Issue One

Decolonizing the Dance Floor
Letters between Habibitch and Esraa Warda

Before performance artist Esraa Warda and ballroom dancer Habibitch were friends, they were each other's distant fans.

In 2018, Warda saw a viral video of Habibitch. She sent Habibitch a message on Instagram to show some love. As it turned out, whether by coincidence or fate, Habibitch had just seen a viral video of Warda on Al-Jazeera speaking about the cultural significance and stigmatization of her work. In the video, Warda discusses the common stereotype drawn from Western depictions of “belly dancers” that North African women who dance professionally (or in public at all) are sexually available and promiscuous, and how that misconception can be a hurdle for the work she does to teach and preserve Moroccan and Algerian dances. There in the DMs, the two formed a transcontinental friendship rooted in common personal convictions, artistic media, and culture.

Both Habibitch and Warda belong to the Algerian diaspora, though Habibitch is based in Paris and Warda in New York City. They are both professional dancers; Habibitch practices ballroom and Warda traditional North African dance. For Habibitch—a queer, Algerian person living in the land of their former colonizer—ballroom is a form of resistance. For Warda, whose dance knowledge comes from community elders, practicing and teaching North African dance is a way to give value to an artform she says has been devalued not only by the West, but by North Africans as well. Habibitch and Warda’s genres of movement are very different, but their practices overlap in crucial ways: They both use dance to celebrate their origins and fight against patriarchal obstacles in their ancestral home of Algeria as well as the majority-white countries they call home today.

For this issue, we brought their friendship back to its origins: the internet. In a conversation over email, Habibitch and Warda had free rein to talk about the nuances in how they are perceived racially in France versus the US, protecting their sexuality, cultural exploitation, and “decolonizing the dance floor.” Drop some TbarkAllah’s, MashAllah’s, and/or khamsa’s for a moving show of friendship based in mutual respect and admiration. — Leila Ettachfini