We have gathered them in our dining room and mirrored dance studios for five years now. Every session starts out pretty much the same way – the girls hold back, texting and teasing each other. One watches in silence our every movement with a slight, guarded smile. They are distinct personalities, each brimming with talent and a special sparkle of her own. Each and every one knows the sting of name-calling, judgment and unwelcome advances. Then they talk, they listen, they write and they dance. In the process of creating something new in a collective sisterhood, they begin to resist the labels of others and embrace new affirming definitions of themselves. It’s a new way of being.
Fast forward to a 3am video conference call that connects faces, voices and hearts in Oakland to those in Cairo. Noora talks passionately about how Egyptian young women and men take to city streets, enlisting bystanders and allies to take a stand against the harassment of women. “We want to make it unacceptable to not intervene. We are creating a new norm,” explains Noora. It’s about shedding old labels and creating new ways of being.
When we started the Girls Raks Bellydance and Body Image Program in 2010, our intentions were to use bellydance as a vehicle for self-definition and resistance. With community partners, volunteers, dancers and supporters we have created a safe, empowering and transformative space for young women of all sizes who struggle with body image and self-esteem, by providing them with the tools they need to grow, thrive and reach their full potential.
Now it is time to take the Girls Raks program to a new level. Through the Girls Raks Oakland to Egypt Project, we are connecting the fight against violence against women and girls here in Oakland to the women’s liberation movement in Egypt. The project is a manifestation of the belief that strengthening the bonds between girls and women in Oakland with those Egypt is vital to the global campaign to stamp out violence against women. Women and girls can learn from each other’s struggles, support each other’s efforts and send a united message of resistance, solidarity and hope. Our work with girls and women has taught us that bellydance is a perfect tool for this work. Through it one reclaims their body and declares to the world a definition of self that is one’s own creation.
In December 2014 we are traveling to Egypt to learn more about the country’s women’s rights movement. Our accumulated research, interviews and workshops will inform new Girls Raks curriculum and a special 2015 theatrical production, Resistance! Revolution! In addition, for the past two years Girls Raks participants have written and recorded solidarity letters to Egyptian young women that we will pass on to their counterparts in Egypt.
We have raised close to $5,000 to cover most of the expenses of this project. However, we are still $2,000 short for covering the cost of translation services, in-country travel and project documentation (videography and editing). Please support this effort by making a tax-deductible donation at this link today. Supporters who donate $100 or more will receive a Girls Raks Oakland to Egypt t-shirt (available in sizes Small – 5X). Your support is and has always been worth more than that to us and the young women who participate in our program, and we thank you for that. We are so excited to be kicking off the Oakland to Egypt Project with you. Donations at any level are greatly appreciated. Thank you for making it possible.