Ahmad is a 24 year-old-Syrian dancer and model based in Paris, interviewed by Yeocheva Gabbay in November 2020.
“From a very early age I have felt connected to music. But I really got into dance when I was 15. I was playing basketball at a national level from the age of 7 and until the war started. I was then forced to quit and channeling all my energy became challenging. That is why I started breakdancing. My dad introduced me to a hip hop teacher friend. As soon as I saw him dancing, I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do.
Start dancing brought me back to my most enjoyable childhood memories. Dance makes me feel free and give me pleasures that I cannot find elsewhere. It allows me to create a space in which I can fully express myself in all my uniqueness. Above all, dance enables me to be fully present.
I don’t think I have a special talent. I don’t believe in talent. I only believe in spending time doing what you love. We all are talented. Why would you impose limits and obstacles on yourself on top of what society already imposes on us?
Dancing is my favorite way to communicate, especially since I didn’t speak one word of French when I arrived in Paris! Dancing helped me feel as if I belonged to French society, even when I could not communicate verbally. I was lucky enough to have a family that has always been supportive for me to do what I love. Even if back in my hometown, dancing was not considered as something “manly” enough. I worked on changing this view when I was teaching dance there.
When I first arrived in France at the age of 19, I struggled with my national identity. I wondered then if I should tell people I am from Syria. Imagine arriving as a refugee and automatically being seen as a burden to society. You would prefer not to be noticed, and work to make yourself small. I even asked myself if I should change my name. Among my friends, some changed it. Should I do the same and become François or Jean-Pierre? I decided not to. I strongly believe that telling your story remains essential in life and allows people to communicate across differences. I wanted people to accept me as Ahmad from Syria.
The same way I influenced people’s views on dance in Syria, I have continued shaping this path towards open-mindedness by keeping my name.
After two years in France, I reached the point of really accepting myself. I have been so happy here. Many doors opened for me and I have experienced things that would have never been possible in Syria or elsewhere.
I feel like I hold an important responsibility towards society as a dancer but also as a human being in a context where we are more and more divided. I find it quite paradoxical how much easier it is to send a message on Instagram than to talk to a stranger in-person.
My responsibility can be something small like making children smile when dancing on the street.
I also really want to acknowledge that there are hundreds of “Ahmad” in Syria, whose stories are not being told. I recently spoke to a friend who is still there. He told me: “ You know Ahmad, they always say you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s been eleven years and we are still not able to see it”.
I want my friends and people back in Syria to know that we are not forgetting them. We are looking for a way to help, and giving them back hope is what matters the most for me today. They need people to reach out to them. If given the opportunity, I would love to spread their words and stories and share this message of hope. I do believe I’m already on this path through dance. I’ve never hidden where I came from, and have always considered dance and hip hop as the most efficient tools rooted in peace, love, unity and fun”.