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!

A Shared Mission

Sometimes you just don’t know what you are getting into until you are in it. When Etang and I started Your Body Raks, our intention was to create a safe space for people who wanted to move, but didn’t fit neatly into the confines of society’s dance and fitness boxes. There are so many us who look nothing like the young hopefuls gliding across the stage of So You Think You Can Dance. But who says that you have to?

To our surprise, there are a lot of people who agree, including the great staff at Oakland’s Women’s Cancer Resource Center (WCRC). Keeping to their mission of providing services that assist women in coping with various forms of cancer, WCRC creates opportunities for their community to stretch, meditate, move and dance in a safe and accessible way. After seeing us perform at a local event, Community Outreach Manager, Margo Rivera-Weiss felt that Your Body Raks was a perfect match for WCRC.

In addition to teaching regular bellydance classes at the Center, we were invited to participate in a February 6th community dialogue entitled: Fitness and Movement as Medicine: Making Exercise Work for YOU & Understanding its Relationship to Cancer. It was a great opportunity to hear women share their movement tips and concerns, and the need for more advocacy around issues of access and fairness.

As people who have family and friends affected by cancer, our partnership with WCRC means a lot to us. It reminds us that this dance that we do is a part of a long tradition of awakening our body’s wisdom and healing power. And for that we are grateful.

The Women’s Cancer Resource Center’s services are mainly for women with cancer, but community members are welcome to participate in these classes. Your Body Raks WCRC bellydance classes are free, but you must register at this link. The classes are held at 5741 Telegraph Avenue. The dates and times are as follows:

Thursday, February 28th @ 6:30pm

Tuesday, March 26th @6:30pm

Every 2nd, 3rd and 4th Tuesday starting in April @ 6:00pm

Keep up with us daily on Facebook, “like” our page, Your Body Raks!

 

 

 

 

Why the Artists Vote Matters

Tammy's HeadshotI used to be a hardcore political junkie. I watched all of the talking head pundit shows. I organized election and issue campaigns. I read three to four newspapers daily, lobbied, wrote policy papers, and trained candidates and canvass volunteers. And you just didn’t want to be on the opposing side of a heated issue debate with me. I was driven, righteous and ruthless.

I have to admit that these days my political behavior is a bit more tempered. I continue to hold strong views, but there has been a significant change in how I believe change happens. That’s no surprise since I’ve changed. Identifying as a dancer and artist-activist has exposed me to a litany of new ways people can engage, transform, and reimagine systems, rules, lives and communities. And yet, as flawed as our electoral system is, the vote continues to be a critical means of giving voice to our struggles and demands, even as artists.

My point is not to tell you who to vote for or how to vote, but to remind you that yes, your vote does matter. Here are a few issues that I know artists care a great deal about, issues that will be affected by next Tuesday’s outcome.

Health Care. Dancers, and artists in general, have some of the highest rates of uninsured coverage in the nation. Due to our employment patterns and the nature of our profession, individual artists, theater and dance companies have significant difficulties securing health insurance. And the many health clinics and practitioners who provide care to our population are often the first ones hit with state and federal budget cuts. Along with the poor, elderly, disabled, communities of color and immigrant populations, artists have a significant stake in how U.S. health care policy shakes out.

Education The defunding of public education and the lack of thoughtful systemic reform has weakened our nation’s ability to create space for a child to dream of being whomever they want to be, be it a doctor, an astronaut or dancer. The dramatic decrease (and in many cases elimination) of funding for the arts in schools, along with increased class sizes, draconian testing policies, and the proliferation of bullying of all forms, demands our attention now. Our vote is a step toward changing this tide.

Our Rights We are artists. But we are also members of a larger community of people who have rights that are being trampled on every day. The passage of state and local ballot measures and initiatives across the country will impact on those rights. Access to education, health care, employment, to the right to claim our bodies and the ones we love are being challenged on November 6th. As people whose art often starts with self, we recognize the importance self-definition and a sense of agency within society. Let’s affirm that belief with our votes.

The Arts At a time when our nation really needs the love, the light and an alternative perspective that a play, a mural or a photograph may provide, government funding for the arts is being slashed to the bone. Some would argue that with limited resources we cannot afford funding for what some may think of as leisure trifles. I say think again! It was during a Great Depression of the 1930s, that we as a nation stepped up and created the Works Project Administration (WPA), which funded art, music, theater, literature and many other artistic endeavors that employed thousands of artists. And their work documented cultural and national history that would have been lost in time, laid the foundation for new industries, boosted local economies, and provided beauty and vibrancy to a nation in great need of uplift. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

I say all of this to make the point that the artist vote matters. So please, if you haven’t already, get out there and vote next Tuesday. Your vote and your voice is much more important than a singular issue or an individual candidate. It’s part of a national legacy that many have fought and died for. Honor their memory and defend your right to be heard. Vote!

Keep up with us daily on Facebook, “like” our page, Your Body Raks!