedicate myself to dance for the rest of my days,” she said to herself.

Safieh has been formally training with Arnon for one year. This year he danced his first major performance in the Russian National Ballet’s Christmas rendition of the Nutcracker.

Creative Common License 2008


Arab youth determined to dance

BBC Radio World Service
July 07, 2009


Ayman Safia is a 17-year-old young man from Galilee who has managed to win a place at a prestigious dancing school.

He told reporter Joanna Chen about his passion for dance, “I speak from my heart, from my emotions, from my love of ballet.

“I imagine myself made up of two parts – Ayman the normal person and Ayman the dancer. If you want me to be healthy you need to weld the two parts together… I will never stop dancing as long as I live.”

Ayman is the only male Arab at his dance school and he is less experienced than most. Ayman acknowledges that he is used to being different, being brought up in a small village in Galilee where boys play snooker or football and only girls ballet dance.

Growing up, Ayman began to dance in secret. He danced in his room and he was afraid that someone would come in and see him – especially his father, who was traditional and old fashioned in his beliefs.

For a time the only person who knew that Ayman wanted to dance was his mother; however, when Ayman’s father was told about his son’s dancing he eventually said “if you really want it go for it.”

Ayman’s first experience of learning dancing was terrible. He was mocked “it really hurt me.”

Ayman’s father also was taunted, for example people would say that his son’s dancing wasn’t masculine. But “today these same people are jealous that I have a boy like Ayman and now nobody says anything bad to my face.”

Reluctantly Ayman gave up ballet until he was ‘spotted’ dancing the traditional Arab dance debka at a local concert. At the end of last year Ayman’s parents agreed that he could study ballet.

Ayman’s dancing mentor said that the first time she saw Ayman she realised he was very special. The love of ballet has overcame differences, including the fact Ayman is Arab.

“I am a person and I believe that we have to be together- the Arabs and the Jews,” Ayman said.

Ayman now has a hectic and busy schedule. He feels like his whole life has changed and believes dancing makes him feel complete.

“My whole body lights up when I talk about ballet.”

Ayman is very optimistic about his future, “I think in 10 years time you’ll find me not in Israel for sure… I think I’ll be in London. I dream to be a professional dancer… but first I want to open a ballet school here in the village and you can be sure it will be for boys.”


Copyright 2009 BBC

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