Cisfemininities as bodies-without-organs in hip hop, street and urban dance styles
Self-reflections on the field
Being a feminist anthropologist and street dance scholar opened up certain possibilities which delineated my path towards my audiovisual cinematic portrayal of female street dancescapes. Being a cis woman, at least up to the present moment, determined my research scopes and analytical categories which were ghosted by the historical dilemmas and frameworks of the classic heteronormative binary between a female body and a masculine body. Hence, my enduring research has mainly focused on how hip hop, street and urban dances could release the female dancing body from prefabricated gendered stereotypes, representations and solidities and how, womanhood, the female and the feminine figuration could be constructed and preserved non essentialistically and non monolithically; not necessarily in distinction to an ideal type of masculinity and not even in some comparison to queerness.
These reckonings have escorted my main research questions since I was first introduced to ethnographic dance research which was revolving around the ways the female body in street and hip hop dance was genderly construed as either a free-floating, “formless formation” (Ruiz & Vourloumis 2021) or as a solid entity depending on hierarchical gender relations and distinctions. In a similar vein, I started wondering whether street dancing bodies – as elaborated in the famous Deleuzian and Guattarian theories (1987) – evoke bodies-without-organs. Could they be BwOs freely amenable to the flows and intensities of the desiring machines which compose them? Free-floating and fragmented bodies with no linkages and strings attached? What could be the restraints keeping female street dancing bodies away from inorganic, unfinished and in flux procedures?
Urban, hip hop and street dancers are vastly engaged with an improvised bodily performance populated to a large extent by body intensities. Street styles conscript and foster processes – sometimes traumatic – where the individual transgresses and vacillates between the molar and molecular (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), the compact and the fluid movement, an interior-intrinsic body and an exterior-extrinsic body. Under this prism, embodiment as an ongoing process could be narrated as the conflicting terrain of reconciliation and dissidence in relation to these two different nexuses. This embodiment process constantly adapts and materializes new experience to the flesh and thus it can never produce teleologically a terminating ensemble. Under certain agonistic agencies and circumstances, it can also lead to the production of an interbody, that is a relational, intersubjective and affectionate body, a “BwO which is never yours or mine. It is always a body” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: pg 164).
Urban, hip hop and street dance styles in their contemporary configurations mostly represent intact cultures and street habitus stemming from traditions of non-western/colonised countries. They are based on the reappropriation and bricolage of these local traditions, generated mainly in the U.S. during the 70s, whilst they carry their own histories, local and translocal meanings and heritages. Their moving patterns and kinetic languages encapsulate and reflect both social normativities and antinormativities through embodiments of elusive and imperceptible movements of an everyday urban reality mingled with ethnic traditions which in turn take new allegorical meaning when placed under different musical genres such as hip hop, house, disco, afrobeats, dancehall music, funky breakbeats and electro.
Do all these street body intensities manufacture Deleuzian and Guattarian bodies-without-organs? Certainly not. In line with my enduring research which began in 2009 I have assumed that hip hop and street dance cultures may resonate patriarchies, puritanisms and institutions of eligibility which are funneled through bodily restrictions and subtle canons. Despite the high levels of freedom and experimentation they inspire, they also frequently generate disciplined bodies and hierarchies which trap individuals into gendered exclusions and inclusions.
On the other hand, cisgender and queer appropriations of hip hop, street and urban dance styles engender different subjectivations, performative politics and embodiments; usually more conventionalities and securities in the first case and more unconventionalities and fluidities in the second case. However cisgenderness or even queerness do not automatically and unconditionally entail or pre-suppose a body-without-organs. In this text, drawing from my research material on women’s performativities among different hip hop, street and urban dance styles I offer some reflections on the fragile moments where cisgender female bodies in hip hop and urban dance styles configure formless formations and bodies-without-organs in respect to different women’s subjectivities, dance embodiments, narratives and performativities in Greece. These bodies create subversive performancescapes and body assemblages.
