Conversely, few dancers have had as traumatic and dangerous a path to reach professional status. Born in 1990 in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, he was on the frontline as the Syrian civil war raged around him.
In a culture that saw dance as only for women, and even then, viewed with suspicion, he faced fierce societal opposition and his father’s anger.
That he has achieved so much is a tribute to his tenacity, talent and great passion for dance.
The struggle to be a dancer, especially for boys, is well documented, but Ahmad believes that dance found him. His father was a musician and taught him to sing as a child.
At the age of eight, he performed at a school festival and saw a group of little girls dancing ballet to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
“It was very basic, but I wanted to dance like them. I believe dance is for everyone – not just girls. Swan Lake is famous in Syria, like everywhere, so I found the music and tried to teach myself but I had to keep it secret from my father.”
At 16, and self-taught, he auditioned for the Enana Dance Theatre in Damascus. “I think they liked me because I was tall”, he said. The Russian ballet mistress, Albina Belova, recognised his potential and while performing with the company he received formal training in ballet.
At 19 he was able to enrol at the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts. All the while he faced his father’s disapproval and one beating was so severe his leg was nearly broken. “A man dancing ballet is the worst thing in the Arab world.”
When the family moved to the relative safety of Palmyra, he stayed on in Damascus living for two months in a tent on the roof of a damaged building to continue his studies.
He was rewarded by graduating as the top dance student in his year.
While studying, he continued to dance with Enana, touring throughout the Arab world. It was the Arab version of So You Think You Can Dance in 2014 that brought him to public notice, gave him family approval and changed his life.
Dutch journalist, Roozbeh Kaboly, saw Joudeh’s photograph on Facebook and went to Damascus to film him dancing in the ruins of Palmyra – a highly dangerous venture for both of them.
However, nothing would prevent Ahmad from dancing. He has a tattoo on his neck that says: “Dance or Die”. He reckoned that if ISIS captured him they would see his defiant message if they chose to behead him.
The video was viewed by millions across the globe on YouTube after it was screened first on television in The Netherlands. Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet, saw it and was captivated by this dancer who showed such total commitment. He set up a fund that raised €25,000 to bring Ahmad to Amsterdam on a study visa.