The bank for a changing world

Abou Lagraa's story : Dancer, Choreographer & Dream Up Ambassador

  • 18.03.2016

I was exceptionally proud and enthusiastic when the BNP Paribas Foundation asked me to be the ambassador for its new Dream Up programme for the next 3 years. It’s a great honour. During this period, Dream Up will enable not-for-profit associations operating in 26 countries on 5 continents to give access to education, through artistic practice, to disadvantaged children. This is something that really strikes a chord with me, in part because I think it’s an intelligent and generous initiative, and also because it directly echoes my own journey. By working with dance workshops in these centres and in schools, I’ll have the chance to introduce them to a universal language, a language of the body that everyone can use, regardless of their age, language, socioeconomic background, level of education or even their disability.

I’ll have the chance to introduce them to a universal language, a language of the body that everyone can use, regardless of their age, language, socioeconomic background, level of education or even their disability. 

Abou Lagraa's childhood

As a French dancer of Algerian origin, it took a lot of determination to get to where I am today. I was born in Ardèche to Algerian parents, in a Muslim family, with very little money. I’ve had dancing in my blood since I was a child, but I started late, at the age of 16 and a half, without daring to talk to my father about it (for a long time, I’d been telling him that I was going to handball practice)... I was so fascinated that I was practically still doing the splits in my sleep! For years, my mother was the only person who supported me in pursuing my passion. Right up till the day that I had to “confess”, because I had been admitted to the National Conservatory of Dance in Lyon... When my parents came to see me, it was both a shock and a source of pride for them that their son was part of such an elite institution. I’m a bit of an Algerian Billy Elliot from Annonay!

©Charles-Henry Frizon / CAPA PICTURES

His knowledge transmission and success within the Dream Up project 

Achievement and fulfilment through artistic creation evokes many things for me... And I want to convey this sense of potential to the young people I meet, to break down barriers, to open doors, and to discover young talented people from all around the world. Dance is first and foremost about hard work, but it’s also about confidence and luck. I was given this sense of confidence, and I’ve also been very lucky. That’s also why I named my company “La Baraka” (Luck) when I created it in 1997. And then everything came together very fast, a sign that it really is possible!

In 2009, I received the award for best international dancer at the Movimentos festival in Wolfsburg. As a result of this recognition, I’ve become an example for certain people, which is definitely a good thing, even though I don’t like it when people label me in terms of my origins. I like to mix things up, and it’s not an accident that I work with fusions between classical dance, hip hop, and modern dance, to renew the genre with each of my creations. For 10 years, the BNP Paribas Foundation has played a very important role in the development of my work and my dance company, and it’s natural for us to continue our journey together.


It’s also a great joy for me to show the children and adolescents who are benefiting from Dream Up that, through art, you can become somebody, develop your personality, meet new people, improve yourself, educate yourself, and forge a mindset that will allow you to access things that seem impossible or unthinkable, and I’m speaking from experience here.


through art, you can become somebody, develop your personality, meet new people, improve yourself, educate yourself, and forge a mindset

©Charles-Henry Frizon / CAPA PICTURES

Dance, a universal language

By meeting the young people of Dream Up, I’d like to give them the self-confidence that we all need in order to grow and to dare to move towards what we love to do. Dance, for me, is a formidable vehicle of communication, and even when we don’t speak their language, it can help young people to understand that they have a place, a voice in the world, a way to express themselves, to exist, in spite of everything. Some of the young beneficiaries have already done some dancing before, others haven’t. Getting children and young people to dance for the first time, introducing them to dance – I really love that. I’ve been doing this with my dance company for years. It’s something that requires finesse and tact, a feeling for psychology. Psychology is one of the pillars of dance. Along with hard work, of course!

With Dream Up, it’s not about giving out T-shirts to kids. It’s taking long-term, direct action to help people in need, and I feel completely in tune with that. When money is used to help minorities and disadvantaged people, the associations that receive it are put under the spotlight. I’d like it for this to generate ideas for policy-makers, for it to stimulate people’s consciences. And maybe their choice of vocation too!