DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
Breaking crew battle @ IBE 2010
Last week's Who Iz Underground took over a small alcove in a deserted section of a train station in Paris.  This past weekend's Notorious IBE (International Breakdance Event) took over an entire town in Holland!  

It was B-boy city in the Netherlands as the IBE had set up shop in 8 different venues all over the small city of Heerlen for the whole weekend.  (Although that entire Saturday I thought we were in Rotterdam until a Dutch friend kindly informed me otherwise.  "Wait, what do you mean we're not in Rotterdam??")  From an open air venue in the town square to their major concert hall to their local university to every other multipurpose space available, the IBE had completely taken over.

Heerlen had clearly embraced the huge international event which boasted over 2,500 b-boys and b-girls from 30 different countries (mostly European).  The mayor of the town officially welcomed the IBE-ers at the opening ceremony.  Locals integrated into the crowds and watched cheerfully.  TV news crews covered the spectacle (and interviewed yours truly!).  And there is no question, that like any other industry convention, the IBE was a boon for local businesses and the local economy, which is good news for this struggling city that lost 60,000 jobs when coal mines were closed several decades ago. 

I arrived Saturday afternoon following a four-hour cramped car ride at the back of a VW Golf with four other dancers from Paris.  We left from Porte de la Chapelle at 9am where throngs of other Paris dancers were boarding buses all headed for Heerlen.  It was mass exodus for the promised land of street dance culture (at least for that weekend).

A Senegalese-French popper I met at Who Iz Underground had invited me along for the excursion.  With us in the car was a b-boy, a Hip Hop dancer, and another popper, all of whom were of African or Arabic ethnicity.  We went on to meet up with other French dancers at IBE from Paris and Lille, few of whom I would guess were ethnically French.
The main venue on Saturday @ IBE 2010
While the French street dance scene is comprised mainly of those from immigrant communities, this did not seem to be the case for the busloads that arrived from the UK, Italy, Portugal, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, which tended to be more mixed or just predominately white.  

Hip Hop culture in every country and every city takes root in different ways, varying according to who is growing that particular scene.  Even in the US, the traditional Hip Hop dances like breaking and popping are practiced by Latinos, Asians, and whites.  In contrast, the newer Hip Hop dances like Flexing and Jerkin' are predominately practiced by Black youth.

Out of all the Parisian dancers I met, only one was living off the culture as a professional dancer.  In the mix were also: 
  • an air conditioner repairman
  • a computer engineer
  • an airport worker (unclear as what exactly)
  • a theater director
  • a marketing manager for a major pharmaceutical company (Which one? Hint: they make a drug for erectile dysfunction.)
  • a college student
For the most part, English language ability correlated with occupational status, except in the case of the professional dancer who actually spoke English the best.  Ironically though, he had gone to college to study international business.

Walking down the street, based on our baggy jeans and the color of our skin, it would be easy to assume that we were ghetto youth when in actuality, we defied any single socio-economic class, any single level of education, any single ethnicity.  We were as diverse as the Hip Hop culture we embraced.  Hooray for the subversion of prejudice and unity through diversity!

Breaking in the Heerlen town square
Language and Unity 
As the professional dancer told me in his British-accented English: "Big events like these are really great 'cuz they bring people together, and just because we don't speak the same language, we still communicate to each other through dance."

Despite this heart-warming account of a boundary-less Hip Hop-unified world, I could still sense the nationalist pride underscoring the event.  Dancers repped where they were from to the fullest.  They waved flags and debated which country had the strongest talent, which country was on top.  And to me it seemed that France was.  Whether in the breaking, popping, locking, Hip Hop, or house battles, their presence was felt.

But even within the French contingent was a huge dividing line between Paris and Lille.  The cities clashed on the dancefloor, with respect and admiration yes, but with bitter rivalry as well.  It was like the South Bronx feuding with Queens.  In the end though, it hardly mattered.  Everyone gave pounds and exchanged hugs, expressing their eagerness for the next city and next event they would see each other at.

As our driver, the computer engineer explained to me: "I don't really go out to clubs or anything.  I just practice during the week and travel almost every weekend to battle."  This is street dance life.

Coverage of Day 3 of the IBE from IBE TV:


    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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