Afro By Sara: Meet the viral dancing mum of Instagram giving people #familygoals
Social media stardom, motherhood and dancing: The Lebanese Afrobeats choreographer, Sara Karrit, who recently set up base in Dubai, breaks it down...
Not very often that we stumble upon an Instagram page with a young mother of two dressed in traditional headgear, busting it out to some infectious Afrobeats like nobody’s business. With a social media community of almost one million followers — dancers and non-dancers alike — Sara Karrit is the Lebanese Afrobeats dancer who gave us all #quarantinegoals early last year, with her viral dance video of a good ol’ family jam-session. In March 2020, the Lebanese dance-mom dropped a funky video of herself with her husband and then six-year-old son, grooving to the tunes of an Afrobeats act, DJ Neptune. And in less than 24 hours, the video took the Internet by storm, making everyone who watched it want to stand right up and shimmy along.
With a resident spot on the viral-o-meter, and the Internet’s blessings, the 29-year-old, ‘gram famous by the name of Afro By Sara, has risen from 27k followers to 974k in just over a year, spreading love and joy through her footwork. In a conversation with wknd., the dancer who recently relocated to Dubai from Lebanon, opens up about her sudden social media claim to fame and why her love for Afrobeats makes balancing motherhood easier.
You recently moved to Dubai from Lebanon. What has brought you here?
I’ve moved to Dubai because the situation in Lebanon is very critical. We have no electricity, no food, no pharmacies, everything is closed. So that’s why we made the decision to move to Dubai. We’re very happy and excited because our work is already here. I had earlier been going and coming back from Lebanon every other month. So, this is the best decision we could have taken.
How did Afro by Sara take shape?
Initially, Afro By Sara was my solo dance page. I’ve been teaching Afrobeats dance for over five years. It just started off as uploading videos of my dance that I used to record during my classes and post on social media. Then, we shot a family dance video in March 2020 and it went viral. So, after that, it became more of a family dance page and now, we’ve also started posting comedy videos of us doing skits together as a family, which people are receiving very well.
How did you react to the video going viral? When you woke up to over half-a-million views in less than 24 hours...
We were very happy but I didn’t know how to react because it wasn’t expected at all. It was a simple video — a dance video in our kitchen. So, we didn’t realise what was happening. but it felt amazing. I had 27k followers. And it went to 300k in two days because of that video. As soon as I posted the video, within only15 minutes, it started going viral. Everybody was reposting it. Even big stars such as Janet Jackson. We even got a call from The Ellen Show but of course at that time, we couldn’t go there.
What do you think made that video go viral?
It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, so everybody was at home due to the lockdown and it was just something that people weren’t used to seeing before. So, maybe it felt refreshing. A lot of people wrote comments saying it brought them joy and happiness, especially at a time when their lives had suddenly changed.
When did your passion for dance and specifically Afrobeats take root?
I’ve always been a dancer ever since childhood but I used to only do hip hop, Latino and breakdance. Around seven years ago, I did a Zumba workshop. It wasn’t a dance class, it was more like a fitness class but with Afrobeats. I sort of got reintroduced to dance and this style of dance. I discovered that I can actually do this style and immediately loved doing it, without having ever learned it before. I fell in love. I grew up in Africa so I felt like I naturally had a sense of Afrobeats within me. I started teaching myself through YouTube videos and I’d always keep practising it. There was no culture of Afrobeats and this type of dance in Lebanon at the time. So, that’s when I got the idea of teaching it. The style was very new and I thought I could introduce it to my country.
You’re a mother of two now and you got married at the tender age of 18. Were you able to continue dancing? Was it easy to take out time?
My first marriage took place very early on. Initially, it was very difficult since I was a young mother. My time was only for my husband, my child and my house. I left everything. I didn’t do any activities. But as soon as I took that first workshop, something happened. I don’t know what exactly but I felt like I woke up. And that’s when I started dancing again. I remember my elder son, Steve, who was just two years old at the time… I used to take him with me to all my classes. I used to make him sit in a baby chair and he would watch me do my dance classes. One day, I discovered that he had also learned Afro through watching me in my classes. I played a track at home and he just stood up and did the whole choreography! I was shocked because I didn’t know he had been learning all this while. And then as he grew up, he also started helping me out. I’d take him to all my classes and sometimes if I was too tired, he’d offer to even teach the class for me.
A lot of mothers tend to give up on their interests along the way. How did you stay motivated?
I just felt like I had to do what I love because it was the only way to release stress. When you are a mother, it’s already stressful. If you don’t do something you love in between, you can’t carry on without stress. You have to do what you love. Something that will let you feel happy and get rid of the stress, so you can continue to be calm and happy with your family. As a mother, it’s very difficult to manage everything at the same time.
