Footloose but not fancy free: Dancing in Morocco

By Alexis Miller. Photos by Alexandria Saurman

Rabat — “I don’t get paid for this and I don’t think I would want to be…,” Hajar Regragui says while unlocking the door to the dance studio at International University of Rabat (UIR). She’s about to teach 60 college students choreographed dance routines in various styles: Hip-hop, African inspired dance, and Salsa. The course lasts three hours and is completely a labor of love. She seems to look happiest when drenched in sweat.

Hajar Regragui is a 21-year-old political science and international relations student at UIR, but she introduced herself to me first and foremost as a dancer and told me about her favorite spots in Casablanca for dancing. In fact, most of her social media is dedicated to her dancing.

Hajar started dancing recently, when she was 18 years old. She got her start dancing by watching YouTube videos, and practicing and perfecting the moves she saw online. As her passion and talent grew, she slowly started interacting with a couple of dancers one-on-one that quickly escalated to collaborations, competitions, and new friendships.

She says her favorite music to dance to is usually American music, especially hip-hop and R&B,  since that was what first inspired her to start dancing. She says that some of her favorite artists are Trey Songz, the weeknd, and Childish Gambino. But she also likes to dance to Moroccan, Australian, French, South American artists as well as music from other African countries.

She adapts her dance style and dance ‘personality’ to the song and type of music. “When I dance a style, I become the style. Each style represents a different part of my personality I try to convey to my students.”

But her choice to take her dancing public was one she knew was risky.  

At the age of 18, Hajar Regragui began teaching herself how to dance by watching YouTube videos. Regragui, now 21, teaches dance at the International University of Rabat (UIR).

“It’s pretty difficult for a girl to dance and be dancing in front of people… I knew that when I started dancing, I would have some trouble,” she says.

For the most part, the judgment comes in the form of hateful comments on Facebook and Instagram. “There were girls that used to call me ‘slut,’ and these kinds of things,” she recounts, but it also runs deeper than just trolling.

“I had to keep it a secret from my mom, all of my dancing activities,” explains Hajar. She says that her mother now knows of her dancing but refuses to see her perform in person. She says to this day there are some members of her family who don’t know that she dances. She does cite her father as a massive source of support in her dancing.

Despite the negative reactions, Hajar took her dancing public and “discovered a new world in Casablanca and Rabat, a dancer’s world,” in which people “aren’t judged for who they are and what they do.”

In August, Hajar participated in the #Drifti Challenge, the first Moroccan dance challenge in the history of Morocco. It was launched by 04Karwa, a dance group also based in Casablanca, to help promote and share the innovative dance and music coming out of Morocco.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of dance challenges, they usually begin with a dancer dancing a specific style to a certain song; dance videos build off each other, innovating and adding.  Hajar filmed the video on a Casablanca sidewalk with three of her friends. It and has hundreds of likes and thousands of views, the most by far of any of the videos with the hashtag. She said that even the artist of the song, El Grande Toto, saw it, shared the video, and got in contact with her.

Hajar believes that dance has changed her life and personality, and that it will be an important part of her future.

“I used to be very afraid of the world,” she says. But now, “Dance is like a weapon I want to use to change our political and social system.”