Dancing In Iraq


Stuck in Iraq and bored with the war, two brothers, US Marines, showed a group of local kids how to do the C-walk. Some say they are hypocrites, who shoot at night and dance through the day. They say the only thing that they wanted was to dance.

For twin brothers, Oko and Akwetey Akrong, 26, their YouTube dance debut began as a way to kill time and spread joy. Their dance was the C-walk, and local kids clapped to give them a beat. Despite their 25-kilogram vests, ammo clips and desert boots, they did the dance justice.

Oko and Akwetey were US Marines based in Iraq. They were waiting for their platoon sergeant outside a gate at an observation station near Fallujah, and, feeling bored, they climbed off their truck towards some kids shouting 'Mister, Mister.'

'As we were the only black people in our platoon – the only two who knew how to dance – we decided to take it upon ourselves to give these kids a show,' says Oko.
The brothers said they put the dance on YouTube in 2006 so that their friends and family could see it. Beyond that, they value the video as proof for their future kids and grandkids that they were once young and could 'get down'. But they never expected it to log over 189,000 views.

There are people who say we're pretty much two-faced.
Oko & Akwetey Akrong, 26, Chicago, United States

In uploading their video the Akrong's had joined an online dance phenomenon. Dubbed 'Combat Dancing', grainy videos of fully-armed US soldiers dancing on patrol began appearing online in 2005. For Oko and Akwetey, their dance was a moment of positive connection after spending years at war, witnessing death and sadness in Afghanistan and Iraq. But many of the YouTube comments have been negative.

'There are people who say that we’re pretty much two-faced. That we go and shoot their fathers in the night-time and then come in the daytime and dance in front of them as though everything’s OK,' says Akwetey. The brothers don’t respond to the negative comments, but say they’re inspired by other postings that recognize the dance as what it was for them – a happy few minutes where they got to make some kids laugh, and to be themselves.

'We don’t have too much control over what goes on over there. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to do,' Akwetey says of their deployment to Iraq. He and his brother joined the US Marine Corps for the economic benefits, but they didn’t expect to go to war. 'We were bamboozled', says Akwetey. They question the US presence in Iraq. 'What is the purpose? What are we doing? I'd like to know because I can’t come up with anything sensible,'  says Akwetey. 'Everybody loses', adds Oko.

The brothers were born in Ghana but have spent most of their lives in Chicago and the suburbs. They started dancing at age four or five when their father, a pastor, took them on trips. They remember dancing for the big kids, doing tricks and flips and splits together. Now both have war injuries, and the flips are gone, but 'we’re still grooving,' says Oko.

These days most of their dancing revolves around their church. Temple of Victory is a small but spirited storefront which caters to West African immigrants in a poor block on the north side of Chicago. The church, a former garage, is definitely low-rent, but the mood is upbeat. Praise and worship means singing and dancing, and on Sundays women in African clothes swirl to Jesus while Oko and Akwetey form a danceline and boogie past the altar.

Since returning from Iraq the twins have become serious and dedicated Christians. They can’t really explain their transformation from secular kids to full-on Christians except to say that their uncle brought them to church, and now it’s the dominant element in their lives. They quote Bible passages and lead Sunday school classes. They still listen to rap, but not the secular kind. The beats are the same, but the message is gospel.