Syrian ballerina brings touch of grace to streets of Damascus

DAMASCUS – Syrian ballerina Yara Khudeir is on a mission – to bring some peace and beauty into the lives of her war-weary compatriots by dancing her way through the streets and alleyways of Damascus.

Most onlookers welcome the unlikely sight of the slim, graceful 19-year-old with long black hair pirouetting and twirling through the ancient city. Some stop to film her with their mobile phones or take selfies with her.

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"I want to show the world that Damascus was and will remain a source of arts and always full of love and peace. We must end the idea the world has of us, that Damascus is a place of violence, destruction and killing," said Khudeir.

Her initiative began two weeks ago when she was walking with friends in the old city and started to dance in the street.

She posted her pictures on Facebook and quickly became something of a celebrity in a country in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions driven from their homes.

Khudeir, who comes from the southern Syrian town of As-Suwayda, has faced criticism from some people for dancing in the streets, but many support her efforts.

"Please do not stop because their (the critics‘) remarks are nonsense," a university student who gave his name as Bisher told Khudeir as she danced. "What you are doing is very beautiful…"

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Another passerby, Marah, said Syria needed street art.

"It is a very nice thing… It is art for the soul," she said.

Khudeir said she ignored her critics.

"Of course I sometimes hear some words. But I do not care much about these words. I just think about what I am doing. I do not listen to those people," she said.

Khudeir began learning ballet aged 10 and then became a member of Syria‘s rhythmic gymnastics team. Despite the eruption of civil war in 2011, she continued to perform in her home town and two years ago opened her own ballet dancing club there.

Khudeir said she had decided to carry out her dancing initiative in Damascus because it is the cultural and political heart of the country.

"All arts started here and it is Syria’s center," she said.

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