Hannah Burks has firmly planted her feet in the Birmingham creative scene. As the belly dancer and punk rock musician would say - she’s taking up space. Hannah’s work with the Punk Rock Art Shows, music nights at True Story, dance classes, private lessons, Birmingham Oddities, and as a proud mother and wife has been how many people have known the talented Birminghamian for years. She is now adding punk rock singer with Birmingham band Over Seasons to her resume. Burks can also be found singing and performing as Amy Winehouse on October 29th beginning at 6pm at True story Brewing for The Misfit Masquerade. Things are only picking up for Hannah Burks, and she’s enjoying the new directions life is taking her.
“My dad is from Syria and my mother is from Alabama, although she has lived all over the country. They met in Texas, and my dad - obviously being from Syria - had a huge Middle Eastern Influence growing up. I did grow up Islamic. My dad also owned a restaurant in Tuscaloosa,” Burks explains, “I danced in the restaurant growing up basically, and I just hung out there all the time. We listened to Arabic music at home and whenever we had family come visit from out of the country we’d spend a lot of time dancing and spending that cultural time together.”
Hannah had taken over a decade of ballet, tap, and jazz courses while she was still a teenager, and wanted to start incorporating elements of her family’s culture into the routines that she was doing. After a few years of dancing publicly, Hannah decided to pursue further training. She studied in Birmingham and in Florida with instructors such as Johana Zenobia, who not only guided Hannah into new realms of dancing but helped her become an instructor in the process. Burks had a hunger for learning about the many different branches of belly dancing which include folk dances from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and all over. She has spent the last 15 years exploring the depths of each of these beautiful cultures.
While Hannah enjoys all the dances - and believes in centering her lessons around confidence instead of a certain dance - she does have her favorites. “I am specifically interested in something called Baladi, which in Arabic means country,” she shares, “It’s typically more of an emotional dance and it is absolutely 100% improvised.” Burks also has a soft spot for the Flamenco dance.
Burks’ initial teaching classes were geared for youth, but the Birmingham dancer wanted to expand her availability to include options for adults to take classes that built up their confidence. The classes center around stress relief, stretching, confidence-building, and of course dancing. “I’m focusing on the journey with everybody rather than just trying to become a better dancer,” Burks relays, “Not everybody wants to dance, and not everybody wants to perform. But everybody does want to feel confident in taking up the space that they are in. Especially as women, sometimes we feel absolutely shut down and sometimes hopeless even at things that are constantly thrown at us. Being confident in yourself is the best avenue to combat that.”
In addition to her classes, Burks has been able to expand her dancing influence by coming up with unique dance sets for the metal, punk, ska nights, and more that come to True Story Brewing company thanks to the Art By Burx experience. Each genre presents a new opportunity to “explore what all is available to me as a performer, which translates even more to me teaching.”
Burks has also recently taken the role of rock band lead singer, which has been an exciting jump for the creative. “I’m very interested in how it’s going because I’ve been performing more than I’ve been alive in this is the first time I’ve been confident enough in myself to put myself in a music realm,” Hannah explains. She’s been recording with Justin Stokes, and has enjoyed the song creation and writing process. In less than a year, Hannah has gone from wishing to be in a band to leading bands at some of Birmingham’s biggest events.
Hannah hasn’t spent her entire adult life in the Magic City, but this has only made her appreciate her role in the city more. “Having lived in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Tampa for extended amounts of time, I have always come back to Birmingham. Sometimes for family reasons, but never have I ever regretted it. When I am in Birmingham I feel something that I do not feel in other places, which is a sense of community. I’m not saying other places don’t have that, it’s just that Birmingham has a very special sense of community to where when we do come together on things we actually progress as friends,” Burks shares, “That part of Birmingham makes me always want to do things. We have a very interesting culture of community and it is so precious to me.”
Burks used to be nervous to share her talents with the world, but sees the importance of celebrating dance, music, and culture. “Life is all about watching. We’ve had folk dances and music for a lifetime for every minute we’ve been on this earth,” Hannah states, so why should she not embrace her role in it all? “It’s taken me years to cultivate that, and you can cultivate it too. Let’s do it together.”
We’re thankful to have such a magnificent leader to guide us on this confidence journey.
All images provided by Hannah Burks