Was your family supportive of your decisions?
Having a family that supports you is the most important thing. You need it. My family pushed me to do what I love, and they used to tell me I’m amazing at dancing and it gives them positive energy, so I should continue doing what I love. This made all the difference. When you have someone that pushes you to do what you want, you’ll do it with confidence.
There’s often this notion that Arab families can be a little conservative…
We grew up in Africa. So, we didn’t have 100 per cent traditional Arab mentality, growing up. We had friends from a lot of different cultures. And we’re open minded, but at the same time, we’re not disconnected to our culture and our roots. We can do what we love without bothering other people. We respect everyone, and we want people to respect us as well. That’s the mentality we have. So, I can’t compare my family with other Arabs because we didn’t grow up in an Arab country. And that’s also where my love for Afrobeats stems from.
What is the biggest gift dance has given you?
It has given me a lot of confidence. I’m an extremely shy person. But most importantly, it has helped to destress a lot because I’m not someone who can talk about their feelings. When I’m sad or something is bothering me, I just keep it inside. Afrobeats specifically helped me to release my stress. I was also dealing with depression. So, it helped me a lot with that.
How did dance help you overcome depression?
I had my second baby last November... baby Zad. It was a very difficult experience for me because I had a lot of complications. When I delivered, he had some problems so the doctors had to do three operations on him. It was a very tough time. He’s fine now, Alhamdulillah! But it was stressful. I suffered bad depression. So, I stopped dancing for a while because I just couldn’t get myself to do it. But then when I started dancing again, slowly, the stress started easing up. Afrobeats does that to me. I just feel it sucks all the stress out of me. Even now, it’s very hard to manage everything with a toddler but the support of my husband and my other son has helped through everything.
Thank you for sharing that so honestly…
There are a lot of mothers who have the same problem. And they don’t talk about it openly, as they don’t have support. They have to accept that it happens, talk about it and work on overcoming it. We have to look for what we love to do. Otherwise we’ll just pass on our stress and anxiety to our kids. Becoming a mother is not easy. We’re allowed to feel all these emotions. I wanted to breastfeed. And I’m still breastfeeding because I wanted to do it. And It wasn’t easy at all. When you’re stressed and going through depression, there are chances your body will not produce milk. So, even if I felt like I was very stressed with everything that had happened, I focused on the fact that my baby needed me. My family went through a turmoil and was extremely worried, including me, but I had to maintain a brave front for everyone’s sake. It’s the hardest thing to do. To appear strong when you’re breaking inside. But for my baby, I needed to be happy, to do what I needed, for him.
How do you feel now? Do you feel like yourself again?
I still face some problems with everything that I’ve been through but I feel better now. Much better. Moving to Dubai has also been a big help. It’s making me move on from what happened. The change of environment.
When one sees your social media, it seems like such a happy place. Does social media put pressure to showcase only the good bits of your life?
Social media can never show the full picture. Every family has their own problems. It’s natural. I don’t really post about my private life on social media. Also, I didn’t choose to be a family influencer. That’s what people often call me now. But I’m happy I became that because I’m spreading love. And a lot of people come back to me and say that I helped them a lot. Especially Arab women, who come and say that I give them courage to chase their dreams. It makes me really happy. But I like my private life as well. So, that’s why I don’t share a lot of things on social media. I just make videos when I want to and feel up to it. I don’t force myself to do it. I don’t want to hate my job in the end.
The hustle culture of today dictates otherwise…
No matter how much you love what you do, there will be times when you will not feel up to it. It’s important to slow down when you need to. For instance, after delivering my baby, my life was very stressful. Maybe I feel like I’m tired. I just want to sleep, I just want to rest. I don’t want to be forced to do something when I’m not fine. Even with my son, who features in my videos often, I always give him the option of not doing it. I don’t force him because that’s not the right way. I can’t make people happy if I’m not happy. I have to be happy first.
Lastly, it’s not every day we see Arab women doing what you do. Has there also been criticism?
Of course. There’s been both — positive and negative comments. But it was a personal choice that I had to make. People will always have something to say. When you know what you’re doing and you do it with love, just go ahead and do it. Initially, it was hard to block out the negative comments because it was something new so people were not used to seeing it. But I kept asking myself, “Should I do it or not?”. Lack of surety can lead to insecurity, and the negative comments pinch you a lot more. But after a point, I sat with myself and asked, “Is there anything wrong with what I’m doing?”. And I got the clarity I needed. So, the bad comments didn’t impact me in the same way anymore. This is what I love doing. And it’s helped me with a lot of things in my life, especially my struggle with depression.