Women of Color Spirit Gathering


Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Photo by Robbie Sweeny


“We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings.” ― Audre Lorde

Women of color can spend a lifetime saying yes to others, giving of ourselves, to our community, to our families and loved ones. Especially in these times, a great deal of our emotional labor is spent enduring the pain of sexist, racist, homophobic and other arrows of oppression thrown our way. We need a place that allows our bodies to rest, to work it out, to move our bodies and spirit toward healing.

The Spirit Gathering is a space to say yes to ourselves and be in community with other women of color. This is a non-structured movement space. There will be no choreography to follow and no instruction on dance technique. It’s just music, movement and you. Just move something!

Where: Ellen Webb Studio, 2822 Union Street

When: Sunday, April 16th 1:15pm – 2:45pm

Who: Self-identified cis/trans/genderqueer women of color. Please respect that this is a community-specific space.

How: There is no fee.

Donations for Girls Raks Bellydance and Body Image Program are welcomed, but not required.

Revolutionary Dancers

We are excited about our Resistance and Revolution production this year because Liberated Bodies in Motion is a theme that is wholly embraced by our guest performers. They bring, not only their talent, skill and creativity to the stage, but powerful stories of defiance, beauty, joy and ancestral promise fulfilled.


Antoine Hunter

In The Root Antoine Antione Hunter calls on our ancestors and presents American Sign Dance, expressing felt syncopation through the body. A Bay Area native, Antoine Hunter is an award-winning African-American Deaf and Hard of Hearing choreographer, dancer, actor, poet and Deaf advocate and the founder and artistic director of Urban Jazz Dance.

monica_high_res_riq_logoEgyptian style bellydancer, Monica Berini presents, Safety Dance, an investigation of the social tug-of-war between traditional and modern healing practices. Berini’s style mixes a long career of professional performing for and with pan-Arab diaspora communities, an ongoing study of the complexities and joys of Egyptian dance, and a love of Arab, North African and Mediterranean music and performing arts. She is also a performing member of Aswat Ensemble.


Ifasina ThaHood Alkemist

With her offering, The Embodiment, ThaHood Alkemist mixes it up with a fusion of hip hop, West African and deep south Black church praise dance. ThaHood AlKemist is a wellness worker and dance teacher. With 15 plus years of dance experience she empowers others, and creates unique dance spaces that challenge external and internalized notions about the way bodies are supposed to look and move when we dance.

ss2With their piece Magical Bodies, the contemporary and hip hop group, Shapes & Shades Dance Company creates something mystical from the struggles with body image and societal pressures. Founded by Megan Briceno this dance company promotes diversity in dance by creating art on bodies of all shapes and shades and sharing it through performance. The group hosts age-appropriate workshops for children to introduce them to dance and body positivity.

Andrea Sendek

Andrea Sendek

Andrea Sendek’s interpretation of Mawood (I’ve been Promised) a tarab song crafted to invoke complex emotion, will be nothing short of breathtaking. She will finish with a pulse raising drum solo. With over two decades of bellydance experience, Sendek has performed and taught across the United States and internationally, including appearances in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, and South America. In 2015 she founded Khepri Dance Company.


Matilda St. John


Jessica Erin Judd

Jessica Erin Judd and Matilda St. John tackle the lure and the lie of an individualist politic and the power of connection in the face of injustice with their piece, System Failure: The Weight of Individualism. Jessica Erin Judd and Matilda St. John have been dancing together with Big Moves, a service organization dedicated to getting people of all sizes into the dance studio and up on stage, since 2002. They are also Co-Artistic Directors of emFATic DANCE, Big Moves’ resident dance company.

Check out these and other great performances at:                                                        Resistance and Revolution: Liberated Bodies in Motion                                                   

Free! Saturday, October 8th, 7:30pm

Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland

RSVP here!

Can’t attend the show, but you want to support Girls Raks?

Great! Find out more here!

Resistance and Revolution: Aiwa!

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Photo by Robbie Sweeny

In the Egyptian Zar spiritual tradition, your jinn is that spirit that is the anxiety, the voice of trickery never leaves you. Unlike Western medicine, that claims to rid you of what ails you with one cure-all or another, this tradition recognizes that we carry trauma in our genes. So you are never rid of your jinn. But on occasion you can, as the Buddhists say, invite it in for tea and discover healing through truth and understanding.

dsc_7852 Through the journey of creating the Zar-based pieces, How is Your Heart (Kayf Haalik?) and this year’s Aiwa! I have found that healing. I have asked myself, “How far, how deep, how wide can this woman say yes to herself?” As a Black woman, society makes it difficult to say yes to the totality of who you are. In this historical moment where we are bearing witness to a particularly commanding expression of Black womanhood, this an especially compelling question. If, in the face of daily transgressions to my very being can I say yes to the whole of who I am? Is this possible to be whole and healed? If so, what does it look like? How does it feel? How does it make me move? What sounds does that healed liberation make?

