Arts, Features

International hip-hop dancer teaches BU students about dance culture, history

Activism usually comes in the form of words or protests, but for Amirah Sackett, activism is dance.

Boston University is hosting international hip-hop dancer Amirah Sackett as a teacher and performer Monday through Friday. ILLUSTRATION BY LAURYN ALLEN/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Sackett is a Muslim American hip-hop dancer who tries to explore her identity through dance. Her unique take on choreography and performance has gained her wide recognition through her “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” performance group.

Sackett taught and performed virtually at Boston University during a residency at the school Monday through Friday this week. The virtual events were hosted by the BU Arts Initiative, BU Dance Program and The Dance Complex — a New England-based support network for artists.

BU dance lecturer Micki Taylor-Pinney wrote in an email that she and other organizers try to host interesting resident artists each year who can offer a unique perspective. Sackett, she wrote, fit that description.

“As funding permits, we try to bring in a guest each year whose life experiences and process for art-making challenges our students’ assumptions,” Taylor-Pinney wrote. “It is a pleasure to see her teaching and inspiring to listen to her speak.”

During her stay, Sackett has led dance workshops and classes and spoken in several classes about her work as a choreographer.

Sackett began her week with a visit to Aesthetics of Dance, a School of Theater course in the College of Fine Arts. She led her first public event that night: a public hip-hop dance workshop with The Dance Complex, which explored different choreography and hip-hop culture.

Chinasa Okolo, a sophomore in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, attended the workshop. Okolo, who is pursuing a minor in dance, said Sackett was informative in dance technique as well as in dance history.

“It was always important, especially for me, to know the origins of each dance move and the style because that’s important in dance, knowing where each dance move came from,” Okolo said. “So I really liked that she started with that before she even started teaching us anything.”

While Sackett is set for several more appearances in classes across campus, her next public event saw her join BU faculty and other artists Wednesday in a discussion on dance and spirituality.

This panel is an event that organizer Ty Furman, managing director of the BU Arts Initiative, said he was looking forward to introducing to the BU community.

Furman said BU would normally fly artists to Boston to participate in these discussions, so Zoom has opened up some opportunities to reach different artists and audiences.

Each event is a virtual one, making Sackett’s performance-based appearances difficult, Furman said. She has been adjusting to more of a lecture demonstration than a typical performance, which she said is a different experience.

“If we’re bringing in a visual artist, a gallery or exhibition or pop up, those are always really important because we want to showcase the creative product,” Furman said. “So we had to figure out how best to do that in a Zoom context.”

Sackett’s final public event is a lecture demonstration on Thursday, where she will work with students to put together part of a performance. Afterward, students who participate will be featured in one of Sackett’s videos, Taylor-Pinney wrote.

“She is a generous and compelling teacher,” Taylor-Pinney wrote. “Bringing together her Muslim beliefs, music, Rumi poetry, dance as self-expression and self-affirmation, she encourages viewers to see the positive power of Hip Hop dance.”


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Ty Furman was the managing editor of the Office of the Provost. An updated version states Furman is managing director of the BU Arts Initiative, which is within the Office of the Provost. The article has also been updated to include that the residency was hosted by the BU Arts Initiative, in addition to the BU Dance Program and The Dance Complex.

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