Women in Greece who are involved in breaking are usually either native Greek women or women from second generation immigrant families (mainly of Albanian or Bulgarian descent) between eighteen and twenty-five years old. Breaking is highly male dominated in Greece. Women usually enter male-dominated breaking crews urged by personal intimacies (breaking movies, TV shows etc), their friends, boyfriends or relatives. They begin by experimenting in squares and sleek public spaces and after a short time they enter a crew. Remaining in a male-dominated breaking crew is not an easy task. They are undergoing several ritual processes and self-reflections which sometimes lead them to abandon their efforts. B-girls often go through psychological stress and emotions of loneliness, as their instructors, boyfriends, parents and friends usually don’t understand their painful efforts. They try to cope with the misogyny and the changes in their bodies and hard practice. They strive to find their personal style while at the same time they can become vessels of intimidations, exclusions and peer pressures quite unexpectedly from their male co-dancers. There are of course b-boys who show their respect and support but usually the main emotional help comes from their female co-dancers and their interconnectedness as well as their own self-awareness. As I have noted during my long-running participant observations amongst three b-girls, in the first years of their involvement with breaking, their movements incorporated footwork and toprock following the standards of the hard line movements of b-boys. In due course with maturity, bodily changes and technical training their movements became softer, smoother, more rhythmic and effeminate with quick and abrupt finishes and freezes.
B-girl Nalum for example identifies specific stages in her practice which change periodically and relationally, especially in relation to b-boys: a) a stage of passivity and a feeling of trying to gain control which kept her in stagnation, b) a stage of complaisance which made her receive disparagingly undesired behaviours but at the same time helped her to think of things in a feminist way, c) a more aggressive and confident stage when she felt comfortable with herself and reclaimed her rights. After a long time of self-reflection, self-experimentation and involvement in dancing and spoken dialogues with b-boys, B-girl Nalum managed to build a strong feminist identity and incorporated effeminate movements in her slides and footwork. During Covid when she found time to practice alone, this helped her to explore her feminine identity and body image and incorporate movements of tsifteteli (Greek belly dance with effeminate kinesthesia) in her combinations and choreographies. She’s also developed a very activist and feminist profile on social media and in her off-line everyday life, making posts about the muscular female body, topics of femicide and sexism in breakdance and the hip hop community. She feels very proud when she air chairs with her long sharp nails.
B-girl Happy, sees herself as being neither very girly, nor a tomboy. As she states she takes on a gender-neutral role when she dances. Just like the “badass femininity” that Imani Kai Johnson (2014: pg 16) recognizes in her female breaking subjects, this gender-neutral role between the girl and the tomboy constitutes a marginalised femininity. B-girl Happy has difficulty communicating with girls outside breaking who cannot understand her mentality and it took her some time to get used to her muscular body eventually feeling more comfortable with it.
Both she and B-girl Nalum assert that when they feel relaxed – which is something they have succeeded after many years – they are more competent and give their best outcomes. They want to exceed their limits by getting out of their kinesiological familiarities and make a difference with a new dance language or unfixed movements. They somehow represent what Jennifer Roche (2015: pg 116-117) has described as the process of becoming a body-in-motion, a destabilizing experience that interrupts the dancer’s sense of a continuous and solid corporeal self. This process engenders breaking new creative ground through interrupting habitual and familiar movement. B-girl Happy says that she doesn’t want to repeat the same movement all the time (e.g. flare) but wants to alternate it with other movements: “inventing different moves is like unlocking different aspects of my personality”. Finally, both b-girls are combative, serious and quick when they face their opponents, strategies built and employed after many years of battling and practicing.
Popping and Waving
Popping is an original hip hop funk style and it is also another male dominated dance style in Greece. Female poppers are not very prevalent in Greece and they are mainly established in the two capitals, Athens and Thessaloniki. As my research outlines they start by getting to know different hip hop and street dance styles and choose popping after a while. They enter a hip hop or breakdance crew as female poppers and some of their goals are to become teachers or participate in competitions locally and internationally. For some female poppers to become girly and explore a childish sense of identity (Koutsougera 2018) is a crucial stage and dance identity which is equally powerful as dangerous femininity or female masculinity. It is a subjectivation in Deleuzian and Guattarian terms which embraces the little girl, the little Alice in Wonderland, the process of becoming woman. They embody the girl who is perpetually changing in terms of orientations and trajectories, not simply in terms of growth and development (Grosz 1994: pg 176).
However there are young women who refrain from embodying a girly figure. Titania is a female popper from the area of Drama who took her alias from an anime character which incarnates a female fighter. She belongs in the hip hop crew “Street WarrioZ” who have won many battles in Greece. Day by day Titania incorporates more effeminate looks and dance styles and practices several styles of popping such as boogaloo, hits, waving and tutting. She is very humorous and childish (but not girlish) and when she dances she seems to refrain from an elegant and effeminate self, imitating something clunky and inhuman. In most of her performances it seems like she is struggling to escape femininity. However in contrast to that representation, Titania feels that she embodies a powerful woman, neither a girl nor a tomboy. In her case it is this becoming woman – even through erasing and experimenting with her feminine side – which might eventually produce (or not produce) the “universal girl” (Deleuze & Guattari 1987). She is very concentrated on improving herself and does not care so much about battles; her body is trained to hit the sounds even when she is not officially performing in music and feels ecstatic.
Through the spasmic and robotic movements in funk and electro music both male and female popping bodies resemble a Harawaian (1985) cyborg, rather diverging from a heteronormative and conventional representation of femininity or masculinity; a fusion of a machine (object, natural phenomenon) and human, a bridge between the artificial and the natural. In poppers’ movements through the hitting of the muscles in certain parts of the body the inner (the organic) collaborates closely with the outer (the surface) to create an illusionary, unfamiliar and inorganic dance product. A simulacrum without a prototype. It is a hybrid effect which destabilizes traditional gendered delineations.
Waving gives out a more fluid and flowing sense and image of the body and self. It was initially conceived as a sub genre of popping but the last couple of years the waving community has grown so big that nowadays is considered as a street style of its own. In Greece there are not many female wavers who practice it. As my research indicates most female wavers, although they have experimented with different dance styles, started as poppers and continued with waving practice alone rather than in a group. Alexandra Filippidou preferred popping and waving because she likes the illusionary and nonrealistic nature of the dance as it helps her get away from her everyday routine and the “real” world. She loves waving because it reminds her of water and the sea which she adores. Waving through a liquid effect also exposes her deeper side and emotions. She likes performing isolations and trenchant movements because she wants to have control over her life and believes that her dance image is feminine, sensual, airy and ethereal. With her friend Kalli Tarasidou whom she describes as her “top inspiration”, they have travelled in Germany and Europe and in their first years of dancing they moved to Dusseldorf to become professional dancers. Both she and Kalli are body storytellers; they explore the inner self and their memory lanes through waving using down tempo and experimental hip hop music.
Kalli Tarasidou is a professional waving and tutting dancer who has built an important career in Germany (Flying Steps crew). Kalli started dancing because she felt that although she had an intense vibration inside herself she hadn’t found a way of communicating it to her environment. Thus, waving became a path of externalizing this desire, this “personal sound” and constituted a kind of therapy for her. She started with choreography and contemporary dance but her famous teacher Waveo in California changed her whole mentality about life and dance. Through this contact she developed her freestyle skills and changed her trajectory, goals and aspirations towards dance, passing from a commercial perspective to a non-commercial artistic one. Following Waveo’s principles she aspires to “be herself” and not to imitate other dancers, not thinking what is wrong or right, nor placing names, boundaries and labels on situations and people. This life experience created an openness which was embodied through her fluid movement. The concept of energy became very central to her practice. She carefully selects elements from different dance energies and dance styles and in this process imagination is very important. In her words: “if someone can’t vision him/herself as a dancer and human being, he/she cant set a particular goal to achieve or progress. That’s why imagination and vision are extremely important both as a practical and ideological means”. Trying to connect to different musical energetic fields with her subconscious and inner personal space is her basic endeavour. Her movement always looks like forming and deforming, folding and unfolding. Waving for her is not just a feminine dance but she feels that she explores her dancing femininity with fragile and evanescent moves in a flow. Femininity for her is something fluctuating, non-coherent and open-ended to the flow of the sinusoidal desires.
Hip Hop Party Dance
Hip hop or hip hop party dance is a style that is danced equally by young women and men in Greece. It is a style that provides young women with the ability to freestyle more efficiently (in comparison to breakdance) as they are not forced to employ spectacular power moves. For Melina Chronopoulou moving the torso is the most important movement in hip hop. She practices many street styles however hip hop party dance is one of her favorites and the first one in her journey. She is a street dance instructor who uses hip hop foundations and incorporates them into freestyle movement or waacking. That is why her choreographies are always hybrid and her flexible body is always in readiness to change its expression. Melina adores funk music, disco and hip hop and believes that a combination of street dance styles is OK as long as there is respect and a deep knowledge of each culture and dance. She cannot understand why some dancers in Greece are close-minded and become furious with dancers who are experimenting with more than one dance styles; the most fulfilled dancer for Melina is the one who has explored many dance styles. Dance plays a therapeutic and redeeming role for her and she is in a constant state of exploration of the “whys” she is dancing. Hip hop dance gave her the possibility to dance like a “monkey” and experiment with the “unfeminine” in contrast to her extra-feminine self explored in voguing (discussed later in this text). Through hip hop she feels relaxed and free and somatises a “street” self, sometimes imaginary as she often fantasizes that she belongs in a street crew in the 1970s Bronx. During her classes, I have watched her cultivating a deep interconnectedness and street spirit with her students through the creation of spontaneous ciphers and battles.