Robbie Sweeny

Robbie Sweeny

Aiwa! is my story of finding the courage to say yes to the totality of my experiences and to the body that bore witness to it all. Arabic for yes, Aiwa! is an affirmation of self and the claiming of one’s wholeness. Grounded in bellydance’s Berber origins through song, drum and movement, Aiwa! is in essence a liberation ritual. The dance is a healing salve that restores the soul from decades of systemic oppression and intergenerational trauma. Northern African trance-music the Zar, grounds the piece in the notion that there can be no personal evolution or social revolution without healing. Aiwa!

Aiwa and my 2015 piece, How is Your Heart (Kayf Haalik?) are bookends to a series of pieces that will be performed by me and other Bay Area bellydancers in a 2017 production called The Healing Suite.

Check out Aiwa! and other great performances at:                                                      Resistance and Revolution: Liberated Bodies in Motion                                                    

Free! Saturday, October 8th, 7:30pm

Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland

RSVP here!

Can’t attend the show, but you want to support Girls Raks?

Great! Find out more here!

Resistance and Revolution: The Girls Raks Experience

Monica in rehearsal with Girls Raks

Monica in rehearsal with Girls Raks

It was a classic bellydance song. Lushly orchestrated and dripping with drama, Alf Leyla Wa Leyla had our dancers captivated. And we took note. For six weeks, guest teacher, Monica Berini not only taught Girls Raks some cool new moves, but introduced them to this old school groove, and a few Egyptian bellydancers who have shimmied to it. And so their 2016 piece was born.

Meaning 1001 Nights, Alf Leyla Wa Leya is an Egyptian song made famous by Oum Kalthoum, deemed to be the most gifted and loved Egyptian singer of the 20th century in Northern Africa and the region. Much like many of the songs Kalthoum sung, 1001 Nights is a love song ostensibly about two lovers. But also like many of her songs is doubles as a song about love of Egypt and its people.

Girls Raks

Girls Raks

You and me my sweetheart, my life.

Let us live in the eyes of the night, let us live in the eyes of the night.

In a night of love as sweet as one thousand and one night,

They say it is the life.

What is life, but a night like tonight, like tonight, tonight, like tonight.

Girls Raks

Girls Raks

Girls Raks takes the lyrics even further to embrace love of self. Knowing that our society has a way of turning us against ourselves, their performance flips the script and embraces the concept of self-love. This act of love is compelled not by ego or vanity, but by a sincere appreciation for all that we are, our whole beings.

Check out Girls Raks new piece and other great performances at Resistance and Revolution: Liberated Bodies in Motion                                                  

Free! Saturday, October 8th, 7:30pm

Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland

RSVP here!

Can’t attend the show, but you want to support Girls Raks?

Great! Find out more here!

Resistance and Revolution Performances: Debut!


Raks Africa, Photo by Lisa Ellis

Resistance and Revolutions: Liberated Bodies in Motion is a theme that holds a great deal of charge for Raks Africa. That word, liberation, speaks to the core of our work. Liberation is a lived experience, not an intellectual exercise. In these historic times that we are living in we cannot ignore that on a daily basis our very bodies are on the front lines struggles to define our world, our nation and ourselves. Liberation is about the space you fill, the name you choose, the people the love and the unapologetic public expression of self that demands respect. It was in this context that we decided to create our piece for Resistance and Revolution: Debut.


Etang of Raks Africa, Photo by Michael Baxter

Debut pokes a bit of fun at the centuries old tradition of debutante balls. These were grand galas where young women from a socially acceptable family, schooled in the social graces were presented to society and potential husbands. The tradition continues in many “upwardly mobile” communities across the country. And many of its sentiments are deeply intertwined with the broader society’s view of what women are supposed to aspire to today. Just check out the bias present magazines on the newstands or how Olympian medalist Gabby Douglas was treated by the media.


Photo by Michael Baxter

Etang and I know that we are social outliers in many ways. I mean, how many full-figured, Black, middle-aged bellydance duets do you know of? Our lives are filled, by necessity if not by choice, with redefining professional success, family, the presentation of a whole dance genre and womanhood. The alternative to living this way is conformity.  Conformity may give you momentary comfort, but we were not willing to pay the price of self-worth that it demanded. We know that losing pieces of yourself with every compromise is even more painful.

