Interview by Ayyur
Photographed by Teresa Suárez
Creative director Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Styled & fashion by Morgane Bellefet
Makeup by Lila Drogo and assistant Camille Gautier
Cover design by Atef Daglees
Video cover design: Alaa Saadi
BTS photos Camille Léage
BTS video Nada Serhan 
This article is part of the “Ya Leil Ya Eyein” issue

Special thanks to L’Atelier Des Artistes En Exil – Paris for lending us the space and hosting us.

Updated: 20/09/2021

Habibitch (they/them) is more than ever attentive to the violence that runs through French society, whether it is anti-Muslim, racist, homophobic, or even ableist. Arriving in France after fleeing the civil war in Algeria when they were only four years old, Habibitch describes themselves as a non-binary femme boss dancer who continues to build the contours of their political fights from these ongoing scars. 

As a radicalised queer from the Algerian diaspora, they express themselves on social and political debates in France on Islam, immigration, and minorities. Because of their activism, claimed queer identity, and North African roots, they are often subjected to violent comments and attacks (sometimes even death threats) on social networks. Their dance practice is at the same time cathartic, aesthetic, militant, and therapeutic for the activist who through the movements of their body tries to envelop the audience in the struggles that draw its origins. 

Finding time between their numerous projects, Habibitch spoke with us over Zoom on issues of identity, performance, and the power and politics of dance.

Tulle top – Morgane Bellefet. Swimsuit – Asos Design. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own. Strappy sandals – Paisley

We are never better described than by ourselves, so who is Habibitch? 
I think Habibitch is the perfect intersection between a couple of my identities as born in Algeria but a part of the Western diaspora, and a queer person who at the same time uses English slang and traditional Arabic words. That would be a good sum-up of this character. And, of course, we can add “dancer”.

You define yourself as a non-binary boss femme from Kabyliefornie who proposes to rethink dance. What does the word dance mean to you and what types of dances do you enjoy doing? 
For me, dancing is therapy. It’s allowing me to stay alive, as cheesy as it may sound. But it’s not only a way to express myself; it’s also how I breathe and express everything that I go through. Through dance, I can express all of our struggles, whether they’re past or ongoing struggles, existential questions, or maybe very down-to-earth questions. 

It’s funny because I haven’t danced in a long time, in a couple of weeks now, which is to me a good mirror of how I feel. And it’s not great when I don’t dance for a couple of weeks because it means that I’m not doing good. It’s a good thermomètre. Even when I’m super down, I put myself into my dance and feel better. But when I don’t even have energy to put in my dance it means that I really have to go on holidays and rest, which I hope I will do. 

Dance is also how I reconcile my body and my mind. I do it in dancing, especially, since I’m a political body when dancing (as a performance). And, the dances that I use (voguing and waacking) are political dances because they come from political communities. It’s a bit heavy altogether, but at the same time, it makes me feel lighter in my life.

Tulle bra and ruff piece – Morgane Bellefet. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

You make a point recalling your relationship to dance as a vector of identity struggles. What are the identities that you try to represent or defend through dance?
On an external level, I don’t think there was before somebody that was a professional dancer, an activist, and an intellectual at the same time and all of this at the same time. I mix them constantly. For me, this is the most political artistic activity I could ever do and that was my goal. I’m very happy that it’s actually happening and the recognition I get is a recognition out of this specific mix of things. 

On a personal level, it’s no surprise that what I create is so hybrid because what I am is hybrid. I was born in Algeria and am from an Algerian family, but I’m also super queer, super gay. Those things don’t go together in people’s minds, meaning that they don’t think that you can be Algerian and gay while being proud of these two identities. 

Another layer of this hybridity is that I’m a dancer but I’m not thin and skinny. Thus, I also have to bear in mind that I have a non-normative way of carrying my body. You see there’s a lot of layers of hybridity altogether. 

You mentioned the history of the two dances you practice, waacking and voguing, and that it is often invisible in the general patchwork of dances that we know and hear about. Even more, we don’t hear so much about the history of this LGBTQIA+ milieu coming from black culture. How so?
It’s changing a little bit because we’ve been doing the work for a couple of years. Now people know these are LGBT queer dances or movements or culture that was invented by people of color and specifically black people. This is important to say, as well – it was mostly black people. The fact that I talk about the history of these dances all the time is a tool for me to talk about racial history in Europe generally; it’s a way to talk about race issues. 