Amalia Douligeri is an original hip hop party dancer and loves the isolations in her body when she dances. She closes her eyes and as she listens to the music with her mind she tries to draw bodily what she hears. It might be a fluid or watery sense or something rough. She also thinks of the lyrics of the songs which make her release stress and anger and urge her to “start a revolution”. Other times her movement is more controlled. Every dancer’s vibe is different and unique in her opinion and she always tries to find her own personal vibe in dance. Through hip hop party dance she expresses herself in raw ways and reaches an ecstasy. “It’s like taking drugs!” she mentions humorously. Dancing is both a spiritual and political process for her and it helps her to listen to her body tension, desire and polytonality. She recognizes hip hop as a social and political movement and believes that its history and political aspect cannot be excluded when being involved with hip hop in any way, gendered or other. Following this lead she says that her dance practice is: “It’s bigger than hip hop” quoting the lyrics of Dead Prez.
Pidy Diamond feels that through hip hop she manages to express feelings that she cannot externalise with the use of language. She exposes the strongest sides of herself that, being an introvert, she cannot expose in her everyday life and socialisations. She likes grooving and waving. Although she does not always feel that through her dance she takes on either a feminine or a masculine figuration (in her words she does not like the word “tomboy” but she feels a little bit like this), she thinks that she occupies a space of an “extreme” femininity. This is a versatile femininity which can be both mild and aggressive depending on the context, or in the margin of assertiveness and vulnerability.
Dancehall and Afrostyles
Dancehall in Greece is a female dominated dance style and Sara Ganem (previously a hip hop dancer) with Ioanna Karapa were the first girls who circulated it and became the organisers of many events and festivals (e.g. Tun It Up Festival). Ioanna and Sara taught and danced together for many years blending dancehall and afrostyles.
Sara has created two famous crews Bumaye and the very recent Unity Vybz (1st place, Mega Crew show, Paris 2020) who have won many prizes in competitions in Greece and abroad. She is a well known and respected member of the global dancehall community and has won many local and international 1st places (e.g. winner solo, Dancer Master World, Paris 2016). She met with dancehall dance in 2013 when she travelled to France. She felt that she had a responsibility to teach dancehall culture and promote it not just as a dance but as a lifestyle. According to her words, dancehall movement “came out very naturally” in her body. Although she began with badman style (a style danced both by men and women) after a while she found it intriguing to explore the female category (danced only by women: gyal style) especially after her trip to Jamaica. She was excited by dancehall queens and their tricks and found it emancipating for a woman to practice all the styles in dancehall (both female and badman style). As she says “It is beautiful to be able to combine different vibes stemming from these styles. Old school styles with new school styles”.
As far as her femininity is concerned through gyal style she can explore a more sensual side of herself whilst with badman style a more aggressive and explosive side inspired by the street energies from the ghettos in Jamaica. Although she enjoys being sensual when she dances gyal she does not want her movements to look vulgar or slutty. Although the hip hop community was very sceptical with dancehall in the first years of its appearance in Athens, Sara has clarified its distinctions within hip hop culture and right now it constitutes a big community that is well respected by hip hop dancers. For Sara sharing music and dance vibes in dancehall parties is something unique that helps the Western individuals subconsciously divest their Western values and get lost in the unity of people through vibes’ sharing without setting racial boundaries. Following her interpretation and her own practice this sharing promotes the cultivation of a transcultural subjectivity as well as open-ended bodily procedures. Her recent hybrid personal project is a sequel of video projects called Nyctophilia directed by her where she aims to fuse dancehall with other dance styles.
Ioanna Karapa’s passion for African dances led her to travel in Ghana and enrich her knowledge on Azonto & traditional Ghanaian dances while she also has travelled in France to develop her knowledge on Ndombolo & Coupe Decale. She has organized seminars together with the best dancers on the dance genres of Afrohouse, Kuduro, Ndombolo, Coupe Decale and, Traditional West African. The pure joy that comes from the heart, the unique groove and flow and the hip movements made her love African dances more and more. Her femininity can be described as assertive, sharp and flowing, qualities which are inscribed in her firm steps and hip control. The female element is always strong in African dances according to Ioanna’s views and this is one of the many reasons she liked the dances. She has collaborated with famous dancers and musicians (Flavour, Bombastiik and others) and she is a founder and member of the crews “Jafrican Ting”, “Jammin” and “Joo Waa”. Ioanna has organized African festivals in Athens and Thessaloniki, such as “Ewe Afroweekend” and “Joo Waa”.
