Dance as resistance and emancipation
Hip hop is not the only artistic movement to emerge from marginalised communities. Dance can be a means of resistance against racist, homophobic and transphobic oppression. Each of the art-forms broadly grouped under the banner of urban dance, has its own community and subculture, with its own way of living and making art.
For many, their first encounter with krump was the 2017 short film Les Indes Galantes, created by director Clément Cogitore and three choreographers: Bintou Dembelé, Grichka Caruge and Brahim Rachiki. Filmed in a single take at the Bastille Opera in Paris, it shows a powerful and mesmerising krump battle, featuring around twenty dancers from French krump families (known as “fam”) and forty extras. The dancers move to the music Jean-Philippe Rameau, augmented with percussive base and reinforced by the dancers’ stamping: this move – the stomp – is one of the foundational steps of krump. Here we can also see the chest pop, the arm swing, and the jab. The dancers’ expressions match their movements wrinkled brows, poking tongues, open mouths and so on. Each dancer creates a character, a kind of avatar, with their own unique energy and style. We hear them yell encouragement to each other, “hyping” their fellow dancers within the circle.
In the first part of her danced lecture, Nulle part est un endroit (Nowhere is a place), dancer Nach uses movement to tell the story of her first encounter with krump. Krump arose in the nineties in the ghettos of Los Angeles, in a context of police violence. The dancer Tommy the Clown invented a highly expressive kind of dance, designed both to entertain and instil positive values, which he performed at kids’ parties. In the streets, young people used this dance as a means of expression, channeling their rage into battles. Two of them, Tight Eyez and Big Mijo, were instrumental in the global development of the movement and appeared in David Lachapelle’s documentary, Rize. The movie had an immense impact on future krumpers. Nach saw it five times, and even traveled to Los Angeles to learn from these dancers in the early 2000s. Krump also helped her connect with other cultures across the world, and her work is now influenced by contemporary dance, flamenco and even buto.
Electro dance is the first urban dance created in France. It appeared in 2006, in Paris clubs and is inseparable from its music: house and techno. Electro is characterised by its distinctive and highly rhythmic arm and hand movements, inspired by the shapes created by glow sticks. Drawing on voguing, locking, house and popping, it incorporates a range of different moves, including tetris, flexing and bone breaking. The movement spread through YouTube and the 2007 Techno Parade. Youval, SteadyGun and Hagson took it beyond clubs, creating Vertifight, the first electro battle, in 2007. At the time there were around ten thousand electro dancers in France. In 2020, dancer, choreographer, DJ and activist Achraf Bouchefour founded Frequency, a series of events, including the titular battle, held at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. It has become a major event for electro fans worldwide, and has also been held in other locations in Paris: La Villette and the Théâtre national de Chaillot.
Achraf is a member of the Alliance Crew, along with Brandon Masele, aka Miel, another key figure in French electro dance. Brandon Masele and Laura Nala, created the company Mazel Freten, to create works blending hip hop and electro. In 2002 they produced Rave Lucid, the first choreographed electro dance piece, for ten dancers. A work of frenetic movements, set to (extremely) fast-paced, dark techno. The group choreography is highly original and extremely precise, featuring mesmerising, large ensembles reminiscent of the most demanding pieces in classical ballet, but with arm movements instead of fouettés. NikiT’s original music seems to amplify the synchronised heart-beats pulsing through the dancers’ bodies.
Waacking & Voguing
While hip hop enabled dancers to express messages about class and race, waacking and voguing – created by afro and latinx LGBT communities - also speak to the expression of sexual orientation and gender identity. They promote reappropriating the body and embracing all forms of beauty.
Waacking emerged in the early seventies, on the Los Angeles club scene, within gay, black and latinx communities. It was then popularised by the TV show “Soul Train”. For these dancers, clubbing has a political aspect, since the club is a space where they can gather and meet people with similar experiences. Danced to disco music, waacking is characterised by distinctive arm movements and diva-style poses inspired by 1920s Hollywood movies. “You’re wack” can be taken to mean “you’re messed up”.
Dancers took this insult and turned it into a means of empowerment. Josépha Madoki is one of the key figures in waacking culture in France and Europe. She co-founded Ma Dame Paris, the first French waacking collective, in 2016, and created the shows Waackez-vous Français ? and Oui, et vous ?, along with icons Sonia Bel Hadj Brahim and Mounia Nassangar. In D.I.S.C.O. she recreates a club on stage, with DH Najeet and nine dancers under a giant disco ball. The show celebrates bodies, joy and partying, club culture and tackles the violence still perpetuated against LGBT communities worldwide.
