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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid