News / USA

Iraqi Dancers in US on First Hip Hop Diplomacy Tour

Iraqi Dancers in US on First Hip Hop Diplomacy Touri
X
October 23, 2013 12:42 AM
A group of Iraqi urban dancers is visiting major U.S. cities this month as part of a first-ever Iraqi hip hop diplomacy tour of the United States. The U.S. government-sponsored tour is the culmination of years of training inside Iraq, where the Kurdish and Arab dancers face tougher conditions to practice their art than their American counterparts. VOA's Michael Lipin saw the First Step Iraq crew in action in Washington and has this report.

Iraqi Dancers in US on First Hip Hop Diplomacy Tour

A group of Iraqi urban dancers is visiting major U.S. cities this month as part of a first-ever Iraqi hip hop diplomacy tour of the United States.
 
The U.S. government-sponsored tour is the culmination of years of training inside Iraq, where the Kurdish and Arab dancers face tougher conditions to develop their skills than their American counterparts.
 
Husain Simko is one of the six Iraqi breakdancers bringing their interpretation of the American-originated art of hip hop to U.S. audiences. The tour already has taken them to the cities of Dearborn, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and ends in Boston on October 23-24.
 
Twenty-year-old Husain, who is from the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, showed off some impressive moves when the group performed at Washington D.C.'s Dance Place theater on Saturday.
 
Hip hop beginnings
 
Husain said he first discovered breakdance from U.S. soldiers stationed in Irbil in 2004.
 
"One of the soldiers, he was standing on the car - between all of the kids, he calls me, and says, 'come here, and do the wave move,'" he said. "And I was like, how did this [arm] bone go up?  It was something I didn't know about.  So I just went home and practiced and practiced until 2005," said Husain.
 
Husain joined fellow Kurdish hip hop enthusiast Shalaw in signing up for an Iraqi dance academy launched by U.S. non-profit group American Voices in 2007.
 
Led by executive director John Ferguson, it is the only group coaching Iraq's aspiring hip hop artists.
 
"We put them through a long series of auditions and chose six of the best and most dedicated and most talented dancers to participate in this tour to the United States," said Ferguson.  "It's the very first time any of them have been to America, and the very first time they've participated in a full-length hip hop dance show."
 
Halwest, who also is from Irbil, is another breakdancer who benefited from the program, jointly funded by the U.S. and Iraqi Kurdistan governments.
 
"I got into the American Voices academy in 2010, and I got to know [U.S. trainer] Michael (Parks Masterson), my teacher, and John [Ferguson], all of them - they really helped me so much," he said.
 
Urban dance obstacles
 
The First Step Iraq crew, which includes three Iraqi Arabs, also had to overcome challenges such as a lack of training facilities at home.
 
"In general, the Kurdish guys have an easier time, there's more social - I wouldn't say acceptance, but tolerance for hip hop, and parents allow their children to explore their passions and develop themselves," said Ferguson.
 
"[Elsewhere] in Iraq, there's a huge social disapproval of dance in general, whether it's hip hop or ballet or salsa.  Any kind of moving of the body in public, especially if men or women are dancing together - it's completely forbidden. The guys from the south have to be very careful and dance only in certain situations where they know they're secure. They really do risk their lives doing hip hop," added Ferguson.
 
The U.S. State Department says encouraging the development of Iraqi artists is a key part of a U.S. and Iraqi agreement to promote cultural cooperation.
 
Cultural exchange opportunity
 
One goal of the U.S. tour is to give the Iraqis a chance to learn from American dancers, like those of Washington-based non-profit group Urban Artistry, dedicated to serving as ambassadors for urban art forms.
 
Dancers from the group also performed at the Dance Place event and embraced the Iraqis, who said they were "amazed" by what they saw.
 
Husain said Urban Artistry's diversity shows that people from around the world can come together on one stage.
 
"In America, I've learned really a lot," he said.  "The tour made me know people, know more dancing, know more about house music, b-boying and popping and locking and hip hop.  We learned a lot, and we have so much to bring back home," said Husain.
 
When he returns to Irbil, Husain plans to share his experience by opening a gym, to help other young people follow in his footsteps.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid