In Syria, online salsa class sidesteps lockdown gloom

Damascus (AFP) –


Inside her living room in the Syrian capital, Aline Srouji steps forward and backward at a near-dizzying pace, demonstrating to her students locked down at home how to Salsa.

Performing to a phone camera across the room, the 35-year-old records a lesson she will share on social media networks, more than a month after she first closed her Latin dance school due to confinement measures designed to forestall the pandemic.

Dressed casually in jeans and a black T-shirt, Srouji's heels barely tap the floor when she performs an elaborate and complicated dance to Colombian music.

"We had started this year by seeing a rise in the number of dance students," she tells AFP, from the marble steps of her living room.

"We would have reached more people had it not been for the coronavirus, which forced us to take a step back."

Syria's government has so far confirmed a total of 33 coronavirus cases, two of whom have died.

Srouji opened her school in 2008, three years before the outbreak of a devastating civil war that has killed more than 380,000 people and pushed more than half the country's pre-war population of 23 million from their homes.

She continued her lessons, even at the height of the conflict when fighting raged nearby.

"We never stopped for a single day, despite the hundreds of shells that exploded around us," she says, gesturing towards a group picture of her students, one of whom she says was wounded during the war.

- Lifting the mood -

In a largely conservative society, dance in Syria remains the preserve of the privileged, although several schools exist in Damascus.

The coronavirus pandemic forced Srouji to suspend lessons for the first time, she says, but it hasn't stopped her from teaching.

With residents of Damascus locked indoors, her online lessons are now a hit among male and female students alike, who record themselves dancing to her choreography, sometimes filming more than one take.

They then upload the video onto a private Facebook or WhatsApp group where remarks and suggestions are shared by the instructor.

"This all started as somewhat of a joke," the dance instructor says. "But then we realised that the lockdown is going to last for a while."

Damascus is generally safer than other parts of Syria at this stage of the war.

Srouji still has to contend with slow internet, limited data packages and power cuts that can last up to 14 hours a day.

But she says it is worth it.

By sharing her own tutorial videos on Facebook and Instagram, she has nearly doubled her following.

Her videos have also helped her students stay in shape while confined at home, she says, explaining that Salsa improves blood flow and lifts the mood.

"War has taught us to always look for alternatives," she says.

"So we will continue to dance because it is the only exit from our isolation and it gives us positive energy."