Abduol Nazari: Dancing from Jaghori, Afghanistan to Athens, Greece
Abduol performing at Athens Festival Peiraios 260 in 2014. Photo by Lida Touloumakou.
Abduol Nazari is a dancer well versed in modern and improvisation techniques. Abduol was born in Jaghori, Afghanistan where he lived for ten years before he fled to Iran in order to work on construction sites to support his family who had stayed in Afghanistan. Around that time, he lost his mother, one of his sisters, and thirteen classmates his age when the Taliban attacked his home and his school in Jaghori. After eight years living in Iran and as the situation worsened for all Afghans there, he decided to make the difficult trip to Greece in order to continue supporting his remaining family as best as he could.
In 2009, for the first time, Abduol encountered dance. This is the story of how Abduol became a dancer.
When did you learn to dance?
The first time was in Greece. I never danced in Afghanistan. My first time dancing was in 2009 with passTRESpass led by Despina Stamos and Panagiotis Andronikidis. They had come to look for people to participate in their dance workshop at a language center where I was learning Greek, actually. Because I didn’t speak Greek very well at that time, I tried to find ways to communicate with my body. At around that time, passTRESPass had an open call for dancers, so I went.
Abduol (far left) performing with passTRESpass. Photo courtesy of the modern dance awareness society.
What was your first dance performance like?
My first performance was in 2009 with passTRESpass. In 2013 I performed at the Athens Festival. It was a strange feeling for me. It was the experience of being free and unattached.
Why didn’t you dance in Afghanistan?
I left Afghanistan at age 10. In my area, it wasn’t okay for men to dance. That was in Jaghori. At the beginning when I arrived here in Greece, I was very shy. But then I began to free myself when I moved my body. Dance gives me freedom. In my community, it doesn’t seem like many Afghan people are ready to accept people moving. But for me, it’s an expression of problems of everyday life to my fellow Afghans. I would like to be able to see that other Afghans can also dance freely the way I do. Right now, it’s both Greeks and Afghans that would come watch me perform, but more Greeks know about me as a dancer than Afghans.
Do you like to dance with other people as well?
I don’t dance in couples. I’m at Elliniko Refugee Camp as an interpreter, but one time a Greek woman was doing a dancing workshop and I helped out. That was the one time I danced with a woman. But the community thought it was strange because there was contact involved. They asked, “Why is he touching a woman?” They asked if she was my wife. They didn’t like that my dance partner was a woman.
There was another time at Nowruz (Persian New Year) that I danced with a woman at a celebration. But, no one recognized that I was Afghan, so it wasn’t really a problem. The shape of my eyes makes people think I’m Chinese a lot of the time.
I’ve never danced with an Afghan woman, but I have danced an improvisation duet with a Persian woman wearing a hijab. I think when women live here for a long time after leaving our country or neighboring countries, they get used to the Greek traditions and culture. So that means sometimes women stop wearing the hijab, or it becomes okay to dance. For example, there was an Afghan woman visiting from Canada where she had lived a long time that came to do theater. She could also dance.
I don’t meet up with Afghans that often to dance. Sometimes I participate in traditional dances for weddings and celebrations for Nowruz and things, but mostly I do modern dance and improvisation.
Panagiotis Andronikidis of passTRESSpass lifting Abduol into a spin in a contact improvisation-inspired dance duet called “roots" performed in July 2016. Photo by Nadir Noori.
Are you working on new dances now?
I’m actually learning acrobatic and aerial dances now. I love it. I’ve also been doing some theater. I really enjoy theater because it’s a different kind of opportunity to express my journey and how the body and speech can interpret daily life.
Abduol practicing aerial dance. Photo courtesy of Abduol Nazari.
If you could share one thing about your experience of dance with the world, what would it be?
I would want to communicate that we should all be one. Life isn’t only work. If we have problems, we should show them. If in our country – Afghanistan – we have problems, we need to find a way to solve them with dance and theater. For me right now, the problems and solutions I’m expressing in my dancing is what it’s like to be in a foreign country.
You know, when people asked me, “Why do you dance with women?” I said, “Above all, we are humans.” And that’s important to communicate. I couldn’t in Afghanistan, so I will do it here in Greece. I feel free to do it here.
Abduol leaping near the Greek coast. Photo courtesy of Abduol Nazari.
Many thanks to Abduol Nazari for sharing his story and to Panagiotis Andronikidis for his interpreting (Greek-English) support in writing this article.