So Debut, is our own special coming out ball of sorts. Like any debutant ball, it includes beautiful ball gowns, sparkles, bright colors, lush music and a statement. And we have a great deal to say, and shimmy about with our coming out.

Check out Debut and other great performances at:                                                      Resistance and Revolution: Liberated Bodies in Motion                                                   

Free! Saturday, October 8th, 7:30pm

Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon St., Oakland

RSVP here!

Can’t attend the show, but you want to support Girls Raks?

Great! Find out more here!


Creative Growth Brings It Home


It’s been a crazy morning. I’ve been hard at it since 7:00 a.m. answering emails, rearranging my schedule, preparing for trainings and moderating a phone conference. After a quick lunch, I’m on my way to downtown Oakland. As soon as I cross the threshold of the Creative Growth Art Center everything changes. The artists greet me with smiles, hugs and unbelievably inventive watercolor, cloth and found-object creations.

Our Programs 250x670For the past two years, I have been teaching a monthly mid-day bellydance class at Creative Growth, which serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities. A quick look around proves that the phrase on their website “providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation and a social atmosphere among peers” is no exaggeration. It’s a place where you can buy the funkiest jeans-turned-tote-bag for a few bucks or witness the transformation of a canvass that would have given expressionist Jackson Pollock a run for his money.

Exhibitions-top-of-page-imageIt’s my job to get them out of their chairs and on their feet. So our classes are more like a dance party, where what is most important is that you move something! Unlike many bellydance classes, half of my students are men who shimmy just as joyously as the women next to them. And whether it is Egyptian walking to an up-tempo Shabby tune or a doing snake arms to a slow takasim, the artists are happy to take a break from a desk full of chalk, stencils and fabric. I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to have fun dancing without an agenda, connecting with them and appreciating their work. I often think of my Aunt Eula, who loved music, braiding hair and making cookies, and who had a developmental disability, as well. I am glad to know that there are now places like Creative Growth that embrace the full humanity of the people who walk through their doors.

JohnMartin300x200-300x198But don’t take my word for it. Check out their current exhibit, Home 2016: Where Horror Meets Hilarity Meets Adventure, a title borrowed from John Martin’s drawing of a Simpsons character gone rogue. The exhibit features new work from more than 50 artists. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Raks Africa gives a special thank you to Studio Manager Julie Alvarado for introducing us to this wonderful organization and Client Services Coordinator Cristina Moraes for assisting us with our monthly classes. You can find out more about the current exhibit here.


Revolutionary Women

Resistance and Revolution: Sisters Challenging and Changing the World is the manifestation of the belief that strengthening the bonds between girls and women in Oakland with those in Egypt is vital to the global campaign to stamp out violence against women.

This multigenre show features North African, modern, Capoeira and, of course, bellydance! Thanks to the support of our communities, we are able to stage this performance with no admission cost. We’ve posted blogs about the pieces that will be presented by Girls Raks, Raks Africa and solo performances from Tammy and Etang. We’d now like to give you a sampling of the pieces that will be performed by our guest artists Amel Tafsout, Sarah Bush Dance Project, Hala, Stephanie Bastos and Monica Berini.

Amel Tafsout Presents Ifriquiya

This performance calls in Amel’s ancestors and tells the story of her journey through North African Maghreb Dance. Amel’s dance opens with an interpretation based on North African Amel 2Tribal rev. 2013(1)spiritual influences through her unique dance style, then flows into a traditional Andalusian dance from Algiers that conveys the history of the Moors from the Oasis of Biskra , where bagpipes and strong rhythms invite you to join the joy of the dance.

The legendary Amel Tafsout, meaning “Hopes of Spring”, is an international and inspirational first source master dance artist, choreographer, instructor, frame drummer, singer, poet, energy worker and one of the finest exponents of North African traditional and contemporary Maghreb Dance of our time.

Sarah Bush Dance Project Presents Always At The Mercy Of The Elements

Performed by Nina Wu and choreographed by Sarah Bush, this piece is done to the backdrop of the poem “My Own True Thing” by Sarah Webster Fabio. Fabio ( 1928 – SBDP2015-222-FINAL1979) was a poet, literary critic and educator. She taught at Merritt College in Oakland. Students at the time included Maulana Karenga, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. Fabio’s poetry quickly became associated with the Black Arts Movement through her work in establishing Black Arts departments throughout the West Coast.

