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DANCE FOR FALASTEEN

On Sunday April 21, the alley tucked behind The Beacon looks a little different. People mill around vendor tables of zines, crafts, and a food tent from Brothers & co. Dancers sit in the sunlight on the retaining wall, chatting and eating. Keffiyahs are everywhere. Near the entrance, a shrine with flowers and photos commemorates the Camps Breakerz dancers killed in the Palestinian genocide.

Seattle Dabke. Photo by @veganpattyy

When I arrive, live drumming from the ongoing Dabke class filters into the alley and I sneak inside to watch. Members of Seattle Dabke sing the jumping rhythm of the traditional Palestinian folk dance to a crowded room of students, arms wrapped around each other to make large spiraling chain. This is one class in a day full of classes in Dance for Falasteen’s Camps Breakerz fundraiser.

I spoke with event organizer Charlotte Yun, a dancer, choreographer, activist, artist, and engineer who recently moved here from Austin, TX. Talking with dancers in Seattle community, she found many shared her views on Palestine and saw an opportunity to bridge the activist and dancer communities she is involved with. She envisioned an event that went beyond fundraising to also include engagement. To “tell a story of how this cause is personal to us, the Seattle dance community, and for that to be a motivation for people to care and to act, and to talk about it.” That meant inviting Palestinian speakers to give a talk between each dance class, and inviting teachers to explain how their form is tied into histories of resistance. “I was very inspired by the work that Camps Breakerz is doing in Gaza. It really really reminded me of hip hop culture, in its birth form, which was always about fighting against oppression and finding your expression and having an outlet where you can express and experience freedom.”

The dance crew has been in operation for 20 years. In a recorded interview with Yun and other dance activists, three members of Camps Breakerz explained the work and history of the organization. “Our mission is always to show resistance through dance and to represent our identity and to reach our freedom,” says group founder Funk. Another founding member, Ahmed Alghariz aka Shark, explains, “Our shows were two halves, the first half is the story of what we live in Gaza strip, and the second half were pure breakdance, because this is what we wanted all the time to show—that we are strong, that we are there and we have the right to live in our land and to have our freedom.” Funk gives examples of the kinds of stories told through their dances—women’s rights, children’s stories, and stories of resistance.

Charlotte Yun at Dance for Falasteen. Photo by @veganpattyy.

Camps Breakerz practices have always been rooted in providing a place of joy and expression for children whose wellbeing is under the constant threat from apartheid. The crew and school have faced a long history of Israeli aggression, including one studio they danced in being bombed in 2009. It was during this time Camps Breakerz crew joined a carnival that that traveled the Gaza strip to support children through activities “to make them smile or forget about happened.” After that, traveling to teach all around Gaza became part of their ongoing operations. They established their own school in 2012, which at times also functioned as a shelter.

When Oct 7 started I started to do mental stability activities with them and step by step dancing,” says Shark, who is an emergency trauma educator and dance therapist. “We started to be louder and [not] care about the drones above us or bombs happening around us.” Another Camps Breakerz member Karim Azam echos this sentiment. “The little ones would come to us and tell us When we’re with you, we don’t feel the war.

Tragically, several Camps Breakerz dancers have been among the 35,000 Palestinians killed since Oct 7, and others have been injured. “Other students are still alive but barely. There’s lack of food, lack of water,” says Funk, “our students are losing their energy, losing their muscles, they’re losing their strength, their faces are starting to change too.” In the intensification of the attacks, Camps Breakerz has helped organize supply distribution and worked to raise evacuation funds for families of students.

Yun emphasizes that the Seattle fundraising event wasn’t her solo project. Teachers, other organizers, and volunteers jumped on to make the day happen. Along with Seattle Dabke, the class lineup included many staples of Seattle dance: Majinn teaching hip hop, Orb and Stepz teaching House, Kiné Camara teaching Amapiano, and Tracey Wong teaching Vogue Femme. Each of these genres have “stories of how they relate to liberation struggles of different people.”

Kiné Camara teaching at Dance for Falasteen. Photo by @veganpattyy

I got to experience this first hand in Camara’s Amapiano class. The South African social dance form pulls inspiration from many sources, Camara explains, one of which is Pantsula, a dance form and cultural movement that came from the many ethnic cultures that united under the oppression of apartheid. Pantsula dance and culture became a way for Black South Africans to assert their identity and resistance against repression. The parallels are clear. South Africa brought charges of genocide against Israel to the UN earlier this year, and now we see college campuses erupt with protests that mirror anti-apartheid actions of the 80s. As we take these movements and rhythms into our bodies, we come closer to an understanding that liberations struggles for one people are connected to liberation for all people.

“[Dance can] serve as a means of cultural exchange and cultural solidarity, like House comes from Black LGBTQ plus culture that arose in New York and Chicago, and it was a place for the oppressed to express themselves selves freely, and to have joy. For those stories to relate to Palestine and create solidarity.”

Shrine to martyred Camps Breakerz students. Photo by @veganpattyy

Upon leaving class, the alleyway has evolved into a large circle of clapping and chanting, a call and response accompanied by drum and oud that breaks into a dance cypher. Yun estimates that over 300 people attended throughout the day, where classes were sold out weeks in advance. Between class donations and vendor donations they were able to raise $8,000 for Camps Breakerz. While the organizing team is still wrapping up the first successful event, Yun says there’s already loose talk about another event this summer, and would be looking for more volunteers and organizers to get involved.

In the Camps Breakerz interview, when asked what message they would pass to the people, Funk responds:

We are sacrificing ourselves not for nothing, we are sacrificing ourselves for you to wake up and become aware. We are facing this enemy that everyone will face sooner or later if it doesn’t get stopped. You need to act. You need to always remember that there are people out there putting themselves in front of the line for your future life.”

To learn more about Camps Breakerz, visit their website or follow them on Instagram @campsbreakerz. Learn more about Dance for Falasteen by following @danceforfalasteen_seattle.