At a gym in downtown Kabul, Manizha Talash and her teammates jump and sway to the beat, working up a sweat breakdancing and doing head-spins.
When she first joined the breakdancing club about two and a half months ago, there were no girls there. Now five other girls have followed her lead.
“I want to be different,” says the 18-year-old. “I want to become a good role model in Afghanistan.”
The club, founded by a few local ‘breakers’ a year ago, now has over 30 members, who train three days a week to learn the finer points of a dance style that has evolved into a sport, hoping one day to compete in the Olympics.
Breakdancing, an art form which was born on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, was among four sports, along with skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing, that the International Olympic Committee agreed recently to add to the Paris Games in 2024 in an effort to attract a younger, more urban audience.
Doing a sixstep or headspin is a far cry for a young girl in the war-torn country, where women were not allowed to receive education or leave the house without a male relative up until 2001 under the Taliban’s ultra-hardline rule.
But opposition and threats remain.
“People often say negative things…For example, they say we are Muslims, and dancing in Afghanistan is a sin because it is an Islamic country. Some people have even threatened me and say, ‘if we reach you, we will cut you into pieces.’ Threats like this, but I still do not want to give up,” says Talash, who studies in 11th grade in high school.
Apart from having to overcome social hurdles, Talash has to brace for tough physical training, but she is determined.
“Nothing is easy, you can learn and achieve the goal.”
(Production: Mohammad Akram / Sayed Hassib / Hameed Farzad)