That a ballet school would sprout in conservative Upper Egypt was rather far fetched; that it should exist in Minya which lies 250km south of Cairo and is renowned as a hotbed of Islamic fanaticism, is stunning. Yet the young people of the group Alwanat (literally, Colours) for culture and art were undaunted; they launched the first professional ballet school in Upper Egypt.
Change through art
“We are an independent group of young people with different artistic talents. Our main goal is to breathe life into marginalised communities and to eliminate ignorance and extremism through the dissemination of art, making it an integral part of the lives of ordinary people,” Alwanat founder, Marco Adel said.
Though ballet was introduced to Egypt generations ago, it scarcely went beyond the theatres of Cairo and Alexandria. Starting a ballet school in Upper Egypt was one of the Alwanat team’s biggest dreams, Mr Adel said.
The school’s first batch of students consists of 41 girls and one boy, who are trained by professional ballet coaches. The school accepts students between 4 to 18 years old who meet certain criteria, such as muscle flexibility, according to Mr Adel.
“A lot of people warned us against opening a ballet school in such a conservative part of the country where ballet would be alien to the community,” he said. “But we got an unexpectedly warm welcome and a lot of encouragement from the people of Minya. There was a high turnout of applicants for the school’s first intake, which shows just how deprived the provinces of Upper Egypt have been in many fields.
Mr Adel expressed his hope that the new school would reach international fame.
“Our motto is: We will change through art,” Mr Adel insisted.
Prima ballerina: I’m inviting myself
News of the ballet school in Minya was posted on the Facebook page “Women of Egypt”, a feminist site with liberal views. Visitor response was overwhelmingly and joyfully supportive. Many expressed amazement at Alwanat’s choice of Minya as a place to host the ballet school. Yet they warmly applauded that choice and, more importantly, praised Minya’s people for their vigorous welcome of the school.
A few Minya residents demanded to know exactly where the school was and how they could enrol their children. Fawzia Abd Elkader, a middle-aged veiled woman posted: “Make way, make way, you guys! Minya’s marching towards world renown.”
A jubilant white-haired Holeil Ghali gushed: “What’s that?! Cannot believe it … moved to tears … This is the most important news I heard in the last 10 years at least. For me, more important than the New Suez Canal, the new capital, the 2014 Constitution … This is the area where we should all be working: art and culture. I still can’t believe it … and in Minya in Upper Egypt! Is Upper Egypt taking the lead as it did thousands of years ago?”
But perhaps the most moving post came from none other but Magda Saleh, Egypt’s legendary prima ballerina who was among the first five Egyptian ballerinas to venture into the field in the 1960s. “When I am next in Egypt, I’m inviting myself for a visit,” Ms Saleh who now resides in New York wrote. “That would be awesome,” Women of Egypt commented. “Waiting eagerly!” was Alwanat’s reply.
10 August 2016