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Ata Khatab: Dancer, Choreographer, and Dance Trainer

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 18.09.2009:

By Hana Awwad

In 1979, ten years before Ata Khatab was born, Mohammad Ata and two other young men founded a humble dabkeh group. This dabkeh group would later be known as El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe and would later become one of Palestine’s leading dance troupes. Yet, at the time, Mohammad Ata probably had no idea that ten years later he would have a son, Ata. Or that twenty years after that, Ata would be one of El-Funoun’s leading dancers, or, for that matter, that Ata would be This Week in Palestine’s Artist of the Month for August 2009.

Ata first started dancing at the age of six, taking dabkeh classes at the Popular Art Centre’s School of Dabkeh. At the time, he wasn’t very tall, and he wasn’t very talented. He was somewhere between your average dabkeh student, and your below-average dabkeh student. Yet someone, somehow – by mere chance or sophisticated expertise – spotted his immature talent and invited him to join El-Funoun’s Youth Troupe, El-Bara’em. In El-Bara’em, through six years of hard work and dedication, this young dancer’s talent ripened as he climbed higher and grew taller. By the time he joined El-Funoun, the young boy had grown into a young man; a tall, handsome dancer, choreographer, and dance trainer.

Much like his father once was, his powerful moves and communicative facial expressions make his presence on stage an eye-catcher. Ata’s forceful, dynamic presence is impossible to miss during El-Funoun’s performances. He has the ability to give each dance he performs a spirit of its own, portraying resistance and rebellion, happiness and hope, and a wonderful livelihood in each movement. As a choreographer, he has worked with fellow dancers to choreograph some of El-Funoun’s best pieces. His heart and soul are apparent in his choreographies, thus allowing him to speak to a wide array of audiences. While it may take a lifetime to get to know most people, it only takes one performance to get to know Ata. His powerful, forceful nature and warm, humorous spirit are evident in his performances and choreographies. As a dance trainer, Ata has taught dabkeh in Nablus, Askar, Deir Istia, Beit Rima, Alfar’a, Bourin, and Belin, amongst other locations, through projects coordinated by the Popular Art Centre and El-Funoun. For the past several years, Ata has also been teaching dabkeh at the Popular Art Centre’s School of Dabkeh, the school where he himself first started to learn. Unsurprisingly, his students are very distinguishable as his own; they carry on his legacy. Somehow, they all seem to inherit his strong movements, expressive features, and striking charm.

An image to remember is that of Ata’s thirty or so students right before they performed at their School of Dabkeh graduation. Backstage, moments before their performance started, they were huddled around Ata in a small circle, with Ata kneeling down so that they were all the same height. Symptoms of nervousness on their tiny faces, they listened intently to his last words of encouragement: “Just have fun and enjoy the performance. You all worked very hard, and you’re all going to be great on stage.” Later that same day, parents, dance trainers, and El-Funoun members would marvel at how impressively that particular group had performed.

Ata’s artistic career is exemplary in many ways. He is a living model of hard work and perseverance. His sociable personality and light sense of humour make him a lovable character, both within El-Funoun and among his young students. His dedication has allowed him to carry on his father’s legacy and pass it on to a new generation of young dancers. His powerful presence on stage has captured the hearts of audiences all over the world. Ata’s talent makes for a force to reckon with on the Palestinian artistic battlefield.

TWIP September 2009

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