DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
It was the year 2000.  Scattered among tapes in my friend's basement in New Jersey, one VHS caught my eye like a diamond in the rough.  On the cover graffiti block letters hovered over an ill drawing of a b-boy doing headspins.  It was Battle of the Year 1998, and it felt like finding buried treasure in your own backyard: pure gold and straight underground.

I had never seen breakin like this before.  The basement party cyphers and subway station performances did not prepare me for BOTY, the world championships for b-boy supremacy.  Live on stage in Offenbach, Germany, France's The Family faced California's Rock Force Crew in the heated controversial final, Japan's Spartanic Rockers taking "Best Show" honors.  Not only an introduction to a culture, it was a gateway to a whole new world.

A decade later, BOTY continues to be the biggest and most legendary b-boy event.  It's kept the Bronx dance style alive and evolving, providing inspiration for aspiring b-boys in every corner of the world.  It's also the focus of Benson Lee's 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy (whose image I sampled for this blog's banner) and is the inspiration for his upcoming feature.

The last BOTY France won was 2006 when Vagabonds placed 1st
Celebrating its 21st anniversary this past weekend, BOTY abandoned its home country of Germany for the first time and relocated to Montpellier, France.  This changing of the guard marks a major turning point for France's b-boy scene.  It's an acknowledgement of France's stature as breakin powerhouse, a country that's produced BOTY champions four times, 2nd place finishers twice, and "Best Show" winners twice.  The only country more dominant is Korea, having won six times in the past decade.

The event has helped launched the careers of France's best dancers, earning them worldwide renown.  "It [BOTY] gave me a name in the world of b-boying," says By of Fantastik Armada, 2004 runner-ups.  France's best known street dancer Salah, winner of the first season of Incroyable Talent (France's version of America's Got Talent), made his international debut in the 1998 BOTY final against Rock Force.

BOTY started out in Hanover, Germany in 1990 with just over 500 spectators and representation from Germany, the UK, and Switzerland.  This past Saturday, the annual event hosted 14,000 in Montpellier's ARENA with crews from 19 countries worldwide (having won regional or national qualifiers), from Israel to South Africa to Brasil, competing for the title. 

Korea notched another victory in their championship belt as Jinjo crew overwhelmed Japan's Mortal Combat.  France's La Smala finished a respectable fourth, but certainly disappointing for the hometown crowd. 

Major French TV network Canal covered the event live over the internet, complete with pro-sports-like commentary and interviews. 

The move to France has certainly increased the event's live audience but new problems have emerged.  The MCs now have the cumbersome task of hyping the crowd in English and in French.  While English was no problem in Germany, it's obvious that the crowd in Montpellier has a lower threshold for it.

And already there's backlash from the b-boy community at the different atmosphere in France's BOTY.  On the global forum bboyworld.com, one commenter advocates for a return to the past: "It was the worst crowd in the history of BOTY, bring it back to Germany next year."  Others described this BOTY as the "weakest" and "horrible," while another clamored for majority English MCing.

BOTY is slated for at least one more year in Montpellier.  For the French b-boy scene, it's still a relished honor to host, to attend, and to compete.  "Ever since I was a kid," Lilou, of 2003 champions Pockemon, explains, "I dreamt of being on that stage."  Next year, France will have one more opportunity to own that stage.

Here's a great short documentary on the 10th anniversary of BOTY's qualifications and what it's meant for the local scene:


    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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