Iraqi dancer Leezan Salam's journey to preserve ballet in a conservative culture

The Baghdad School of Music and Ballet graduate dreams of building her own national team

Iraqi ballet teacher inspires new generation of dancers

Iraqi ballet teacher inspires new generation of dancers
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In the heart of Baghdad, near the neighbourhood of Al Mansour, dancer Leezan Salam is working hard to keep the art of ballet alive.

In a culture shaped by more conservative values, Salam has made it her mission to pass on the tradition of ballet to a new generation of Iraqis.

"My ambitions for ballet in Iraq is to develop more, to increase the number of ballerinas and to have a national Iraqi ballet team," she tells The National.

Salam is a graduate of the Baghdad School of Music and Ballet, an institution with a rich history dating back more than 55 years. Despite this, ballet remains a contentious and often stigmatised art form in conservative Iraqi society. However, Salam is passionate to revive the art, educate the public, and showcase it on a national and international stage.

“After I graduated, I felt I am alone in this art, so [I believe] everyone should learn it,” Salam says.

“I have been encouraged by international groups and teams in Russia, France, Egypt and Jordan. Each country has its own ballet group, so why doesn’t Iraq have a ballet group, ballet team, national team maybe?”

Despite the challenges faced by dancers in Iraq, Salam remains undeterred. After she graduated, she had a desire to share her passion and educate the public and younger generations on the art form.

“I wanted to start looking for the talent, start teaching, open an Academy,” she says.

“And I even want to have ballet classes available in schools, all schools, like any other classes, like sport, music.”

The shortage of suitable facilities for ballet in the region was a constant challenge for Salam and her students. But Salam didn’t give up and was able to work with Cadmus International School in Baghdad as a location to start and grow her ballet academy.

"Now, I am teaching at an international school. This is one of the best things that could happen to us, providing us a place," she explains.

Today, Salam teaches more than 30 students with their ages ranging from 5 –18 years. It’s a development she regards as a significant milestone for her personal dreams and for the Iraqi ballet community.

While there are still challenges ahead for her goals to make ballet a formidable part of the culture scene in Iraq, she is motivated not only by the art form itself but by her students too.

"My students are my motivation,” she says.

“When I see them dancing and doing ballet, they encourage me to continue, to move on, to have more ideas.”

Updated: October 25, 2023, 7:39 AM