Waacking is a clearly female dominated dance style in Greece. According to my observations it usually promotes groovy and partygirl femininity while the main purpose is to hit rhythms and lyrics inside a particular music piece, usually disco music. The task of the dancer is to explore different qualities and modes of the dancing self through repeating movements (e.g. drills). In Thessaloniki it was introduced by the street dancer Manto Nosti and her first crew Waack Madness which constituted the first waacking community in Greece. Manto loved waacking for its hyperstimulation and the celebration of femininity. Despite this she likes to graft it with experimental and ethnic elements that move beyond the effeminate or any concrete gender ontology. A “too experimental” outcome may not be formally identified as waacking but this is not a problem for her practice since she goes beyond strict dance limitations. However, simultaneously she respects dance denominations and canons especially concerning battling events. The political purpose of waacking and dance in general in her opinion is to build an open-ended, non-judgmental and tolerant culture and subjectivity where everybody can express himself/herself freely. The “competitive spirit” in street dances according to Manto, often destroys the beautiful and free-floating atmosphere in dance. Manto is very energetic as far as the empowerment of women is concerned and has a wide network of waackers across the globe since she is a nomadic personality who constantly travels.
One of the most famous waacking crews in Thessaloniki is IFRG. Sofiya Katsangelou, one of its admirable members, believes that waacking is not just an effeminate dance but one that everybody could dance. Hence, she does not feel that she expresses only her feminine side but her freestyle self – her happiness, mourning, fear or nerves. She does not intend to deliberately show off her femininity but wants to express whatever she feels in a particular moment. Manto was her inspiration to start waacking and she likes her “experimental” style because she sees herself as non-conventional (a little bit “mad” as she says). Sofiya uses her whole body and space when she dances and not just the hands (as other waackers may do). With the movement of her whole body and the hitting of different rhythmic qualities in the music she expresses her “worship” for music and this is something she disseminates in public. For most people who watch her, Sofiya represents an authentic waacker who embodies the most important value in this dance; the value of being totally lost in the music. With the crew they talk about their feelings and different energies and they exchange both dancing elements and technical knowledge.
For Eirini Damianidou, another member of the crew, waacking expresses her joyfulness, pure femininity and her theatrical self because their dance style could be characterized as “melodramatic”. She also incorporates movements of her previous knowledge in contemporary dance.
Marianthi Argiriadou is the most introspective member of the crew and through waacking she has learned to love herself and be more courageous. Her style is airy and sensual with hand controls, clear effeminate poses and a straight torso.
Marianthi’s inspiration, Maria Molari, another member of IFRG, externalises in explosive ways what she feels through waacking. This extraordinary dancer is inspired by everyday hand and body movements to explore not merely her feminine self, but a range of everyday feelings which are based on her alert and rigorous personality. In her words reflecting on her unpredictable movements: “My style could be described as airy, soft and calm but not always. At times all these qualities are covered with dynamism and power and my movements oscillate between change and adjustment”.
In the last five years ballroom culture in Greece has developed very rapidly among queer youth and cisgender women. The first years of its appearance (2011-2013), voguing as the emblematic dance of ballroom began its trajectory quite separately from the main culture and was practiced experimentally by individual dance teachers in combination with other street styles. However it was not until the appearance of a cisgender female voguer with the voguer name Tila Kareola – the mother of the House of Kareola – who came back from New York in 2017 that ballroom and its official dance form voguing was introduced as a distinct cultural labour. Ballroom constitutes for her a safe and holy space outside the ethnopatriarchal gaze where she can explore her femininity without the patriarchal attachments to it, “with no strings attached”. It is a re-appropriation of femininity outside normative aspirations and stereotypes and it is her own way of exploring it. What is more, voguing and ballroom are celebrations of her skin, her nudeness and her unintentional sexuality. Ballroom for Tila is a possibility to express whatever identity she wants at any time, fictional or non fictional. Tila may stress the emphasis towards femininity in Greek ballroom but always in plurality and open-endedness in terms of gender expression, outside gendered formalities and denominations. Her movements are slow and elegant and her dips unexpected and fragile. She is not afraid to expose her body and use suggestive facial expressions. During the last years Tila and other members of the House of Kareola have organised several balls and events in clubs, participated in Pride and other informal LGBTQI events, LGBTQI protests and queer marches (e.g. queer liberation march). They performed very emotionally and spontaneously in the first protest march as a response to the brutal killing of the drag artist and activist Zak Kostopoulos (Zackie Oh) in 2018 which took place in broad daylight in a pedestrian street downtown Athens.
