Breaking stereotypes and wearing a hijab while doing it is what these hip-hop dancers are all about

By Jasmine Boyd

Student Entertainment Events hosted a hip-hop dance event for students in Grand Ballroom Thursday evening, featuring a female dance group called “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic.”  

We’re Muslim Don’t Panic (WMDP), is a group of performing artists that aims to educate the public and create a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims through hip-hop dance performances.

WMDP lead hip-hop dancer, teacher and choreographer Amirah Sackett, says she has been doing this work since 2011, but has been dancing since she was young.

“I was that kid that was doing the moonwalk and copying Michael Jackson,” Sackett said.

Sackett choreographed her dance performance utilizing the “popping” and “tutting” dance forms, original styles of hip-hop dance. Sackett said the original styles of hip-hop dance are called “up rocking” and another is called breaking, which both started on the east coast in The Bronx, New York.

“Popping and locking are also fun styles which started on the west coast,” she said.

 

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Amirah Sackett, “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” lead dancer and choreographer.

As a Chicago-based educator, Sackett said she is very passionate about hip-hop and she grew up loving hip-hop culture.  In 2011, she said she made the decision to “begin mixing her identities” after she overheard an offensive comment made by one woman who was working at a shopping mall in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

“I overheard one of the women that was working say, ‘I’m sick of seeing all of these covered women,’ Sackett said.

In her piece “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic,” Sackett says that the overall goal was to take the scariest image of the Muslim woman and flip it.

“It visually gave you an image of Muslim women that you were used to seeing as something oppressive and it turned it into something really beautiful,” Sackett said.

Freshman Maleeha Coleburn, a government and politics and journalism double major, said that she loved the event and was very inspired by Amirah Sackett.

“I’m Muslim,” Coleburn said. “So seeing a Muslim woman dance and express herself, perform and talk about Islam to people that aren’t Muslim, is really inspiring.”

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Freshmen, Maleeha Coleburn, government and journalism double major and ‘We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic’ (WMDP) lead dancer and choreographer, Amirah Sackett.

When Sackett talked about the importance of the hijab, which is a head covering worn in public by Muslim women, freshmen Maleeha Coleburn could relate.

“I’m so proud,” Coleburn added. “…because she was talking about what it means to be Muslim, and why Muslims cover and that we’re not just terrorists.”

Coleburn thinks events like these will help little by little considering the country’s political climate.

“All of the discriminatory policies that Donald Trump is suggesting…the rise and hate crimes against Muslims…having someone who is Muslim to come and talk to people is really important so they can dispel certain stereotypes that people may have.”

According to Performing Arts Director Yuval Raviv, the event had 66 people in attendance.

“It might be a low turnout, but people really enjoy it and get something out of it, so I’m not upset about the turnout,” Raviv said.

Coleburn says that this event was relevant and important.

“We didn’t have a massive crowd today, but I think that it definitely got people thinking and they’re going to talk to their friends and maybe if they witness something that’s mean against Muslims they’ll say something,” Coleburn said.

 

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Student Entertainment Events staff members joined Amirah Sackett on stage during her performance.

 

A special part of Sackett’s routine was a part where some of the event’s staff members joined her onstage. Raviv said that “it was really fun to dance with her.”  

“I’m not a dancer, but she made it so easy and so fun. I got into it a little bit,” Raviv said.

Sackett also explained that there are a lot of parallels for her between Islam and Hip-Hop.

She taught the room an important prayer from her religion of Islam that she wanted them to know. It is a beautiful thing that Muslims say and it’s small prayer that means “peace be upon you.”

“When you say ‘assalamualaikum’, it means I want peace to be with you and when you say ‘waalaikumsalam’, you’re throwing it right back at

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Amirah Sackett speaks to the crowd at the We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic dance performance event

me,” Sackett added.

She said this prayer in Islam mirrors hip-hop for her. When you are about to leave, in hip-hop dance culture, you also say the word, “peace” as a goodbye.

“Assalamualaikum,” Sackett said.

Waalaikumsalam,” the crowd answered back.

 

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