Baghdad Ballet School Forges Ahead Despite War

For years, during Saddam's regime, Baghdad was an extraordinary cultural center. Now, in the midst of war, the dream of a better future lives on at Iraq's only school of performing arts -- the Baghdad School for Music and Fine Arts.

Students are practicing for "The Nutcracker," the classic ballet about a young girl who dreams of a magical, enchanted world. For the 20 or so students inside the school's walls, it is a magical world.

One girl told ABC News she wasn't afraid to go to class because in school, she said, "we forget about everything."

That's not easy to do. After the U.S.-led invasion, the school was burned by people who said it should not exist. It has been hit by mortars twice, and yet students still come.

Thikra Monem has taught at the school for more than 20 years.

"You have to keep living," she said. "You have to believe in something, and we believe in ballet."

Leotards and Kalashnikovs

It is probably the only place in the world you can find leotards and guards carrying Kalashnikovs in the same building. Everything in the classroom is donated -- a box of toe shoes just arrived from someone in Switzerland.

Some things are the same -- a proud father looks on from the side of the classroom, while the teacher tells students that their timing can always be better, the pirouettes a little tighter.

This is also one of the few places in Iraq where you can find Sunni, Shiite, and Christian children together -- both boys and girls. Many have dreams of becoming professional ballet dancers.

When it came time to perform, it was not "ballet in Baghdad." It was just "ballet" -- and it was good.

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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