One of the dance practitioners who practices voguing among other styles is Melina Chronopoulou who has the voguer name Meli (meaning honey in Greek). Melina was firstly inspired by La B. Fujiko Ninja, after attending her class in Athens in 2013. After two years other international voguers enriched her inspiration and knowledge while she lived in Paris. Melina teaches elements of vogue femme or hands performance and participates in ballroom events and competitions in Greece and abroad. Her reason for participating in ballroom culture is both political and personal. Political because she wants to support marginalised queer and transgender populations and personal because for many years she was afraid of proudly promoting and celebrating her sexual self and femininity especially in the heteropatriarchal hip hop frameworks where she took her first dancing steps. As she asserts “voguing is very important for the transition from puberty to the young-adult stage and from the young-adult stage to the adult, because it gives you the chance to negotiate aspects of your femininity, gendered insecurities and fragilities of the body”.
She believes that voguing gives the initiative to an individual to gradually discover their gendered body and to embrace its curves and other effeminate sides, especially in vogue femme. She often fuses voguing movements with oriental music or tsifteteli especially in the category of hands performance. She is a very friendly and calm person however when she dances vogue femme she can be whatever she fantasises. She claims that she can pretend to be bootylicious, mean and cold, a diva or a princess. In October of 2019 Icon Jamal Milan created the Greek chapter of the House of Milan. Meli joined the House along with other voguers in Athens. And as she humorously states when she steps to the stage she likes to prove that her House Daddy Icon Jamal “has grown me very well to show you that I am a bitch and gossipmonger. There is nothing saturated in voguing!”.
Formless Cisgender Bodies
Through urban, hip hop and street dances more and more cisgender women and queer individuals constitute free-floating and fragmented bodies. Their formless formations are composed of multiversal resonating performances that momentarily form and deform (Ruiz & Vourloumis 2021: pg 12). Through alternating liquefactions and concretions of their bodies they reinvent new movement languages which incarnate fantasies and imaginary selves, deconstruct previous dance imaginaries and gendered embodiments, and experiment with new subjectivations, meanings and modalities of dance power and desire. Of course the levels of freedom and deconstruction do not depend only on the “genre” of each dance style but on the dancers’ personalities, their experiences with men and the crews they belong to and the inclusions/exclusions of the crews. All this operates in relation to the frameworks and disciplines of the wider cultures with which the local urban and hip hop dance styles interact.
A significant factor which both influences and ascertains each woman’s path is the sharing of their knowledge and dance heritage with other women and next generations as well as the extent to which they are involved in activist and political discourses and practices. It depends on their concerns with everyday social problems, political discourses and actions. Some parameters which contribute to the generation of more fluidities and bodies-without-organs are: firstly, the experimentation of women with different street and urban dance styles, or different categories inside a style which produce more open-minded dance mentalities and bodies, hybrid choreographies and de-authentications of gendered and subcultural norms (Pini 2001) inside these cultures. As far as the body is concerned the more emphatic the mingling of different moves from different dance styles, making the styles more experimental, the more freedom women can enjoy. Especially if the move is more effeminate in male-dominated dance crews, it gives women the highest credit for experimentation and liberation from the masculine “musts”.
Secondly, the more women get in close collaboration with other woman and get in touch with queer populations the more they create intersubjective choreographies which strengthen the body-without-organs. As further research (Koutsougera 2018, 2019) has indicated through constant and intense experimentations, female street dancers become “faces of the same currency” (to quote some women’s statements) and thus build intimacies of complementarity, sisterhood, collective unbecoming and disorganizing. They move together towards a destabilization of their familiar zones, they tend to subvert unapologetically the norms inside each specific dance style and thus produce multiplicities (ibid. 2018).
As they fluctuate between different gendered qualities and dance formats, they move through childish, boyish and girlish femininities, badass (Johnson 2014), wild or dangerous femininities (Koutsougera 2012, 2018, 2019, 2020) and they energize feminist masculinities (Pabón Colón 2018) or female masculinities (Halberstam 1998). They even rhetorically resist the “naming” of their gender identities, gendered self-identifications, or even any “inbetweenness” betwixt the feminine and the masculine as we observed in Pidy Diamond’s statements. From this perspective, cisfemininities in those spheres could be interpreted as marginalized cisfemininties within normative cisfeminine scapes or as liminal figurations between heteronormative and queer frameworks.
The word “feminism” is not commonly used in their everyday communication. However, following Pabón Colón (2018) in her study on graffiti girls, their femininities might not be clearly, passionately or ideologically feminist – or sometimes seemingly might oppose a formal feminist imaginary – but they are no less combative and agonistic. By all means, cisgender street dancing femininities are implicated in a permanent performative journey of discovering incrementally the hidden aspects of their feminist, even queer, identities, through disidentification (Muñoz 1999) processes which destratify the system both from within and without.
