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Abady Alzahrani was born in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Though his mother and father were living in Saudi Arabia when he was conceived, the Gulf War was waging and the couple did not want to give birth to their son amongst such conflict. Instead, Alzahrani’s mother gave birth in her home country of the Philippines, where Alzahrani stayed with family members for the first year of his life. After things settled down back at home, Alzahrani’s parents returned for the young boy, who spent the rest of his childhood growing up in Saudi Arabia.
But even as a young boy, Alzahrani didn’t feel like he belonged in such a religious environment, and felt out of place at his conservative public school. He was the only mixed-race student in his school, and to top it off, he was keeping a huge secret. Alzahrani was gay and couldn’t let those around him know for fear of persecution. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by law. Alzahrani knew he could never truly be himself as long as he stayed in Saudi Arabia.
When he turned 17, Alzahrani decided to take a chance and start a new life for himself in Canada. He enrolled in the Marketing Program at Dalhousie University, said goodbye to his family, and started fresh in the city he now calls home.
“When I moved to Halifax in 2008 I didn’t know anyone so it was a fresh start,” Alzahrani explains. “It was my first time in Canada and I was super happy with my choice.” Alzahrani says he chose Canada because everything he had read about the people and the culture aligned with what he wanted for himself. Though it was scary, Alzahrani says he was lucky to be welcomed by fast friends.
As he settled into his new home, Alzahrani began to feel more comfortable in his own skin. He says people embraced him for who he was, regardless of his race or sexuality. “To take this really big step and then be welcomed and comforted by the people of Halifax was huge for me,” he says.
Dance was something Alzahrani stumbled into by chance, never imagining the role it would come to play in his life. Looking for an alternative to the gym, Alzahrani decided to check out Dalhousie’s recreational dance program as a way to stay active and meet new people. From the very first class, he found himself falling in love.
“I was advancing much more quickly than I expected, and everyone was encouraging me,” he says. A background in martial arts gave Alzahrani a strong foundation to build upon, and he quickly progressed to more advanced lessons. It didn’t take long for Alzahrani to realize his passion for dance had been hiding just under the surface.
Though he had seen dance videos online and on TV growing up, it wasn’t something Alzahrani had considered for himself. “It’s not something people do in Saudi, especially men,” he explains. “So moving here provided me with the confidence and opportunities to jump into it fully.”
A place to belong
As the years went on, Alzahrani worked to master his craft, spending countless days and nights in the studio, travelling to attend dance workshops, and soaking up as much knowledge as he could. “Most people usually dance from the time they are two or three years old,” says Alzahrani. “So I wanted to dance as much as I could to make up for lost time.” Alzahrani’s dedication paid off and he began teaching classes throughout the HRM, sharing his skills with the next generation of dancers.
In January of 2019, Alzahrani opened House of Eights Dance Studio, the only studio in Nova Scotia to offer drop-in classes for adults. Alzahrani says his goal was to create a welcoming space for adults who are late getting into dance as he was, or who have been away from the dance community and are looking to get back into the swing of things. “I love Halifax so much, and we have a lot of talent here,” says Alzahrani. “The city deserved to have a space and community for adult dancers to prevent them from immediately leaving for Toronto or New York because of the limited opportunities here.”
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The studio has been a huge success, seeing over 600 visitors already this year. Recently moving to their new location at 1717 Barrington Street, House of Eights is a safe and welcoming space for dancers 13 and up to create and move together, with a key focus on building confidence.
“The ‘House of’ naming convention comes from the world of drag, and represents a space for people who have been rejected from the community to feel safe and be who they are together,” explains Alzahrani. “I wanted the dance studio to be a home for people.”
We still have work to do
While most of Alzahrani’s experiences in Halifax have been overwhelmingly positive, he knows no city is perfect. Alzahrani has still experienced homophobia in the city, and wants Nova Scotians to continuously strive toward becoming more accepting and loving.
“Growing up in an environment where acceptance and love were lacking, I feel like I need to make an extra effort to make sure people feel accepted and loved in my community,” says Alzahrani. “Remember, you don’t know where someone is coming from or what someone is going through. Always try to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. If everyone keeps that in mind, the community will be made better for it.”
Fast Facts with Abady Alzahrani
- Age: 28
- Hometown: Manila, Philippines
- Currently Living: Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Studio: House of Eights Dance Studio
- Favourite style of dance: Jazz Funk
- Favourite musician: Lady Gaga
- Favourite snack after a dance lesson: Pizza
- Instagram: @abadya & @houseofeights
House of Eights Dance Studio (1717 Barrington Street)
- Two week unlimited intro offer for first-time customers: $30
- Drop in fee: $15
- Additional pricing available online at Houseofeights.com
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