Kurdish-Celtic ballet dancer finds inspiration in her ancient heritage

Kurdish-Celtic ballet dancer and poet Leila Lois. (Photo: Ash Koek)
Kurdish-Celtic ballet dancer and poet Leila Lois. (Photo: Ash Koek)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Leila Lois, 31, is a woman of Kurdish and Celtic heritage who is a passionate dancer, dance educator, and poet based in Australia.

"I live in Melbourne in Australia. I moved here three years ago from New Zealand, where I've spent half my life (I spent the other half in the UK). I moved to pursue choreography, dance, and the arts as it has a thriving creative community," she told Kurdistan 24.

Lois was born in Carmarthen, Wales, in the United Kingdom. That area is famous for tales of King Arthur, Merlin the wizard, and the poet Dylan Thomas. "There are old buildings, a castle and a river," she said.

"My mother is from Carmarthenshire in Wales and my dad from Sulaimani originally," she said. "They met in London." 

Lois noted that both cultures have a strong sense of respect for mountains and nature as well as "beautiful legends." 

She has no issues combining her Kurdish and Celtic heritage. 

"As an adult, I really enjoyed revisiting these stories from my childhood, King Arthur and Merlin, Blodeuwedd, owl goddess, from my Welsh side and the legend of Shahmaran, snake goddess, from my Kurdish side," she said. 

"I'm inspired by the strength and the beauty of my ancestral cultures, and many of these legends emerge in my poetry and my choreography."

However, she did not initially know about Leyla Badirkhan (1903-1986), the first Kurdish ballet dancer who lived in Paris and shared the same first name as Lois.

"I have done ballet since my mum took me to my first class when I was five or six. I always danced before this, and my mum knew I'd love dance class. Ballet attracted me because it was just so graceful and beautiful," Lois said. 

"For most of my childhood and teens, I wanted to be a full-time ballet dancer when I grew up, but quickly learned it was an 'all or nothing' vocation, and I wasn't willing to give up all the other academic pursuits I loved."

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As a result, she ended up dancing her way through university while she was studying and was in the University ballet club. "At the end of my degree (in Geography), I knew I wanted to go back to studying dance and applied for a scholarship in postgraduate dance studies in Auckland. I won the scholarship and spent the next few years focusing on my choreography and performance." 

Later Lois qualified as a teacher (in primary school and in dance) and moved into teaching full time "as I want to share my love for dance and learning with others."

Lois now has wide experience in dance education and community dance and has danced professionally with Movement of The Human (Wellington, NZ) and trained with Yellowwheel Dance Company in 2019.

Moreover, she has performed at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in RUSHES and Dance Massive Festival, Melbourne, for Chunky Move's SIMULCAST.

She only found out about the Kurdish ballet princess Leyla Badir Khan a few years ago, but Lois was captivated by her story.

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"I have always loved the Ballet Russes, the opulence of their costumes and sets, and it seemed so fitting that a beautiful, exotic Kurdish princess took La Scala storm at this time. She is definitely a huge inspiration. She was feisty and strong as well as graceful and always championed Kurdish culture through her art."

Apart from ballet, Lois is also into poetry. "I have read and written poetry from a young age and published my first collection, Flesh into Blossom, earlier this year." 

Moreover, she also loves to go on walks by the river and sea, play with her cat and cook Kurdish food, such as dolma, for her friends.

However, Lois has not visited Kurdistan yet. 

"I would love to visit Kurdistan," she said. "I was hoping to visit with my Dapir (grandmother) for Newroz in 2020, then the global pandemic hit. I am excited to experience the celebrations on the beautiful land of my heritage sometime in the not too distant future. 

"It will be such a special trip for me."

In the future, she also hopes to "learn more Kurdish and connect more with my ancestral cultures."

Kurdish-Celtic ballet dancer and poet Leila Lois (Photo: Rumi Shivaz)
Kurdish-Celtic ballet dancer and poet Leila Lois (Photo: Rumi Shivaz)