Meet Two Famous Arab Ballerinas Taking the Arab World by Storm: Samira Alkhamis and Engy El Shazly!
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of both Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Perhaps, it is Arab culture, food, deserts, pyramids, or large cities? How about two young female Arab ballerinas making waves in the Arab World? My guess is that was probably not your first thought, but today, we are going to meet two rising star ballerinas from the Arab World! Meet, Saudi Arabian ballerina, Samira Alkhamis, and Egyptian hijabi ballerina, Engy El Shazly.
These two women are making huge strides in the representation and inclusion of Arab women in the beautiful and ethereal dance of ballet. They are both famous in their individual countries, and Samira and Engy continue to inspire young Arab girls and women to pursue their dreams of becoming professional ballet dancers.
An Introduction to Ballet and Ballet in the Arab World:
The art of ballet is a time-honored dance that traces its origins to the “15th-century Italian Renaissance and later became very popular in both Russia and France.” Ballerinas (ballet dancers) make certain dance movements that portray various storylines usually set to music, and the production involves no talking or speaking. Everything the dancer does is portrayed and acted out through movements of the body, specific ballet steps, choreography, music, along with the stage and set. In general, ballet is more popular in the West, especially with famous works such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake by the Russian composer, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, but were you aware there is a burgeoning ballet movement in Cairo, Egypt?
Ballet is beginning to become very popular in Egypt especially with organizations such as the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, and famous dancers such as Magda Saleh and Fady el-Nabarawy. The art form is also becoming more popular with the younger generation in Egypt, and apparently, it is also taking Saudi Arabia by storm with the performances of Samira Alkhamis!
Who is Samira Alkhamis, “The Saudi Ballerina”:
Samira Alkhamis is a very successful ballerina from Saudi Arabia, and even owns her own studio called “Pulse Personal Training.” She started dancing from a very young age, and Alkhamis comes from a family in which she says has “very supportive of her artform especially since all her siblings dance, too, but Samira decided on making it a career for herself.” Samira has been nicknamed the “Saudi Ballerina,” and through her personal studio, she continues to share the beauty of ballet with her students.
Samira is truly becoming a force to be reckoned with especially since she is only 24 years old, has already performed for “Riyadh Season and in Saudi Seasons, and Alkhamis continues to perform for thousands throughout the world.” In Riyadh Season, Samira “performed with a horse which she has shared has been her favorite dance ever because she had to work with and train the animal” as her dance partner!
For a sample of Samira’s ballet dancing, you can watch videos from her Instagram page here! Samira is making huge strides in the Arab World for the inclusion of female ballerinas and she’s also inspiring young women along the way to fly off in a ‘grand jeté (a ballet step) to chase their dreams of becoming a professional ballerina! Meet her Egyptian and hijabi counterpart, Engy El Shazly now!
Who is Engy El Shazly, the first “Arab hijabi ballerina”:
Engy El Shazly is from Cairo, Egypt, and she is considered to be the world’s first “Arab hijabi ballerina!” She started dancing ballet later than most women being that “she took up ballet at age 27.” Most girls start ballet lessons below the age of 10, so, Engy is considered to be older than most ballerinas, but despite that discovery of loving ballet found later as a young woman, she has blossomed into a wonderful and highly-successful ballerina.
Engy is based primarily in either Dubai or Cairo, but her ballet talents have taken her all around the globe!
El Shazly is also becoming an inspiration for women of all ages who were previously blocked from the ballet arts scene, and she is a symbol for inclusion because as Engy says, “I like to remind women that age is only a number, and we are capable of anything if we have passion and dedication.” Engy’s goal in the future will be to “become a certified ballet instructor.”
Finally, El Shazly tells of the many health benefits of ballet, and she encourages all people to try it and for those who have always dreamed of dancing, to get up, put some ballet shoes on, and start learning! If you want to pursue those dreams, be like Engy, don’t hold back, and go for the gold!
Conclusion: The Ballet World, Inclusion of Arabs, and What’s Next:
Samira Alkhamis and Engy El Shazly are just two of the up-and-coming ballerinas from the Arab World. There are others who have become famous in their own right, but why is it important that the art form of ballet is beginning to incorporate dancers from Arab backgrounds?
The answer is simple because it revolves around representation. Ballet is a type of dance and art that is loved around the world, but up until very recently, it was not popular in the Arab World, and the success of Alkhamis and El Shazly has allowed for young girls and all women who have dreamed of stepping into that tutu an opportunity and chance to perform and pursue their dreams. The growth of ballet has also allowed for Arabs to receive increased representation in the mainstream, but there is still work to be done.
El Shazly has mentioned that “the hijab is not yet accepted in the professional ballet companies,” so until that point happens, some Arab women will not be fully represented, and it is our hope that these companies will change their minds sooner rather than later.
Finally, Alkhamis and El Shazly serve as role models and reminders that success in ballet is possible for Arab women throughout the world!
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