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!

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!