Decolonize the Dancefloor was the name of this conference and is very sexy because it helps it get booked, but actually it’s not really just about the dancefloor. I use the dancefloor as a vector to talk about race issues, to talk about systemic racism, to talk about privileges, lack of justice to destroy white supremacy, white privilege and reverse racism. It is a tool to address these issues because it’s a tool that looks flamboyant and beautiful on the outside, but it has so many more layers to it; it’s a political instrument. 

Tulle bra and ruff piece – Morgane Bellefet. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

If you had to summarize Decolonize the Dancefloor in one sentence, what would you say?
That is a good challenge! Decolonize the Dancefloor is an educational tool using marginalized culture to talk about structural oppressions. Period.

Since we’re talking about your performance, there is often a tension around the questions of separatists or “non-mixed” spaces in France. Is the dancefloor for you a part of the process in this reappropriation of narrative? Should there be dancefloors that are also separatists or non-mixed? 
Well, the world is already a non-mixed place. The world is white, straight, cis, rich, ableist. We just don’t talk about it because that’s how systemic oppression works. We don’t talk about the dominance, we talk about the winners. The fact that we need safer spaces is very important because it’s a reaction to the world being super racist already, just in a way that we don’t talk about. 

The spaces I’m talking about, specifically ballrooms, were created in reaction to the pain caused by systemic oppressions. This led to resilience because resilience was not born of just a will or making something beautiful is born out of pain; resilience is born of suffering and political resistance. It’s clear in ballrooms, it’s clear in hip-hop. And everybody knows about hip-hop, but because it’s a heterosexual history. 

This is also why I try to give back its true significance and noblesse, if I may, to queer history, to queer people of color history. This is also what’s at stake in Decolonize the Dancefloor. Of course, I tackle separatism, especially in France, because France loves to criticize marginalized communities whenever they try to do something for themselves. I identify as “communautariste” and I’m proud of it.

Tulle bra and ruff piece – Morgane Bellefet. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the history of your activism goes back to your first demonstration accompanied by your Algerian father. What is your relationship to Algeria and how do you give it a place on the dancefloor?
It’s a complicated question because this is why I identify as Algerian but from the diaspora. It’s very important to place myself in the context of the Western diaspora because I’m obviously Algerian because I was born there, both of my parents are Algerian, and my culture is Algerian. But at the same time, I couldn’t live there; I knew that and I have to be honest about it. I wouldn’t have the life that I have if I had stayed in Algeria. It’s just something that I don’t want to say so much because then white people are gonna be like, “Oh yeah, you can go back there if you’re not happy,” and because I don’t trust white people in general, you know. But since our conversation will be read by people also coming from many diverse backgrounds, I feel like I can say it. 

However, I will say that Algeria is important for me and I hope that one day I’ll be able to go back. I go back often, I mean before the COVID and stuff, but I am hoping I can go and maybe give back to the queer community and LGBT community there by organizing workshops, for example. But I would never do something like Decolonize the Dancefloor in Algeria or North Africa or Africa, because it’s a Western performance which is something that is made for Western people, for white people in the Western world. I would feel like a neocolonialist to go back to Algeria and be like “Oh, this is how we talk about intersectionality and this is how we talk about privileges.” I know better. I would maybe share my dance knowledge because it’s something that’s more horizontal than vertical. I think it could be a sharing of experiences, of spaces and of knowledge of this Occident that I would bring back to Algeria, but that’s basically the only thing I would do. 

Tulle bra and ruff piece – Morgane Bellefet. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

Do you feel that in the French context, queer racialized people like yourself have a freedom to express themselves through dance? What obstacles continue to exist when one is queer and North African today in France? 
I mean, it’s  hard to be queer, first of all. It’s hard to be a person of color… it’s even harder. I think we should start defining “person of color”, as well, because I don’t like this definition for myself. This is why I say Algerian/North African – because “people of color” is a concept that is imported from the United States and it doesn’t work for France because it doesn’t fit the racial context. It doesn’t show the spectrum of the different racialization processes that have happened in France due to its colonial past. It doesn’t work for France which is also trying to get out of this box. As much as I use a lot of theory from the States, I also try to get out of it and try to be more specific as far as France is concerned. Being Algerian in France is not comparable to being black, or Pakistani, for example. “People of color” is a nice umbrella sometimes but we also need to be more specific. 

