The Queen of Iraqi dance
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Assala Ibrahim was born in Basra and grew up in Iraq. From her early childhood she was surrounded by the rich traditions of Iraqi culture and enthralled by Oriental Dance. Her passion for dance grew with her, but she struggled to pursue her dreams within a conservative and deeply moral society where dance is rejected both as an honorable profession.
Bowing to such pressures, Assala left the University of Baghdad with a degree in Education and returned to Basra to teach in secondary school. In 1993 she had the opportunity to move to Switzerland, where she was at last free to further her studies in Oriental dance and to begin assembling her own researches. She was determined to dance, and to preserve the long and detailed history of her Iraqi dance inheritance.
Traditional and folkloric dances interest her because she believes these are a precious and endangered resource of knowledge and understanding, and the one true path to innovation, creativity, and self-expression in Oriental dance as an art form. She returns again and again to the Middle East both as an eternal and pure source of inspiration, and as a lively, continually replenishing, and endlessly rewarding field of research.
She has also complemented her researches with Western academic study of dance methodology and tuition, and with supporting subjects including Pilates, Yoga, and breathing techniques. Her goal is to see the development of proper teaching techniques and similar analytical study in traditional Iraqi and Egyptian folk dance.
Through her many years’ research and fieldwork in Iraqi dance, Assala has been able to analyse, document, reconstruct, and develop dance styles unique to Iraq, including Raqs el Kawliya (Iraqi Romany, or Gypsy dance), Raqs Benat al Rief (rural, or countryside dance), and the southern Iraqi dance styles of Khashaba and Basrawi.
She has gained a clear and distinctive understanding of the differences and similarities between these types of dance, and she is the first teacher in the history of Iraqi dance to create a detailed dance terminology, one that is not derived from ballet or Western arts, but deeply rooted in Mesopotamian history and Iraqi culture.
Her visionary teaching concept, her unique dance style, and her immense repertoire in Iraqi and Egyptian dance have made her one of the most sought-after dance instructors and performers worldwide. She generously shares her knowledge with her students and is a supportive, kind, and encouraging presence for every one of them.
As a performer Assala has collaborated with many internationally-famous musicians and artists. Highlights of her career so far include tours with two legendary singers - the late Esma Redzepova, Gypsy queen of Macedonia, and the Iraqi Gypsy queen, Sajeda Obied. Since 2003, Assala has been involved with the dance and music project “Beyond Culture” in Switzerland, working with the Ssassa Band. The project works with immigrants, local children, and young people to promote and experience intercultural understanding, respect, integration, dialogue, and joy through music and dance.
Assala Ibrahim is a true ambassador of her native Iraq. Her recipe for success? “I fill my life with dance, and my dance with life.”