DUBAI: Overnight success doesn’t take 24 hours; it takes years of hard work and dedication. But hard work pays off when TV mogul Simon Cowell calls your craft “genius” in front of an average television audience of 6.7 million viewers.
For Lebanese dancer Nadim Cherfan – now founder and choreographer of the dance troupe Mayyas, who have just appeared on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT): The Champions – his journey began 21 years ago at the age of nine.
“(Back then) I knew exactly what I wanted to be,” he tells Arab News. “Unfortunately, in the Middle East at that time the dancing scene was shy, and not many dance schools existed.
“I couldn’t get the proper training at a young age, though I was fully aware of my talent and spent hours daily in front of my mirror in my room figuring out body movements imitating what I watched on TV.”
But perseverance pays off. Relatively unknown a year ago, Cherfan, now 30, is making his mark in the industry, while also creating the opportunities for Lebanon’s next generation of dancers that he didn’t have.
Lebanon’s Got Dance Talent
Mayyas is an all-female group that became Lebanon’s very first champions of Arab’s Got Talent (AGT). Crowned winners in April of this year, it’s hard to believe that the act was only created around nine months ago, prior to AGT’s season six premiere in February.
“(I was 14 when) I started taking classes with professionals in Lebanon and attending workshops in the US, the UK and India,” Cherfan says. “And I fell more and more in love with dancing and I am still falling deeper daily.”
He was 20 when he began to teach others; his first class having only three girls.
“I continued to do so, and have raised a large number of students that have grown with me. Today, 200 students are currently taking classes with me.”
From those 200, Mayyas was born.
“Mayyas was created for Arab’s Got Talent once I made the decision of (applying for) season six,” Cherfan continues. “The crew consists of 50 professional dancers.”
Mayyas captured fans right away after their debut performance on AGT, one of whom was judge and Lebanese singing superstar Najwa Karam who awarded them fast entry to the grand finale with the ‘golden buzzer’.
“You can tell just how much work they put into it,” she said at the time. “I pressed the golden buzzer, because I genuinely, genuinely believe they deserve it.”
Fast forward to the finale, and they were crowned champions by the Middle Eastern voting public.
While the wins were a great moment for Cherfan and the crew, he also admits feeling extremely anxious.
Calling them challenges instead of highlights, he explains: “The golden buzzer and standing ovation; the beautiful comments of the judges, and winning the title itself are challenges, because they are stress and responsibility – in those moments (all I am thinking is) ‘What’s next? How can I do better?’
“But becoming the first Lebanese to win AGT makes me so happy and proud.”
Heading to London
Fast forward a few months, and Mayyas bagged the opportunity to compete in BGT: The Champions, a spin-off of BGT which features notable winners, finalists and participants from across the history of BGT and other international versions of the ‘Got Talent’ franchise.
The group became the first and only act from the Middle East to participate, and the response by the judges and venue’s audience was overwhelming.
“Absolutely genius, brilliant, inventive, (I’ve) never seen a dance like this ever on one of these shows,” stated Cowell, with fellow judge David Walliams commenting: “It was absolutely magical from start to finish. I can totally see why you won AGT. It was just one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on BGT.”
Judge Amanda Holden added: “It was absolutely beautiful – the choreography was so intricate and every single move you made was so precise and so disciplined. You are a fantastic representation of AGT.”
Recalling the experience, Cherfan tells us: “I never thought I would reach this stage in my life. This was an absolute incredible experience for the team, and so satisfying and an honour for us to be the first team from an Arab country to reach this stage and compete against the best acts in the world.”
The future is definitely looking bright for Mayyas, and Cherfan is determined to give them the exposure they deserve.
“I chose a female crew, because I wanted to deliver a message about women’s empowerment as we all know that until now Arab women are still called names for being dancers. I wanted to prove how elegant refined and beautiful dancing is,” he says. “And who’s better than these gorgeous ladies to do so?”
Fresh off their win at AGT, Cherfan revealed that they were to use their cash prize to launch a studio in Beirut. And in a move that demonstrates how Cherfan is keen on nurturing dance talent around the region, he also decided to split some of the prize money with fellow AGT finalists, the Moroccan father-and-daughter team Duo Acrobat.
“The plan isn’t a plan anymore – we’re actually in the process of finishing our school, Mayyas Studios!” he reveals. “These students train twice a week which is not enough if someone’s wants to pursue dancing as a career, but unfortunately in Lebanon and the Middle East, dancing is not considered as a serious career that an individual can live out of.”
Cherfan wants to change that, he says, adding that his ultimate goal would be for Mayyas to front a ‘fawazeer’, a variety show popularised by Egyptian performers Nelly and Sherihan during Ramadan in the 1990s.
“’Fawazeer’ would be the ultimate satisfaction - I hope (AGT judge and Egyptian actor) Mr (Ahmed) Helmy produces one. We would be more than honoured to be part of it.”
As for the solo ambitions of the choreographer himself, his dream goal would be to be part of the team of a certain Queen B.
“I would love to one day choreograph for Beyoncé,” he concludes. “She’s a huge inspiration and amazing dancer, and she’s the number one entertainer in the world.”
Ms. Knowles, if you’re reading… give Nadim Cherfan a call.