Etang Inyang and Tammy Johnson are the award-winning Oakland, California-based performance duo, Raks Africa. They are big bellied girls doing big things! The pair challenges what bellydancers are supposed to look like. Dancing with ample heart and soul, Raks Africa has been shaking and shimmying together at venues across the country since 2006. Raks Africa is proud to be a part of a dance tradition that embraces the grace and beauty of everyone, no matter size, gender or ability.
Bellydance celebrates the breadth and depth of whole communities of people, men and women, large and small. Raks Africa challenges the stereotypes through their fierce technique, magnetic stage presence and skillful expression of the dance. Their mission is to introduce bellydance to audiences who have limited exposure to the art. They engage, educate and invite audiences to take part in the proud tradition of embracing femininity, culture and power through Raks Sharki, better known as bellydance!
A dancer, writer, and equity activist, Tammy hails from east Tennessee, where she was inspired by her family’s dedication to the struggle for civil rights. As a community organizer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she directed electoral and issue campaigns around public education, election reform, and economic and gender justice issues.
This led to a decade in advancing racial justice values as a trainer, writer and public speaker at the Applied Research Center (ARC). Based in their Oakland, California headquarters, Tammy became widely recognized for her knowledge of racially equitable public policy practices. She authored and edited several reports on racial equity, co-produced Race and Economic Recovery with Link TV, and created ARC’s Word video blog series. Tammy has also been featured in several publications, radio programs and online journals, including The Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post, and ColorLines.com.
Since 2003, bellydance has been a central focus in Tammy’s life. “I love bellydancing because it gets me out of my head and into my body, and enables me to talk about body image, stereotypes, and self-actualization from a very different perspective.” Rooted in the American Classic bellydance style, her dance technique is also heavily influenced by Egyptian Raks Sharki aesthetic. The dance inspires her. “You can’t perform this dance properly unless you are fully present and connected to your body,” says Tammy. “There is no limit to what you are capable of when you have that kind of self-awareness. That is why bellydance is central to the work we do.”
A dancer, educator and documentary filmmaker, Etang was born in Philadelphia where she learned that courage, determination and self-expression are tools of survival from her lesbian single mother and Nigerian immigrant father.
She moved to Oakland after receiving a Master of Arts from Stanford University’s Documentary Film Program. As a filmmaker, Etang likes to experiment with pictures and words and imagination to create kaleidoscopes of expression. Her media work is personal, intimate and lyrical; she explores the multi-layered themes of race, gender, sexuality, identity, representation, sexual violence, body image, and beauty ideals. Her work has been screened at universities, on public and cable television, and at film festivals worldwide. Directing/producing titles include, Badass Supermama, Sister Inside, Swirl Stories and Born in the Body of a Woman.
A third-generation teacher, Etang has worked for 20 years dedicated to youth development, leadership and empowerment. She holds a secondary teaching credential from Mills College. Etang has taught youth throughout the San Francisco Bay Area at MetWest High School, The Museum of Children’s Art, Brighter Beginnings, Southern Exposure and at The East Bay Center for Performing Arts.
Since 2001, bellydance has been a core passion in Etang’s life and she has been captured by the beat of the drum ever since. “Bellydance for me is a gift. When I dance it is an act of self-love and self-acceptance. It allows me to move mindfully. When I dance, I am conscious and grounded. This dance is a treasure that I love sharing.”