Where Islam Meets Hip-Hop: a Conversation with Amirah Sackett of “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic”
“Strong, beautiful and powerful,” — that’s how Amirah Sackett wants to portray Muslim women through dance, choreography and teaching. She’s well-known for choreographing the work of the “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic,” (WMDP) dance group. This dance trio explores and embodies Sackett’s female Muslim-American identity by paring traditional Muslim attire with Hip-Hop moves.
WMDP won a Minnesota Sage Dance Award for Best Ensemble Performance and also starred in Brother Ali’s music video for “Mourning In America,” which has over 1,500,000 views. Check out the WMDP performance at the 2015 Sage Awards below:
Sackett also previously curated the “B-Girl Be” international Hip-Hop festival for women and told us she is now doing “a lot of travel and education about Hip-Hop and a lecture on dispelling misconceptions in Islam around the country.”
“Islam is my religion and a big part of my life,” she says. And, she has loved Hip-Hop since she was a child;
I started dancing as a little girl and was trained in classical ballet, but was also imitating Michael Jackson and doing the moonwalk and Hip-Hop dances that my friends were doing. I later went on to get a degree in [Modern Dance] from University of Minnesota. But, Hip-Hop won me over instead of these other styles. I found myself never bored learning breaking, popping and locking.
Sackett feels that all artists reflect their “time period and tell [their] stories.” Through her medium of choice, Hip-Hop, she says, “I wanted to show my religion and the women in it as I know them to be; strong, powerful and beautiful.”
In an interview with Bust, she described the reaction of a middle-schooler, who cried out, “You’re beautiful” from the audience:
She saw us in abaya (long, black dresses), niqab (face veils) and headscarves, and she loved us before we even moved. After the performance, she came onstage and hugged me, and told me she was from Saudi Arabia. She had seen the image of her family and country and she loved it. She had so much pride.
Sackett hopes that when members of her Muslim audience see these performances, in which she hopes to portray Muslim women as “strong, beautiful and still modest,” they “see someone fighting for them and educating people in a unique way about Islam through art.” She also hopes “it fills their heart with pride in their identity and gives them courage to stand strong.”
For non-Muslims, she thinks her work can change “how they perceive the imagery perpetrated in the media of Muslim women. I think they find it beautiful and powerful-that has been the feedback I’ve received.”
Along with her current teaching and speaking schedule, Sackett is carrying out multiple collaborations with “different artists, including musicians and videographers.” Below, view one of her latest projects, which was with two dancers from the Chicago Hip-Hop community — “Aaron and Ray and composer and musician, Rameez, who uses traditional Indian instruments and mixes it with Hip-Hop beats.”
“When I talk about Hip-Hop and I dance, people understand me in a different way than just looking at me as other — I’m a fellow American and it builds a connection,” Sackett says.
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