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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs