Democracy On The Move: How Young People In Argentina are Using Hip Hop Dance to Build Future Democracies
The relationship between art and politics is a sphere of discussion that is increasingly on the move. Women, children, older adults and adolescents are setting the pace through different approaches and initiatives which reveal public policy is in constant tension with the social realities of communities in different geographies. This is why art, in its diversity of artistic expressions and languages, continues to be a tool of enormous power to accompany the struggles for the social and political rights of oppressed communities.
Like Hip Hop, dance and other movement forms in their expansive definition stand out for being great allies when it comes to contributing to processes of social transformation within contexts of multiple inequality. In this article, I intend to make an alliance with the perspective presented by Evelyn Ramirez, understanding how Voguing and Hip-Hop/Urban Dances as two languages are close in their way of influencing and mediating in a Latin American democratic society.
Hip-hop culture starting erupting in Argentina in the 80s with the decentralised regions and suburbs of Buenos Aires province acting as the epicentre. This eruption was a way for the voices of young people to express their feelings in suburban neighbourhoods and it reached its definitive explosion in the 90's when it gained momentum as a tool of social protest and awareness. After the recovery of our economic crisis in 2001 the country – surprisingly – opened a large number of urban dance academies with highly qualified artistic staff that were spread all over the bonaerense territory like: Blow Up Studio, Lanus Dance School, MOTUS and La Boheme.
The Argentinian anthropologist and Doctor of Natural Sciences Ana Sabrina Mora looks at the ways of conceiving the political nature of artistic practice and its transformative potentialities: "the perspective according to which artistic practice is understood as a creative form of political action and as a staging or staging of a political construction that exceeds the limits of art.”  Building on this, I want to introduce the idea of Present Bodies, which refers to those who find in this path of activism a way of positioning Voguing and Hip-Hop/Urban Dances as socially legitimate channels to echo and articulate the democratic problems and conditions that cross the different territories of our Latin American region.
The project El Parlamento del Futuro – created by the Laboratory of Living Arts and Citizenship, TENERIFE LAV in Spain – uses dance, music and citizen engagement to centre the voices of young people and promote a higher degree of debate and critical thinking. TENERIFE LAV is a live arts and citizenship platform created and directed by Javier Cuevas y Beatriz Bello, in Tenerife, Spain; their project El Parlamento del Futuro has been re-adapted and implemented with Argentinian youth communities and organisations in 2021 by an interdisciplinary team integrated by myself (a cultural dance manger), the director of Arte y Vida Civil Association, Indiana Litwinchuk and the Body Studies Research Team members from the National University of La Plata (Mariana Saez, Ana Sabrina Mora, Juliana Verdenelli and Lucía Merlos). In my case, I am in charge of the General Coordination of this re-adapted version which represents a first methodological, open source collaboration between TENERIFE LAV and our team. The aim of this collaboration is to decentralise this performative tool, experience its impact with other alternative dance forms in the South American region like hip-hop and exchange them with new methodologies for translating, amplifying and redirecting choreographic compositions through empowered bodies.
Artistic expressions linked to Hip Hop culture in the suburbs of Buenos Aires find their greatest representation in the music of hip-hop and in its synchronic ally the freestyle dance. In their choreographic approach, urban dances have converted the traditional street scene as a framework for fights and violence in some neighbourhoods into a new state of co-existence due to the energy of bodies in rhythm, moves becoming more complex and the physical demands needed for those urban dances.
The suburbs of Buenos Aires demonstrate multiple layers and complexities for young people which represent different powers and challenges. Avenue General Paz acts as the boundary - both defined and permeable - between the metropolitan city and province. How do communities and diversities meet and coexist? What forms of dialogue and exchange can be established? What common horizons and future perspectives can be built together? A large number of young people across the different suburbs have found these Hip Hop languages - not only as entertainment - but as a vehicle towards building a collective and political future, to express their visions of the world and to bond with others.
“Today I met other kids who talked about love, empathy and caring for the environment. With this dance, hip-hop, you are never alone, because wherever you go to dance it, you will find others who are there communicating from the dance in the same way and thinking about the future. We believe that a different future is possible.”
Luz, a participant of El Parlamento del futuro - Argentina in the district of San Martín.
In the same way that Evelyn highlights the role of Voguing in Colombia - which has managed to captivate and occupy the activist space of social protest – hip-hop and freestyle dance in certain districts of Buenos Aires has also found a way to begin to empower young people who inhabit these territories.
Hip Hop helps bodies become absorbent and porous to community, dissent, violence and politics; it enables each new generation to work towards a more just, respectful and equitable future for all. This is why El Parlamento del Futuro works with Hip Hop, it is a space that can hold new creative approaches and alternate artistic expressions for young people and it has a rich history of democracy, community and citizen participation. We need our public policy makers to shake up their thoughts and make way for a more provocative democracy. A democracy that knows how to (re)move, a democracy that reminds us how strong we can be, a full democracy, on the move.
DEMOCRACY ON THE MOVE
The frame used by Evelyn to take up the experience of the listening and protest space generated by the Voguing movement in Bogotá is a demonstration and an invitation to us to avoid losing our compass in cultivating a democracy in movement. Putting democracy to dance is to confront it with its virtues, miseries, successes and failures, but it also offers a space for those voices that often feel outside the system or are silenced and disturbed by it.
COVID-19 has shaken the urban dance scene in Buenos Aires with its relationship to public space and its occupation as a present body. The restrictions of compulsory isolation and its different phases have caused dancers to re-ask themselves how to continue inhabiting that space with their movements, how to continue developing their creativity whilst reflecting on those who have suffered the economic and social consequences as a result of this health crisis.
The role of activism in Hip Hop and art today can emphasise the situated and political realities of the communities of Latin America by demonstrating their success when translating critical and experimental power into socialised modes of opposition. The energy and success of artistic activism also has a residual effect on legislative frameworks and the media, allowing future schemes to come into being.
“When dancing hip-hop, we are creating democratic processes where individual freedom and fixed attention to the other is experienced. We create new social environments where our friends who are living on the streets can feel more effectively integrated. Hip-hop dance promotes cultural accessibility and a friendly way of building communities.”
Lauchin, a participant of El Parlamento del futuro - Argentina in the district of San Martín
DANCING THE PROBLEM
The experience of El Parlamento del Futuro in Argentina has shown that there is no dialogue about the future, without dialogue about the present. This is how the young people of the Buenos Aires suburbs have been able to build a dialogue which starts from questions and narratives about the present before moving on to challenge the ways to address them and looking at their impacts on communities and territories in the future.
“How do we imagine a scenario of better working conditions for the young people who practice these dances? Culture has to be much more present. It is not just a hobby. We believe that young people can aspire to continue training and above all, to be able to live from this artistic practice.”
Ludmila, a participant of El Parlamento del futuro - Argentina in the district of San Martín
The future can always be different. Hip Hop can always be different. It can have the face of a big protest or a cypher in a club, but the impact is the same. Citizens and communities meeting and sharing a common discourse. A common heartbeat. It is here that Piisciiss, Nova and Axid in Colombia and the young people from the provinces of Buenos Aires - from their different latitudes and experiences - find themselves in the same dance-dialogue. They advance together in a dance-dialogue making their words and bodies shine whilst moving their thoughts forward to guide the debate.
Hip Hop has the right to build other futures, futures which must come from what emerges in our vibrant present. To achieve this we need to collectively grow our ways of thinking, dialoguing and wishing to lead us to that desired future. We need to generate spaces where the problem or conflict or challenge for democracy is part of a choreography, a freestyle of movements, displacements and new political positions. Social problems must be danced. We must face them head-on and make them part of the solution. We need to continue building and positioning Hip Hop at the centre of debates, to find new ways of being and interacting with each other because the world is continually showing us its hostile side.
When I have the opportunity to read the article from Evelyn Ramirez and others on Ink Cypher to be here sitting today writing these lines that try, very humbly, to support and embrace their writing, I say to myself: “there is nothing more beautiful than to enjoy dancing and more so if it is in the company of others and in favour of an enormous political ideal.” By accepting this invitation, I chose to dance in the shadow of what Evelyn might have felt as she sat down to write her article and faced her problem. I choose to continue defending a more courageous and porous dance to what hurts and worries us, as well as looking at how we can heal as social and political actors. Understanding the power of our emotional bodies - and Hip Hop dance as a political field - is a kickstart to face the world in an alternative way. We can shout, rally and allow ourselves to imagine another quality of life and people. And that's why, I invite you to join me in a new democratic experience. An experience that can be more generous, collaborative and demonstrates that argument and debate can be not only a matter for political discussion but it’s an important piece on the dance floor too.
Shall we dance?
 Mora, A. S. (2019). ¿Qué transforma el arte transformador? Reflexiones en torno a prácticas de intervención con el recurso de Artes Escénicas. Intervención, 9(1), 114-125.
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, May 2022
A response to Dancing Giving A Voice by Evelyn Ramírez
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Since 2005, she has worked in the field of cultural management and networking culture related to dance and performance disciplines. Between 2012 and 2014, she was part of the Communications team of the Red Sudamericana de Danza, a collective organization of the dance scene in the south region of Latin America.
During the period of 2016-2021, she worked as the Production Coordinator of the Contemporary Ballet of the San Martín Theater, complementing her work as a freelance artistic producer for the Independent contemporary dance scene in Argentina.
In 2021, she participated in the institutional plan for the donation of the National Audiovisual Dance Archive to the Argentine National Library.
At present, she is the main coordinator of the articulation about the performance mediation project for youth, of Spanish origin "The Parliament of the Future - Argentina" / "El Parlamento del Futuro- Argentina", an initiative that combines dance languages with the space for critical debate on the processes of citizenship and the construction of future scenarios.