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Syrian Ahmad Joudeh risked his life to teach dance

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By Mark Armstrong
Syrian dancer Ahmad Jouedh
Syrian dancer Ahmad Jouedh

"I have never considered if I want to stop dancing or not, is always even dance or die."

The words of Syrian dancer Ahmad Joudeh, and he means it. For him, dance has been a mission ever since Islamic State militants entered his city on the outskirts of Damascus in 2015.

The civil war had already destroyed his home and killed five members of his family. When the extremists threatened to kill him if he continued to teach children dance, "dance or die" was his answer, tattooed on the neck just where the jihadists wanted to drop their sword.

"When I dance I feel free, I feel complete, I feel I exist and this is the feeling I will fight for," explained Ahmad. "If we don’t keep our country's culture in the what are we fighting for? What are we saving?"

His story impressed the director of the Dutch National Ballet, who helped Ahmad to move to Amsterdam where he is currently studying. On World Refugee Day he performed at the European Parliament, a moment organized by the European Socialists and United Voices 4 peace, that he used to send a message to other refugees in Europe.

"Let’s learn as much as we can, let’s gather the experience because one day our countries will be free and we will be in peace and will need us so this is our mission."