The dancer and choreographer, Ahmad Joudeh, who grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, has been appointed as an SOS Children’s Villages International Friend.
Ahmad plans to use his fame as a ballet dancer to draw attention to the needs of vulnerable children and share his skills with children in SOS Children’s Villages programmes.
“Dance can create strong personalities. Children can use their energy and connect with each other. Dance can teach them how to help and understand each other,” he says.
Ahmad literally risked his life to become a dancer. A television documentary telling his life story, ‘Dance or Die’, won this year’s International Emmy Award for best art programming.
Ahmed studied dance in Damascus and taught ballet to earn a living. He was just 21 when the Syrian civil war started in 2011.
Not only did he encounter life-threatening situations and lost five members of his family, extremists threatened him simply because he was a dancer. In defiance, he had the words ‘Dance or die’ tattooed in Arabic on the back of his neck.
Ahmad saw many children being shot. After witnessing the death of a neighbour’s daughter, he decided to take action.
I was in shock for a while, then I decided to do something about it. I had no power, no money, I only had dance
Ahmad approached SOS Children’s Villages in Damascus and offered free dance classes.
“At first, they laughed at me, saying ‘we are in the middle of a war, and you want to dance?’. But for the next two years, I held classes for the children. I used dance to help them overcome their traumas. Many of them had seen their parents being tortured.”
Ahmad explains how at first the sounds of the planes and bombs dropping in the background would cause the children to scream and panic.
“After a while, I could sense the change. When they heard the bombs, they did not care. They would focus on the music and on the dancing. That’s what I wanted them to do. To look on the bright side of life.”
In October 2016, Ahmad Joudeh moved to Amsterdam with the help of the Dutch National Ballet. In the Netherlands, he continued his support for SOS Children’s Villages by performing at several fundraising concerts for Syria and participating in charity events for refugees.
In November 2018, he held a ten-day dance workshop at the SOS Children’s Village Vicenza, in Italy, which culminated in a performance at the city’s theatre.
He plans to support SOS Children’s Villages through sharing his message of dance for peace, raising awareness during public appearances, on social media and by holding dance workshops in SOS Children’s Villages around the world.
“I would love to look for talent among the children and help them to create dreams and try to reach those dreams,” he says.