Dancer Ahmad Joudeh: From Syria's Ruins to the Dutch National Ballet

Ahmad Joudeh: Dance or Die

Back in 2014, I had the chance to interview, by phone, a dancer named Ahmad Joudeh who was then living under the harshest of circumstances in Syria. At the time, he was cautiously thrilled to have the chance to participate in the Arabic version of So You Think You Can Dance where he did quite well (though he did not win). You can watch his audition below or at

Ahmad was applauded by the judges on the show, particularly legendary dancer Pierre Dulaine who immediately believed in Ahmad's dream and the power of dance to heal. Ahmad recognized Mr. Dulaine's kindness and encouragement during my interview with him which aired on KZSU 90.1 FM in 2014. You can listen to that interview below or at

Judge Pierre Dulaine also spoke to me about Ahmad in a separate interview which you can hear below or at

It was very difficult for Ahmad to return to Syria after having tasted success on Lebanese TV through SYTYCD.  He nevertheless did so and continued to dance despite the tragic circumstances he was witnessing on a daily basis.

Two years later, in 2016, Dutch TV came to Syria and were so touched by dancer Ahmad Joudeh's story that Reporter Roozbeh Kaboly started filming him around Damascus and even went with him to the ancient city of Palmyra where Ahmad Joudeh literally danced in the ruins. That TV report aired on Dutch TV in August 2016.

That Dutch TV report resounded with Ted Brandsen, Director of the Dutch National Ballet.  Funds were then raised to bring Ahmad to the Netherlands, an effort that was spear headed by Nicolas Mansfield, Director of Nederlandse Reisopera.

Ahmad Joudeh (right) with Nicolas Mansfield in Amsterdam

Another TV report soon surfaced in 2-parts, documenting Ahmad Joudeh's journey with sensitivity and courge.  That documentary which aired on Nieuwsuur (Dutch TV) in August 2016. An unexpected outcome resulted from that documentary when, 4 months later, Ahmad Joudeh arrived to Amsterdam--an event that was filmed in Part 2 of the documentary "Dance or Die" which, like Part 1, aired on Nieuwsuur (Dutch TV).  

The video below was taken During the filming of "dance or die" documentary by Roozbeh Kaboly about Ahmad life in Damascus Syria 2016

Shortly after his arrival to the Netherlands, Ahmad began dancing with the Dutch National Ballet.

"This coming Saturday Ahmad Joudeh will have his debut at the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam," wrote Nicolas Mansfield on December 6, 2016.  "His story must be a lesson to us all. That it is good to dream of better things. And that these dreams can become reality. And that through the pain and devastation of war the message of hope will triumph. Many of the so-called 'leaders' of our world are masters of deception, manipulation and injustice. Through his dance Ahmad shows us the real power of peace. In my book that makes him a true hero."

Since then, Ahmad Joudeh--now a Dutch citizen--has performed at countless world events and published a book titled Dance or Die: From Stateless Refugee to International Ballet Star, an autobiographical coming-of-age account of young refugee, Ahmad Joudeh, who grows up in Damascus with dreams of becoming a dancer.

Here are some of Ahmad Joudeh's performances, including a TedXVicenza talk titled 'Dance or Die.'

Ahmad has also been featured on several Arabic language programs in which he spoke in his native tongue about his journey.

نشأ أحمد جودة في مخيم للاجئين الفلسطينيين في إحدى ضواحي العاصمة السورية دمشق. حبه للباليه جعله يواجه مشاكل عائلية واجتماعية كبيرة. لكنه أصر على ممارسة هذا الفن حتى بعد سيطرة جماعات إسلامية متطرفة على الحي الذي يعيش فيه عام 2012. حياة أحمد تغيرت في عام 2016 بشكل متسارع بعد أن أخرج صحفي هولندي فيلما وثائقيا عنه يحمل عنوان "الرقص أو الموت": فقد استدعته فرقة الباليه الوطنية الهولندية في أمستردام ليصبح راقصا في صفوفها. ومنذ ذلك الحين إنطلق أحمد جودة ابن السادسة والعشرين عاما للعالمية.

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