This season, SBDP invites you on a journey of site-specific performances to celebrate the wild of our city and ourselves. In a time defined by constant development, technology and distraction, SBDP calls us back to This Land. Oakland.  Visit sarahbushdance.org for more information.

Hala Presents A Celebration of Confidence

“Ma Teegi Hena” (Why Don’t You Come Here) expresses the voice of a strong female character who takes initiative in romantic relationships, expresses herself fully without being shy, demure or playing games. This is a relatively new trend in Egyptian pop songs.HalaBluePointing The woman is no longer the shy, passive one to be pursued and wooed. Today’s girl knows what she wants and goes for it with no apologies. The performance concludes with a lively drum solo that celebrates our natural human rhythms.

Hala grew up in Egypt and has been dancing since childhood.  She has been performing and teaching her native art all over the world since 1997.  In 2006, she opened Halanda Studio in San Jose, where they offer classes in many international dance and movement arts. You can find out more about her at HalaDance.com

Stephanie Bastos Presents Timeline

imageTimeline is an intimate and abstract movement study weaving choreography, poetry and song to offer a visceral experience of a dancer’s life through themes of love, fear, identity, discovery and loss. It is choreographed by Leymis Bolanos Wilmott in collaboration with Stephanie Bastos.  A first-generation Brazilian-American, Bastos received a BFA in Dance from New World School of the Arts in Miami and has been performing and teaching Modern Dance for more than fifteen years throughout the United States, Germany and Brazil, after losing one leg in a car accident. Winner of the 2011 San Francisco “Izzies” Award for Outstanding Achievement in Performance Ensemble with Ase West Dance Theater Collective, she has also worked with the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble, Urban Bush Women, Axis Dance Company and Ron Brown’s/ EVIDENCE.

Monica Berini Presents OM AL DUNYA

Monica brings a lifetime of inquisitive, respectful and passionate study of Egyptian dance to the stage to combine Saidi style music, stylings and movement with Cairo style dance and presentation. Saidi is an adjective referencing the region of Upper Egypt, an area Monica_Berini_Shamadan_HighResPromosouth of Cairo and north of Aswan. Her first piece, a traditional Saidi song, asks “Oh my healer, why have you left me down and out?” Her use of the stick references tahtib, a very old men’s martial art from Upper Egypt that was adapted by folkloric dancers and belly dancers to be staged as a dance in the early to mid-20th century. A woman playing tahtib is out of the norm and in the context of Egyptian dance can play a bit with traditional gender roles. This is followed by a slowly intensifying song that features the rababa. Finally, Luxor born Metqal Qanawi sings “Salamat Salamat” as Monica plays along on sagat (finger cymbals). The song offers warm greetings, and Qanawi sings “I miss you, and my mind will not rest until I know you are happy.”

Monica is a San Francisco-based performer and instructor who has studied the culture of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey since her teens. She had a lengthy professional solo career and has spent the last decade focusing on teaching, including at Alonzo King Lines Ballet since 2003. Find out more at MonicaRAQS.com

Check out these pieces, Raks Africa’s Two Women, and Girls Raks’ The Calling, at Resistance and Revolution: Sisters Challenging and Changing the World.

Saturday, November 21st, 7:30 p.m. at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon Street, Oakland. It’s FREE, and it’s about FREEDOM

How is Your Heart? Kayf Haalik?

“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know. I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment.”  Omid Safi, The Disease of Being Busy

My piece for Resistance and Revolution is a story about my personal journey from heart break, to tender-heartedness to healing. When I climbed aboard the plane to Egypt in December of last year I was heartbroken. The weight of conducting trainings and coaching sessions as a racial equity consultant, while bearing witness to the death of black men and women at the hands of a society that condoned and even mandated their demise, left me weary and heartsick. Feeling scorned by one’s own land, like Baldwin, Baker and many other African American artists, I sought solace in another. TJ Nile

But then the brother said, “We are connected through struggle.” While waiting for a show to start in Cairo, I chatted with a man who inquired about the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri. He reminded me that the struggle to resist tyranny of all kinds was a global one. We are not alone, but united in our demand for freedom. And like a deep cleansing breath, those words allowed my heart to once again become tender and open. Then I stepped inside of the Egyptian Center for Culture and Art and felt the beat of the Zar delivered by the Mazaher Ensemble. I was healed.

So this piece, How is Your Heart? Kayf Haalik? is about the transitions of a woman’s heart as she deals with the violent death of women in her world. The piece begins with the calling of 27 names of women who were murdered by state sponsored violence and social acceptance of their plight. There is grief and anguish as she realizes the loss of sisters, mothers, friends and other women around her. Then her heart rages and then finally breaks as she protest the tragedy of their deaths, through a sax taqsim called Bint Beladi.

