“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.
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!
Here’s a test: When you think of “women in dance” what images come to mind? Do you see variety and differences in those images? Do you see yourself in those images? For so long, I did not see myself in those images. My own reflection was invisible as a dancer.
Tammy and I celebrate women in dance every single day. For March, women’s history month, we thought it was appropriate to promote visibility and to shine a public spotlight on the diversity of women in dance over on our Your Body Raks Facebook page. We honor the pioneers, the innovators, the mentors, the unknown, the overlooked, the hidden treasures.
Here’s a visual sampler of our Women in Dance Celebration so far:
“Dance is bigger than the physical body. When you extend your arm, it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers, because you’re dancing bigger than that; you’re dancing spirit.”-Judith Jamision, dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Magidah of Portland, Oregon performing at the 2007 Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant
“If anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away” – Maria Tallchief, the first Native American to become prima ballerina and choreographer. She was the first American to dance at the Paris Opera and danced with the Paris Opera Ballet, the Ballet Russe, and the Balanchine Ballet Society, later renamed the New York City Ballet.
”We should realize in a vivid and revolutionary sense that we are not in our bodies but our bodies are in us.”-Ruth St. Denis, American modern dance innovator
We have not forgotten those dancers who inspire us and in our own work we hope we inspire others to find their own voice and spirit in movement. Who inspires you? We invite you to join Your Body Raks in our celebration of Women in Dance this month by submitting a photo or video with a message about the dancer to firstname.lastname@example.org. They can be an international, national or local dancer from any dance style.