Voguing emerged around the same time on the East Coast of the United States in Harlem, New York, as a reaction to racism within the LGBT community. At the time, drag queen competitions were chiefly won by white people. African American and Latinx drag artists and trans people decided to organise their own balls: catwalk-style beauty pageants, increasingly featuring dance. Voguing moves are inspired by modelling poses and the name comes from Vogue magazine. The voguing community is divided into “houses”, which function like families and often act as a refuge for young people who have been rejected by their own families due to their identity.
Lasseindra spent her teenage years in Harlem, where she discovered voguing, which gave her a space where she was free to fully be herself. She moved to Paris in the 2000s, and contributed to the emergence of the French ballroom scene, as Stéphane Mizrahi and Glo Brooks had done before her. She brought with her the House of Ninja, founded in 1982 by Willi Ninja, recognised as the godfather of vogue. Vogue dancers compete in three different categories: old way, new way and, as we see here, vogue fem. Lasseindra is Wonder Woman, facing off against the Finnish dancer, Inxi, aka Sailor Moon. Voguing is over the top and flamboyant.
On the catwalk, hair and hands (right down to the fingernails) are important. Costumes are key and are chosen according to the theme of the ball. One of voguing’s most famous moves is the death drop, consisting of an impressive jump, landing in half-splits on the ground.
In recent years the ballroom scene has grown in popularity, with large-scale events hosted by cultural institutions. In September 2023, the Lyon dance Biennale got together with the Gaı̂té Lyrique and the legendary Vinii Revlon, international father of the House of Revlon, to organise a ball at the Usines Fagor in Lyon. The theme was “Fight for your rights”, participants competed for trophies and prize money. There were 14 categories, including “Runway”, judged on both look and walk. Participants were given the following cue: “create an innovative look inspired by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat: an eminent painter whose work reflected his political convictions.”
Formerly known as Ari de B, Habibitch dances voguing and waacking (after having trained as a hip hop dancer for two years). Habibitch uses dance as a way to challenge dominant hierarchies, and colonialist structures in particular. A French-Algerian, queer, non-binary activist, they discovered voguing in 2011, during a trip to San Francisco. Back in Paris, they entered the ballroom scene, where they met Kiddy Smile, who invited them to join the House of Mizrahi in 2015. Today voguing enables them to bring their political message to stages across the world.
Marginalised communities created socially engaged dance styles as a way to assert their right to exist freely. The recognition, visibilisation and subsequent commercialisation of these subcultures has opened up professional opportunities for a certain number of artists from marginalised communities, but has also created the conditions for cultural appropriation and the invisibilisation of the original creators and values behind these movements.
At the start of Rose-Amélie Da Cunha's project, there is a social and activist dimension. Coming from a working-class background, urban dances were for her a gateway, a source of inspiration and an encouragement to self-determination. After specialized studies in events and cultural mediation, she worked for 12 years on the development of Pôle Pik, a hip-hop choreographic center, the Karavel Festival then Pôle en Scènes, in the Lyon region. In 2020, she continued her commitment to dance and supporting artists within La Villette in Paris, by being responsible for programming hip-hop and coordinating the system, co-founded by the Fondation de France: Initiatives d 'Artists in Urban Dances (IADU). Currently freelance within an Activity and Employment Cooperative (CAE), convinced by the capacity of the Social and Solidarity Economy to achieve major transformations, she supports project leaders in the realization of their ideas, in being particularly attentive to the question of the representation of minorities in artistic creation. She has advised L'Azimut in Île-de-France for the programming of dance shows since November 2021 and was commissioned by the Les Nuits de Fourvière festival to ensure the design and artistic co-direction of the “Vogue la nuit”, at SUBS in Lyon in July 2022. She is currently collaborating on the writing of courses around hip-hop dances for the Numeridanse platform, in the organization of festive events for La Biennale and the Maison de la danse de Lyon and the dance and circus programming of the Maison de la Culture (MC2) in Grenoble. In 2023 it is launching a collective reflection to support the professionalization of the choreographic sector in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. At the same time, she volunteers in several Lyon organizations that echo her convictions: Rêv’Elles, Café Rosa and the Guillotière Neighborhood Council where she lives.
Rose-Amélie Da Cunha
Texts and bibliography
Rose-Amélie Da Cunha
Maison de la Danse