Damascus, April 2010
“Being Palestinian, I was born without a land, without a home. I quickly realised that if I was going to make anything of myself, it was going to have to be on my own accord.” World-class dancer and choreographer Jihad Mufleh’s talent has taken him from Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp to stages across the world.
As refugees in Yarmouk in the 1970s, Mufleh’s family had to make do with little. “My mother once bought several yards of fabric which she used to sew curtains, bedding, and pyjamas for our whole family. At night, it was hard to manoeuvre your way around; the whole room was swathed in the same pattern. Deciphering between where my siblings began and where the couch cushions ended was no easy feat,” he laughs.
Mufleh was first educated at an UNRWA elementary school in Yarmouk. He says: “UNRWA is like a mother for us. She is always there, watching over us as we grow and make our way in the world.”
In his mid-teens, at the camp’s annual debka party, Mufleh discovered his passion for dance. He explains: “Music just compels me to move in rhythm with the beat. This was something that came naturally to me, something that I was good at.”
In 1990, he founded the internationally acclaimed Enana dance group. “When I first started Enana, it was hard. Most people did not understand modern-day dance. They asked ‘why is that woman on stage, moving her body in that way?’ They didn’t understand that this was art, this was artistic expression.”
But his vision soon caught on – audiences gave his work rave reviews and the company expanded to include nearly 100 dancers. Enana has produced scores of shows for the stage, TV and film that have been performed all over the world.
Despite their diverse nature, every production is influenced by Mufleh’s Palestinian heritage. He uses the past to express modern-day struggles, such as in ‘Zenobia’, which illustrates the struggle of a people to reclaim their land and live in peace. “Our heritage is something that stays with us. We need to preserve our traditions and look out for one another.”
Enana offers training to young dancers between the ages of 12 and 21, teaching them the skills and technique for the professional art world. He also employs a large staff of Palestinian workers.
When asked whether he sees himself as a role model for the Palestinian community, he does not hesitate to agree. “I have a responsibility to my community. Achieving success is not about amassing frivolous, materialistic things. It is about discovering what drives you in life and aspiring toward achieving your goals,” Mufleh says. “It is my duty to pass this message onto others. My vision for the future is to expand the opportunities for young dancers, Palestinians and Syrians alike, to achieve their dreams. The expansion of a space for artistic expression in Syria is a goal which I will never stop working towards.”
Text by Haley Bobseine
Photo courtesy of Enana Dance Theater