A particular style itself, by no means guarantees that it will produce alternative materializations. It has been observed (Koutsougera 2018) that cisgender women in street cultures are elastic (Trajtenberg 2016) striving between traditionalities and radicalities. Thus the extent to which they are going to develop feminist identities depends on their habitus and their political aspirations; it is true that some women choose to take on spectacular elements of their interest from experimentations with hegemonic and spectacular femininities, with no purpose to subvert but to sustain and reinforce their identities’ stabilities. They don’t manage to dismantle the organisation of the organs (organism) and they keep coming back to robust synthetic subjectivations. My research has hitherto manifested that where there is more individual experimentation and fragmentation instead of collectiveness, the lesser possibilities exist for deconstruction and resistance to heteropatriarchal structures and organic bodies. However when there is no support by other women, individuation helps some women like B-girl Nalum for example to self-explore feminist paths and dismantle the self whilst in parallel organise future women’s mobilizations in breaking and hip hop spheres.
Nonetheless the journey is always open and unexpected. As an extension to Harawain posthuman theorizations which were mentioned above, contemporary female street styles’ appropriations embody technohumanistic and cyborgic familiarities alongside the nostalgic fantasies of everyday street sentimentalities. Street vitalities and “fantasies of achievement” that Angela McRobbie (1997) recognizes among women in feature films and TV series such as “Flashdance” and “Fame” during the 1980s. And this dimension could be visualised as a kind of women’s resistance to our technocratic, digitalised and computerised present although digitalisation is not rejected but incorporated. The notion of the “street” is “humanised” through its embodiment. Or as b-girl Nalum says “I see street corners and street spots and I fantasise my movements incorporating the space”.
In an era of pandemic crisis where all bodies – and intensively dancing bodies – are mourning their impulsive public expositions, hip hop, street and urban dance femininities in Greece will strive to retrieve the lost ground of public female performativity and remobilize the symmetricity between the private and the public body. Even more, in an era of neopatriarchal elaborations of the female body as a reaction to gendered fluidities, with femmephobia and queerphobia reaching their peak, urban cisfemininities will have a key role to play for the subversion of stereotypical, misogynist and misleading portrayals of the category of the “female” and the designation of its unsaturated sensuality.
1) To think of form as formless does not mean to emphasize a lack of form, but to unleash it from deterministic structure, to attend to form’s momentum and its inseparability from other configurations (Ruiz & Vourloumis 2021: pg. 9)
2) Of course the ground was very fertile in the UK and the US since the 1950s with the development of various spectacular subcultures inspired by non-western indigenous cultures and the black body.
3) Sometimes even their terminology (e.g. b-boying for breakdance) or the dichotomous categorizations (male/female) and institutions (b-girl versus b-boys battles) may manifest their inside cultural norms and gender normativities.
4) Music which resembles water, sounds of birds and rustling of nature.
5) Here we can discern the multidimensional nature of street styles as far as gender identity is concerned.
6) After all, dancehall for Sara is a dance style influenced by both African dances and traditional Jamaican styles (such as Kumina, Ska, Menta etc.).
7) According to Ioanna “there are so many african dances from every African country, created in the streets with specific names and meanings. Kids are the biggest inspiration. African music and dances are big inspiration to other styles and they are becoming more and more popular”.
8) According to Setha M. Low (1994: 159), nerves as embodied metaphor of adverse existential conditions and disorder carries the communicative force of culturally generated metaphors of distress that provide symbolic expression of social control through bodily experience.
9) Madness is related with the performativity of a “dangerous” and unconventional femininity in Greece (Koutsougera 2012, 2018, 2020), however with no necessarily negative connotations.
10) In this text I am not going to discuss the full development of the Ballroom Houses in Greece which constitutes a nodal part of the local voguing scene and deserves an extensive analysis.
11) “Kariola” in Greece means lecherous woman and according to Tila “kareola” came as a derivative of it. They formed the House very unexpectedly and unconsciously after the crew –group of friends until then – walked in their first competition ball in Bergamo. Friends and voguers outside Greece convinced them that they were ready to form a House with Tila as the initiator.
12) Even abstaining from her own habitus, cultural and social capital.
13) The female (waacking, voguing, new style hip hop), gender neutral (waving, hip hop party dance, house) or the male orientated (breakdance, popping etc) discursive framework of the dance styles plays a significant role to the level of difficulty in constructing a body-without-organs, however it does not determine the result.
