The ballet dancer from Syria

Ahmad Kasem Al Omari is the dancer who fled army service in Syria. Now he struggles to realize his dream of living on the dance. First goal to enter the Ballet Academy.

Text Ida Kjällquist, photo Saga Berlin

Ahmad Kasem Al Omari is the dancer who fled army service in Syria. Now he struggles to realize his dream of living on the dance. First goal to enter the Ballet Academy.

In Sweden, he feels he faced incomprehensible asylum policies, asylum accommodations being closed down, and a system that was hard to make any sense of. In May, he’ll be auditioning at Balettakademin, to follow his dream of making a living from dancing, and forming his own dance company.

How did you discover dance?

– I started dancing when I was 14 years old. I first came across dance through the best dance troupe in Syria. I saw them on television, and one day, I saw that this group was looking for dancers. They didn’t care if you had a background in dancing or not, as long as you had some ambition and drive. I auditioned, and it went well! Out of the 200 people who auditioned, they chose 40, and I was one of them. This was my first time dancing for real. We did a lot of shows, in different countries, and we did a lot of travelling. We danced ballet, contemporary, and folk. Then, I stopped dancing for three years, while I was a refugee. Ahmad speaks of Syria before the war; an amazing country to live in. But when the war arrived, there was a ban on dancing and playing music. Today, nobody from his dance group is still in Syria. They’ve all had to flee, and are spread out in different countries.

What was it like for you to come to Sweden?

– When we first came to Sweden, we had nothing to do, so we began dancing again. There was a space in the place where we lived, which they let us use as a studio. I wanted to get a troupe together, and put on shows, which I explained to the owner of the hotel. We created a short show, and the audience really enjoyed it. Many of the people who came to see us thought that we were really good, and ought to go on tour. They began helping us arrange the logistics for a tour, but then the accommodation was closed down, and we were sent to different places, so the group fell apart.

In Gusum, Ahmed met the illustrator Marit Törnqvist, who listened to his story and helped him out with a lot of things. In the summer of 2015 Ahmed finally got the residence permit he’d been waiting for.

What’s the difference between the dance scene in Syria and the dance scene in Sweden?

– It’s hard to get good at dance and get to dance for a living in Syria, but the actual dancing is freer there. In Syria, you see expressions, and life, when people dance. I don’t see that same life in dance here, especially not in the faces and the expressions of dancers here in Sweden. At first, I thought everybody was afraid and worried that they wouldn’t be good enough, but I think it’s just a tougher scene here in Sweden, because people know they have a chance at being professional dancers. Nobody thinks that in Syria, there just aren’t as many opportunities there. I want to learn from dancers here in Sweden, because now I have a chance to get to dance for a living.

What’s your life in Sweden like now?

– I don’t have anybody from my family with me, but Marit has been a great help; she got me in touch with Tessan at Scenskolan Fejm and Subtopia. I really like Stockholm, there’s so much to do here and so many opportunities to dance. Here, I can dance every day, and get to know people and learn Swedish. I used to have a lot of problems with the migration authorities, and I wanted to get back to my family in Lebanon. But now, I’ve started a life here in Sweden, and I don’t want to go back. I’m in contact with my family, and I’d like for them to come to Sweden, but it’s very difficult now that nobody from Syria can receive a permanent residence permit.

What are your dreams and plans for the future?

– It’s very hard for me to say what my future will be like. When I was in Syria, I made money from dancing, but today that feels a very long way off. My plan is to audition for Balettakademin, and try to get in there, but it’s very expensive, and I’m worried about how I’ll be able to pay the money back. But I love to dance, and I really, really want this. My biggest dream is to found a big dance company here in Sweden, with lots of dancers. I want to dance with others, choreograph, produce shows, and tour the world.