The hijabi ballerina dancing to her own tune

The hijabi ballerina dancing to her own tune

The hijabi ballerina dancing to her own tune
Culture & Entertainment

Photo: Nada Mashaal. Image provided by Digital Ink.

It takes passion and willpower to pursue a dream, but for Nada Mashaal, it took a whole lot more than that.

It is a common belief that Millennials are brought up thinking that the world is their oyster. But the minute most Millennials in the Middle East step out of their teens, they face the hard reality of the clash between the region’s “modern” and conservative societies.


For 20-year-old veterinary medicine student Nada, ballet is a passion, though a rare one in her native Egypt. She donned her first tutu at the Russian Centre in Alexandria at the age of 10, but it was years of practice later that she decided to wear the hijab.

“I wasn’t worried that my veil would stop me from dancing; in fact, my teacher’s assistant and role model Sarah was veiled and never made her hijab an obstacle,” she told us. “Ballet is an addiction, and if you keep waiting for the right moment to wear your hijab, you’ll never do it.”

Her family and friends initially discouraged her; Nada said that her mother even remarked that it was another one of her teenage daughter’s “phases”.  “It took me two years to convince my mom that this is what I really wanted and no, it wasn’t just a phase. One day I just wore my hijab and never took it off since.”

Egypt Hijabi ballerina Nada Mashaal

Photo: Nada Mashaal. Image provided by Digital Ink.


For Nada, ballet school wasn’t smooth sailing. First, there was the classroom of non-hijabi peers. While a lot of girls embraced their classmate’s decision, others bluntly looked away in disgust. Nada recalls one girl who blurted out the words “this is disgusting” right to her face. The ballet dancer was undeterred by the disapproving looks and whispers thrown her way, but other problems soon cropped up.

“Costume design was brutal and eventually made my instructor throw me at the back of the classroom. That unwelcoming behaviour made me strive to prove myself to her and force her to include me,” said Nada. It was that attitude that eventually made the young lady at the back of the class a principal ballerina at all the performances of the Russian Centre.

Egypt Hijabi ballerina Nada Mashaal

Photo: Nada Mashaal wearing her ballet shoes. Image provided by Digital Ink.


It wasn’t long before the Russian Centre’s stage and audience became too small for Nada’s dreams, and she moved to the Alexandria Opera House.

“I was worried at first, because this time the audience was significantly bigger and our instructor was a man; I’d have to wear my veil even during practice, something that I didn’t use to do before,” she said. “I was also worried he wouldn’t be understanding, but to my surprise, he was very accepting and encouraging.”

After nine months of training, Nada landed her first performance in front of a wide audience. Received with applause and approval from her audience about her costume and performance, the ballerina now refuses to stop twirling for anything.

In fact, she’s now helping younger generations realise their dreams by teaching children and teens at the Alexandria Opera House on a part-time basis.

“I want to start my own academy to teach ballet as a passion and not as a money-making business,” she said. “I’m currently improving my skills to apply to the Academy of Arts and become a certified ballerina and, eventually, open my own studio.”

Egypt Hijabi ballerina Nada Mashaal kids class

Photo: Kids class. Image provided by Digital Ink.

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