The racism that we go through in France is very different according to the specific context of racialization, especially for Algerians in France. We have a super heavy past and a super heavy identity to carry just because of the history, and this also needs to be visible. Of course I think it’s hard to be queer and it’s hard to be Algerian, but when you’re both… wow… I look at what I’m going through on Instagram right now and it shows it. 

Tulle top – Morgane Bellefet. Swimsuit – Asos Design. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own. Strappy sandals – Paisley

Let’s talk about this actually. You perform and you make art that is political and people react. Sometimes, people react very badly, especially in the Algerian diaspora. We can see that on Twitter – I refer here to your amazing appearance of Jean-Paul Gautier. How do you deal with that? Do you try to incorporate that experience into your dance process, or do you just throw it away? 
Well first of all I don’t want to hear about Twitter… it’s too much of a “mean girl energy” for me. I’m on Twitter and sometimes people send me tweets and I’m like…

I don’t really care about haters. I’m taking a little break at the moment because it made me laugh to see that hate was literally coming from every part of every type of fascism that can exist. I’m used to right wing fascists; it is usually the same old “Go back to Algeria” and it’s very basic. But then you have Algerian people saying “Never come back to Algeria”, so I’m like, where should I go? I have people telling me to go back to Algeria, but in Algeria I find people telling me to never come back. …

When I say people I say cis straight men can be terrible. Then I have like white men being like “You’re too fat”. Period. That’s the argument, as if we’re not in 2021, as if it could be an argument! The world has changed, get over it! Then, I have women, white women because I think white women can be very dangerous, too, and we need to address that. It’s hard to do because we need to confront internalized misogyny. They’re here on my platform telling me that I’m lesbophobic, which is hilarious considering the fact that I’m a good old dyke. They say that I’m lesbophobic and that I’m also contributing to rape culture by supporting trans women. So, you know what? What else could be said to me at the moment? 

So, no, I’m not using it in my dance or in my art because this is not what I want to talk about.  I’m just making it visible because I think it’s important for people to realize that when you’re visible, it’s not just gifts from brands but it’s also a lot of insults. You have to be very grounded and very strong, because it’s a lot of reactions and a lot of hate.

Tulle top and ruff piece  – Morgane Bellefet. Leggings – New Look. Body worn underneath – South Beach. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

I have a question for you, although simple. Habibitch, where is home for you? Is it your father that we see a lot or your friends, somewhere or someone else? 
See you ask good questions, you’re making me stay on the interview longer than expected. What is home? Who is home?

With my father, it hasn’t always been easy. It’s been hard to get where we are. I don’t necessarily show this on my social media just because I want to make visible happy stories about queers from North Africa because I’m just so tired of the sad and miserable frames of being queer from North Africa. I’m trying to create some other type of representation. My father and I have come a long way to get there and it hasn’t been easy, but I don’t think he is home.

I think home is the rare moments when I feel aligned with myself, where I feel I’m in my body entirely, where I don’t hate my body and don’t hate myself, but I accept it. Home is where I feel aligned with my close circle.  I know and hang out with a lot of people but my close circle is very small and very important to me, and it has been the same for years and years because I’m a very loyal bitch! 

I think home is not a place, right? Home is a moment in space and time. It is a fleeting moment where you just feel that you can breathe in and out without anxiety or sadness. Home is an existential moment. Sometimes I find it and sometimes I don’t find it. My hope in life is not to be home all the time. I like floating around in different homes, different spaces in time. It’s a movement, it’s a feeling, and it’s all of this floating together?

Tulle top and ruff piece  – Morgane Bellefet. Leggings – New Look. Body worn underneath – South Beach. Jewellery – Habibitch’s own.

What’s next for you, Habibitch? 
It’s always so many things. The next step might be for me to rest. Rest is also political because the will of doing overtime, doing and doing again is also something that we have to talk about. As you know, as marginalized people, we have this urge to be seen, to be heard, to be active, and to be recognized. I think that pushes us to be active all the time but I think rest should also be a part of political activism because we’re also allowed to chill sometimes.

A lot of your followers have been running a joke about you campaigning for 2022 French presidentials, how do you feel about that?
Well, I’m excited to burn it all to the ground. That’s all.