I developed a love for writing poetry out of wanting to create a narrative for myself and women like me, I created a blog inspired by a desire to uplift various narratives from the people around me and, I applied for the Words, Beats and Life internship because I wanted the inside track on the best ways to uplift and market artists in ways only WBL knows how. I spoke with dancer and Artistic Director Amirah Sackett about her journey of uplifting her voice, the voice of her people and maintaining positive spaces at the intersection of art and Islam.
Sadiyah: When did you become interested in dance?
Amirah: I started dancing from the time I was born, I was really little, like 4 or 5 years old, when I started responding to music physically. My mom was like ‘what’s wrong with this kid?’ Because I was so small. And then I think about 7 years old is when I really started getting into it. So my mom put me into ballet (classes) and Hip-Hop was coming up around the same time. Every kid was trying to copy Breakin’ the movie, and Hip-Hop was all around me as a cultural phenomenon. I started choreographing in high school. Shortly after I graduated, the first professional company I joined was a Hip-Hop company that was called ‘Jam’ company in Minneapolis, headed by a former Prince dancer named Anthony Cherry.
Sadiyah:How has your identity as a Muslim shown up in your passion for dance?
Amirah: As far as the Muslim identity, there was a point where I kind of had a one-on-one with Allah (God) and said, ‘you’ve given me this talent of dance, so if it’s wrong for me, take it away from me, but if it’s good for me allow me to do it in a way that pleases you.” And with that prayer and that intention, I decided to combine my art with a focus on fighting the stereotypes against Muslim women. And I created “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic.” That was really the first time I merged those identities.
Sadiyah: Can you explain the thinking behind your performance piece “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic”?
Amirah: I was working at Macy’s and a lot of Somali women would come in. And I overheard a coworker say, ‘I’m sick and tired of seeing all these covered women coming in.’ I think sometimes out of anger, positive action takes place. That comment inspired me to use my artistic expression, which is the physical expression of hip-hop dance, to educate and use powerful imagery to make a statement. I was inspired by a piece of art I had seen in 2005. There was an artist named Andrea Ali who came to a festival celebrating women in hip-hop called B-Girl Be. She created a statue of a girl with an abaya and niqab (face covering) and she had shelltoes sticking out underneath and was standing in the B-Girl stance. I loved that she looked like an undercover superhero b-girl and I wanted to bring her to life. “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” is not only a dance piece, it contains a lecture and Q&A to educate an audience of other faith backgrounds about Islam.
Sadiyah: As the lead choreographer for “Footsteps in the Dark”, can you tell me a little bit about how you plan to weave a story together about the journey of hip-hop movement?
Amirah: It’s not really a story based show; it will be highlighting different hip hop dancers from multiple backgrounds who all happen to be Muslim. A range of style and expression will be shared with the audience all through hip-hop and all by Muslim artists. This show represents all these different voices in a unified manner. There’s also a sub-theme of light and dark and the dancers are going to interpret it in their own ways.
Sadiyah: After “Footsteps in the Dark” what other endeavours can we expect from you next?
Amirah: A lot of exciting stuff coming out of Chicago, I’m based there and I’m working with American Islamic College to create a 1 day festival called, ‘Celebration of Muslim Artists’ in October. It’s intended to open the doors of the American Islamic College to the greater community and draw people in so that it becomes more than just a school, it will be a place that opens the doors to the greater Chicago community. We will be featuring all kinds of artists including calligraphers, poets, actors, dancers, musicians, and we will also have basketball and martial arts classes offered that day.
I’m too excited for Footsteps in the Dark, after speaking with such pioneers like Asad Ali Jafri the Creative Director and Amirah Sackett the Artistic Director, I can only imagine the power that will come from this event when you have such powerful people pushing it forward.