Combating Islamophobia Through Dance and Spoken Word


Hate crimes have surged in the U.S. fueled by attacks against Muslims. In the words of Artistic Director, Jonathan Hollander, “There’s a new level of urgency to reach out beyond our own enclaves and to listen, observe, learn and create together.”

In response, Battery Dance Company has developed Combating Islamophobia Through Spoken Word and Dance. Why dance and spoken word? Dance is a visceral experience that connects people as fellow humans regardless of religion, ethnicity or color, allowing audiences to identify on a primal level with “the other”. Spoken word or story telling situates the participants in a zone far away, allowing them to cut through headlines and numbing media reports to understand perspectives wildly different from their own, in a deeply personal way.  By creating these connections and engaging in thoughtful dialogue, we hope to create moments of memory that will fill gaps in understanding.

The first iteration of this program will combine the dance talent of Hussein Smko with the wisdom and erudition of journalist/speaker Riyadh Mohammed both from Iraq (see below for their bios). The program includes interwoven dance by Hussein and talks by Riyadh, and a duet that brings the two together as Riyadh intones Arabic and English poetry forming the accompaniment for Hussein’s dance. After the performance, ample time will be allocated for interaction and reflection with audience members. It is our hope that through spoken word and dance, presented by two very admirable and inspiring Iraqis, we will remind our audience of the talent and beauty that grows in the Middle East and create a sense of fellowship and common humanity that is too often painted over by the fear generated by terrorist acts and extremism.

With the generous support of The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, this program launched in November 2017 with a series of engagements in universities and institutions in the U.S. If interested, please contact Jonathan Hollander.

Broader Program Vision

The program will bring Middle Eastern Muslim dancers from conflict zones to New York City where they will re-establish their lives and receive advanced dance training from Battery Dance Company. This new dance company will partner with writers to create a spoken word and dance program that will be performed at institutions nationwide to expose audiences to the richness of their cultures and combat the preconceived notions of “the other” that cause Islamophobia. Artists and audience will then participate in a workshop to engage with each other building on the experience of the performance in a more intimate setting, engendering personal contact and deepening trust and understanding.


Our Inspiration

The program memorializes Adel Euro, a young and inspiring dancer from Iraq whose life was tragically cut short when he was killed by a suicide bomb on July 3, 2016.

Battery Dance had mentored and trained Adel online through Skype, had performed with him in Amman, Jordan, and was working to bring Adel to New York City to provide him with the ability to pursue his passion.

For us, Adel represents the hope and determination of all people no matter their religion, race or ethnicity, to overcome the odds to live normal and fulfilling lives. In championing his legacy, we hope to inspire American audiences to challenge their preconceived notions of Muslims and embrace our common humanity.

In Adel’s honor and memoriam,  the dancers who participate in this program will be known as Adel Euro Fellows.

Meet the Artists

Hussein Smko

Hussein Smko’s journey with dancing started when he was nine years old. He learned hip-hop coached by an American soldier stationed in the Kurdish city of Erbil, northern Iraq, in 2003. Two years later, he started dancing publicly in parks and malls in Erbil. Over the years, Hussein taught himself break dancing, house, capoeira, theater dance, martial arts and gymnastics, all without formal dance school education.  His American journey continued when he attended the American International High School in Kurdistan, Iraq. In 2011, he met Adel Euro, a fast-rising Iraqi rapper and dancer, and quickly they became friends, training together in several venues in Iraq. In 2013, Hussein was chosen by American Voices to dance in six American States in a program sponsored by the American Embassy in Iraq. Once in the States, Hussein met and married his American wife, and returned with her to Erbil. Wishing to further his training and career in dance, and stymied by the lack of opportunity and hostility in Iraq, Hussein reached out to Jonathan Hollander, Artistic Director of Battery Dance, through Facebook in 2015. As was the pattern with Adel Euro, Hollander offered Hussein the opportunity of remote training with his New York dance company members using Skype.  As Battery Dance celebrated the late Adel Euro who was a victim of the tragic Baghdad car bombing of July 3, 2016, by designating a fellowship in his name, Hussein became the first recipient of that fellowship in 2017. Hussein has since danced (with two other American asylees from Iraq) at the opening of the 35th Annual Battery Dance Festival in lower Manhattan and taught in New York City and Indiana public schools.

Riyadh Mohammed

Riyadh Mohammed is an internationally recognized journalist from Baghdad, Iraq.  He was a deserter from the Iraqi army when the war of 2003 broke out. A year later, he earned his B.A. in cinema from the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad and joined the newly established Iraqi government as a media officer. In 2006, he took a leave to produce a series of documentaries for the Belgian production firm Way Press International. As Iraq descended into chaos and sectarian violence, his father was kidnapped and killed by ISIS and his family was displaced from their home in western Baghdad. Riyadh wrote about that tragedy in blog entries and articles that appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Fiscal Times.  In 2008, Riyadh began reporting for The New York Times, where he broke a series of corruption stories. Among them was the scandal of fake explosive detection devices Iraq imported from the UK. His extensive coverage of corruption prompted three libel lawsuits against him and many incidents of harassment and threats against his life.  His refugee application was approved after a campaign conducted by Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, The International Press Institute and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey in 2011. Since arriving in the U.S., Riyadh has written on the Middle East for The Fiscal Times, Foreign Affairs, CNBC, and Mashable. In 2014, he wrote the first study of ISIS’s internal decision-making processes.  His articles have also appeared on Bloomberg, Yahoo, The Huffington Post, The Seattle Times, The Boston Globe, New York Observer, Business Insider, The Week Magazine and The International Herald Tribune. He has been quoted in dozens of books, news articles and TV and radio news shows, and has been invited to speak on ISIS, the U.S. war in Iraq, foreign reporting, and immigration at Columbia University, NYU, CUNY, NYIT, Amnesty International, Refugee Council USA and Upwardly Global.