Freedom to move

Abady Alzahrani had never danced before coming to Dalhousie.

“You weren’t allowed in Saudi. Growing up there meant there were so many restrictions on what you could and could not do, that’s why I wanted to come to Canada.” Alzahrani, who grew up in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia and had never before been away from his family, arrived in Canada in 2008. The move was a life changing experience says Alzahrani, who studied commerce and marketing management at Dal and secured a job in his field before graduating thanks to a co-op placement. But it was the life he built around his studies  that helped him become the person he is today.

“It has been quite the adventure,” Alzahrani says. He had worked in Halifax marketing agencies for the past seven years, teaching dance on the side for the last five. In December, he opened House of Eights Dance Co. “I had got to the point where I was half invested in each side of my life but not but not fully invested in either. I had to choose, and decided to go full-tilt into this and see where it goes.”

Alzahrani discovered dance at Dal. He wanted to become healthier but hated the gym, and thought the Dalhousie Dance Society sounded like a fun way to get fit and make some friends. “I took a beginners class and within one year they bumped me up to their advanced class, because I picked things up so quickly,” he says. “Within a few years I was going to New York and Los Angeles to train. Soon I was teaching at a bunch of different studios in town.”

At House of Eights, Alzahrani has hired on some of the friends he made at the Dalhousie Dance Society, with one teaching Bollywood classes, and another teaching the studio’s most popular classes, K-Pop.  Alzahrani brings star dance teachers from across North America to run workshops, another huge draw for the local dance community.

“What Dal gave to me I wanted to provide to everyone in the city, an opportunity to dance,” he says. Offering a variety of drop-in classes in non-traditional styles for adult dancers makes House of Eights unique in Halifax (it’s an approach more common in bigger cities). You can also take CannDance, an improv class where participants are invited to get high before class. “As far as I know, it’s the first class of its kind in Canada, possibly even the world,” says Alzahrani.

“I fell in love with Halifax very quickly when I moved here, and Dal was such a great environment for me to come out of my shell in so many ways. I became more comfortable with myself, I came out of the closet and became more confident,” says Alzahrani. “I’ve always felt like an outsider growing up. Being at Dalhousie was such a positive experience for me, and helped me discover and live my dreams.”