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Redefining Dance in Egypt & the Arab World: A Conversation with Layla Ghaleb

ELLE speaks to co-founder of Goodspace Layla Ghaleb on her journey with dance in Egypt

Layla Ghaleb
Photo Credited to Sarah Hesham Marey

Be it through an art form or a sport, self-expression is a vital part of the human experience. Often looking for resemblance in the environments surrounding us, we turn to art, books, movies, or the simple inclination to move one’s body to the beat of a fun song. For Layla Ghaleb, dance serves both as a medium of expression and a journey of self-discovery. 

In honor of International Dance Day, ELLE speaks to international dance choreographer and teacher Layla Ghaleb on her beginnings, choreographing the inaugural FIFA halftime show, and the future of dance in Egypt.

 

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A post shared by Layla Ghaleb (@laylaghaleb)

FIRST FINDING THE BEAT 

Ghaleb’s journey into the world of dance began in her childhood when her mother enrolled her in ballet classes. Reflecting on those early days, she remarks, “I think ballet primed me in a way.” She recalls, “I have a very prominent memory of my teacher standing in front of the class bowing at us at the end of a lesson.” 

However, Ghaleb soon found herself drawn to a diverse array of dance forms. “I used to have Melody Hits and Mazzika playing around the house,” she recalls. “I would shut the door and dance.”

Later, Ghaleb found herself at Urban Dance Camp in Germany at the ripe age of 16, “I went to dance camp and it did not go how I thought it would. I was 16, my level was not the best yet. I stayed for two weeks and I was completely heartbroken. I thought I would travel and tear the room up, be the best. It’s safe to say I was humbled.” 

Despite the initial setbacks, Ghaleb persevered in her pursuit of dance. “I’m self-taught,” she affirms. “I wasn’t even part of a community or training with a group. I still I had a long way to go compared to other professional dancers and teachers who have been training 100x more than I was because they had more ressources.” But Ghaleb did not give up, “I spent the year after I came back from Germany training for the next year’s camp.”

The second time around, the choreographer found herself arriving with a completely different perspective. She now had a goal and a point to prove to herself, having worked so hard the year before, she began elevating her skill level and improving.

Upon returning home, she had new-found opportunities and doors opened for her because of her experience at the camp. “Having danced alongside these esteemed instructors for two months, I had something new to offer.” she reflects, “I started teaching. I was more excited, I had traveled and taken classes with a lot of established choreographers in the world.”  

CREATING A GOODSPACE

“When I returned from Germany, Shoukry (my partner) and I found ourselves teaching in multiple studios across Egypt,” Ghaleb shares. “I truly believe that we played a significant role in shaping the dance community in Egypt into what it is today.”

As with many things, Ghaleb’s plans were sidetracked by the pandemic. “My goal was to start teaching internationally, and I had actually done it by touring Europe and multiple Arab countries, but then COVID hit. My plans were naturally put on hold.”

 

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A post shared by GOODSPACE STUDIOS (@wearegoodspace)

“Of course, I had dreamed of having my own studio in Egypt, but I hadn’t planned on doing it at that moment. I had envisioned it happening now as I approach my 30s,” she reflects. “We opened Goodspace three years ago, in May 2021. Shoukry and I have been best friends for years. We started with the studio, a few months later came the agency, and then we ventured into organizing dance events. Soon, we’ll be launching a ballet academy.”

Goodspace was the first dance entity to be nominated at Egypt’s Entrepreneur Awards (2023) under the Art to Business category. “I think it was a big deal that we started having people look at the dance community in that light, that some of us are entrepreneurs and business people as well as creatives.”  

ON CHOREOGRAPHING FIFA & MORE  

A groundbreaking milestone in Ghaleb’s career: choreographing the first-ever half-time show in FIFA history. Under the direction of Aly Al Araby and featuring Wegz as the singer, this historic performance boasted an Egyptian-led crew. Reflecting on this momentous occasion, Ghaleb proudly recounts, “I choreographed the first ever half-time show in a FIFA final in the history of FIFA. Ezz El Arab was the director, Wegz was the singer, and I was the choreographer, and it was a mainly Egyptian crew.”

 

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A post shared by Layla Ghaleb (@laylaghaleb)

The choreographer also worked on the opening ceremony of the Asian Cup held in Qatar in 2023. Titled The Lost Chapter of Kelileh & Demneh, the ceremony was a dazzling spectacle of color and dance. 

Rapper Marwan Moussa’s iconic Sheraton music video was also a product of Ghaleb’s choreography. It doesn’t stop there, though, among her impressive list of projects is Ahmed Mekky’s Tiger advertisement, Mohamed Ramadan’s Malek El Shar music video, and Adidas MENA’s Club Originals, among many more. 

THE FUTURE OF DANCE IN EGYPT 

Ghaleb emphasizes the importance of ethics in their approach to dance. “Something we’re very big on at Goodspace is how ethical we are. We protect our dancers and their rights, whether it’s their rates, working hours, booking dates, or what they’re going to be wearing,” Ghaleb asserts. “A lot of things that are not normalized in our market, but were very important to Shoukry and me.”

“We don’t compromise our values.” She affirms, “We’ve been players in the dance community and the dance industry as well; I think that gives us a different insight.”

“The dance scene has most definitely evolved in the past few years, from the studios themselves to the classes and instructors.” She adds, “I’m hopeful.” 

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