Trailer for Girls & Street Dance by Natalia Koutsougera
Bibliography and Acknowledgements
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Grosz E. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Halberstam J. 1998. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press.
Haraway D. J. 1991. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. pp.149-182
Johnson Imani Kai. 2014. “From blues women to b-girls: Performing badass femininity”, Women and Performance: A Journal of feminist Theory, Vol 24 (1), pp. 15-28.
Koutsougera N. 2012. “From street dances and ‘breaking’ to night clubbing: Popular entertainment as cultural and symbolic capital in contemporary Athens”, The Unfamiliar: An Anthropological Journal, Vol 2 (2), pp. 10-17.
Koutsougera N. 2018. “Women’s performativities and gender politics in hip hop and street dance cultures in Greece”, Dance Studies Association 2018. Conversations Across the field of Dance Studies. The Popular as the Political | Volume XXXVIII.
Koutsougera N. 2018. “Hip hop, Street and Urban Dance Styles in Greece: Gendered Competitive Performativities” (Xoroi tou xip xop kai tou dromou stin Ellada: Emfiles diagwnistikes epitelestikotites). In Y. N. Kolovos and N. Christakis (Ed). Rock is Dead…Long Live Rock!: Essays on Contemporary Music Trends and Subcultures,(To Rok pethane zitw to Rok: Keimena gia tis sigrnones mousikes taseis kai ypokoultoures). pp: 75-108. Athens: Aprovleptes Ekdoseis.
Koutsougera N. 2019. “‘The voice of the street’: ‘street’ self, ‘street’ spirit and woman’s performativity in hip hop” (“Tou dromou I fwni”: “Street” eaftos, “street” pnevma kai ginaikeia epitelestikotita sto xip xip). Feministiqá. Vol 2. Spring 2019.
Koutsougera N. 2020. “Music and dance performances of ‘popular’ self and ‘popular’ music in ellinadiko” (“Mousikoxoreftikes epiteleseis tou “laikou’ eaftou kai tis ‘laikis’ mousikis sto ellinadiko. In Aspasia Theodosiou & Eleni Kallimopoulou. Musical communities in Greece of the 21st Century: Ethnographic approaches and auditions, pp. 129-164. Pedio: Athens.
Low M. S. 1994. “Embodied metaphors: nerves as lived experience” in Thomas J Csordas (ed) Embodiment and Experience: The existential ground of culture and self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mc Robbie 1997. “Dance narratives and fantasies of achievement” in Desmond C. Jane (ed) Meaning in Motion. New Cultural Studies of Dance. Durham & London: Duke University Press.
Muñoz 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of color and the performance of politics (Cultural Studies of the Americas, Volume 2). Mineapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press.
Pabón-Colón J. 2018. Graffiti grrlz: performing feminism in the hip hop diaspora. New York: New York University Press.
Pini Maria, 2001. Club cultures and female subjectivity: The move from home to house. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Roche J.2015. Multiplicity, Embodiment and the Contemporary Dancer: Moving Identities. Palgrave: Macmillan.
Ruiz S. & Vourloumis H. 2021. Formless Formation: Vignettes for the End of this World. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Trajtenberg G. 2016. “Elastic femininity: How female Israeli artists appropriate a gender-endangered practice”, A Journal of Women Studies, 37(2), p. 127-190.
I would like to thank all the female hip hop, street and urban dancers who have shared their wonderful experiences and body universes with me throughout all these difficult years, for their approval for the text and the provision of additional audiovisual material. I am also grateful for the empowerment and emotional support of B-girl Nalum and her intriguing thoughts. Last but not least I would like to thank Ian Abbott for his inspiring comments and finest editing.
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, November 2021
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Dr Natalia Koutsougera is an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersection of hip hop studies, anthropology of dance, visual anthropology, gender and cultural studies, popular and youth studies. Her doctoral thesis in social anthropology (Panteion University, Athens) explores “popular”(laikó) night clubbing cultures among youth in the Western suburbs of Athens.
Her postdoctoral research revolves around hip hop, urban dance scenes and street/hip hop femininities while she uses audiovisual tools to produce qualitative data. She has produced two ethnographic documentaries on hip hop and street dance styles in Greece entitled “Born to Break” (2011) and “The Girls are here” (2015) which participated in several documentary festivals in Europe and Greece.
She works as Laboratory Teaching Staff in the Department of Social Anthropology at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences where she teaches “Anthropology of Youth Cultures” and three tutorials. At this moment, she is conducting intercultural fieldwork and ethnographic filming about women’s performativities in hip hop and street scenes.