Surrounded by little girls and mocked at school when he first tried ballet, it took serious determination for Luca Abdel-Nour to become the first Egyptian prizewinner at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne.
The international competition in Switzerland has been one of the leading showcases for young ballet talent since it began in 1973.
Abdel-Nour, 17, took three prizes, including second overall and the audience award, at the latest instalment in February, and hopes his success can inspire more boys from the Middle East to overcome their prejudices about dance.
Born to a French mother, but growing up in Cairo, he performed in dance and theatre shows with his school as a young boy.
He did not try ballet until he took part in a summer dance school in France at the age of 12 and an instructor told him to give it a try.
“I was like, ummm: ‘I don’t want to do ballet — it’s for girls,’” he said.
However, his mother kept encouraging him and eventually he joined a class in Egypt. He soon realized this was his passion, even if he was the only boy in the group.
“I didn’t really care if there were no boys,” he said. “People at school knew because I was open about it. I would be called names, but I didn’t care. I used to tell them: ‘You do your thing; I want to do my thing.’”
Hard work helped him to overcome his late start and by 14, he had won a year’s scholarship to a dance school in Budapest. The following year, he won a full-time place at the elite Zurich Dance Academy.
This was where things became serious: He had to relearn everything from scratch and overcome two leg injuries in his first year.
However, the work paid off at Lausanne last month.
“When they announced the finalists, I couldn’t believe it. I was on my way home from school on the train and I cried,” he said.
Abdel-Nour has accepted a place in a company, but is not yet allowed to reveal which one.
“Every step of the way was hard,” he said. “It’s hard to leave your family and not see them for long periods of time, but it was all worth it in the end.”
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