And finally, there is healing as she does a trance dance with Arousa, the bride in a Zar. Through it she is restored to the fullness of her own humanity. The Zar is a North African ritual used primarily by women to gain relief from spirits through rhythmic movements. The Sudanese Zar referenced in this performance calls on Arousa (the bride doll) is followed by women playing a daf (a kind of drum.)

The Zar section is of special importance to me because it is my firm belief that there is no real revolution without healing. It means that at every opportunity we sincerely ask each other How is Your Heart? Kayf Haalik? We care. We take action to address any harm done. Social change and racial justice is temporary without healed hearts. So please join me on Saturday, November 21st in revolutionary healing.

Check out this piece, Raks Africa’s Two Women, and Girls Raks’ The Calling, at Resistance and Revolution: Sisters Challenging and Changing the World.

The show is Saturday, November 21st, 7:30pm at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon Street, Oakland. It’s FREE!

Two Women

E&T Cairo

Etang & Tammy in Cairo

As women navigating the culture of violence in society, we have many stories to tell.These stories, are our memories of violence that are not only endured by our bodies and psyches, but even limit our ability to speak and define ourselves. Two Women, a bellydance choreography created by us, Raks Africa, attempts to tell those stories. It’s a story of pushback, of finding one’s voice and solidarity with others amidst the chaos of a broader social revolution. 

We were fortunate to find the talented Anand Parmar of the Sol Collective, who skillfully remixed Lauren Hill’s I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel). The song now has a prominent dumm of a doumbek that creates a heartbeat that emotionally and sonically moves the piece. The drive of the drum and Lauren’s plea of “Rebel! Rebel!” matches our own desire to connect the lived experiences of the women that we met in Cairo and the young women that we dance with in Oakland. 

Protest Street Art in Cairo

Cairo Street Art

Cairo Street Art

Cairo Street Art

And so Two Women was created. Two women from different cultures, Cairo and Oakland, forging a new nation through revolution and through the demand to Say Her Name

Two women, seemingly fighting in isolation from each other, eventually finding solidarity in each other’s struggles and triumphs. Two women united in the fight against violence against women and for dignity for their communities. We have a voice. We have agency. We can and will rebel. Rebel! Rebel! 

Cairo Two Women

Cairo Street Scene


Andri: What I wear does not equal consent

Check out Two Women and Girls Raks’ piece, The Calling, at Resistance and Revolution: Sisters Challenging and Changing the World. The show will be held Saturday, November 21st, 7:30pm, at Laney College Theater, 900 Fallon Street, Oakland. It’s FREE!

The Calling: From Catcalls, to Calling Out, and Calling In


It’s an invasion, a demand and even a threat that starts with a glare and ends with a “Hey baby, smile for me.” It’s symbolic of the all too familiar catcall that women around the world fear as an emotional and physical assault to their well-being. Whether it was from the HarassMap leaders in Cairo, Egypt or the young women we have worked with for six years of Girls Raks, we have heard the same stories, over and over again.

The newly formed Girls Raks troupe has created a dance piece that speaks to the verbal dodgeball women face as they simply try to walk down a street. The Calling: From Catcalls to Calling Out and Calling In is a three act dance performance that starts with a theatrical retelling of such an event, shifts to the dancers reclaiming the streets and concludes with gestures of solidarity among women. How do the young dancers feel about creating The Calling? Here’s what they had to say:

Kayla  “This dance is important to me because it is going against the stereotype that women are something to be owned. It shows our true power. This is something women my age need.” Kayla, age 16




This piece is important to me because I get to show how I rebel against what others say about me through dance. I get to become another person and be free to let everything else go that is stressful in my life though bellydance.” Alexis, age 17



This piece is important to me because I can rebel against any negativity that comes my way through dance. It makes me feel free and confident knowing that no negativity can bring me down.” Jade, age 16



The Calling speaks out on a topic that, unfortunately, all women are familiar with. This dance is a way of resistance against the constant cat calling women face every day and empowers me to stand up against it.” Ana, age 17



This piece is important because it empowers us women by taking something degrading and using it to fight back. When we come together and dance, we’re unstoppable. I could get used to this feeling.” Andri, age 17


Check out Girls Raks at Resistance and Revolution: Sisters Challenging and Changing the World, on Saturday, November 21st at 7:30pm, at Laney Theater, 900 Fallon Street, Oakland. It’s FREE!