The Recognition of Streetdance in Germany
Breaking was one of the first streetdance styles that was established in Germany; events like Battle of the Year helped to develop a strong scene, but it was around 2003/2004 that new streetdance styles - like Krump, House, Popping and Locking - started to arrive, became more popular and began to take root.
Before 2003 there was already “Hip Hop” dance in Germany. You could find Hip Hop dance in many dance schools; the type of Hip Hop dance that I’m talking about is what I call Hip Hop choreography and there were many big Hip Hop choreography dance contests that were run by different dance associations. However, because of a lack of information about what was ‘authentic’ Hip Hop, the biggest influence at that time was MTV. So most of the dancers in Germany were influenced by the music videos of R&B and Hip Hop artists like Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson or Justin Timberlake. Hip Hop dance in Germany was essentially creating backup dancers for Hip Hop and R&B artists.
However, the growth of the scene and influence of different styles should also be attributed to international events like European Bucksession, Funkin`Stylez, Juste Debout Germany, Freespirit, Summer Week or Keep on Dancing that started around 2004. They promoted different streetdance cultures and now nearly 20 years later you can find - besides Hip Hop choreography - Voguing, Waacking, Dancehall, Afrobeat or Soul dance across Germany.
With these new events and formats and with specific battles that were more rooted in Hip Hop culture a new scene started to grow; I think the battle scene grew so fast, because the format gave individual dancers a lot more recognition. So now, we basically have two urban dance scenes in Germany. The choreography scene and the battle scene. Thanks to the World Wide Web and especially social media the streetdance scene in Germany has made huge strides in the last 15 years, but I think it’s the events that were the most important factor for the development of the culture in Germany. Without the events, the scene could not have developed as fast.
Events are the centre of the entire streetdance movement; they are places of education, exchange, promotion, information and they’re a business platform. Events functioned as dance institutions in their own right. Over the years an international network has been established; events from abroad like Juste Debout, Keep on Dancing or the Japanese event Dance Delight have all started to host preliminary rounds in Germany.
In 2004, apart from Battle of the Year, there were not so many dance events in Germany. There were several smaller breaking events and some had funkstyles integrated in them, but you couldn’t find battles for Hip Hop or House. After 2004 - when Funkin´Stylez was created and Juste Debout came over from France - the scene started to grow and with the growth of the scene more and more events started to pop up. Today we have many international dance events – Summer Week, Freespirit, Random Circles or European Bucksession – that are well known, made in Germany and have an international reputation.
The increase of events and growing recognition has eventually brought opportunities through judging and teaching to make money as a streetdancer; the numbers of professional streetdancers is constantly growing and now there is a big demand for streetdancers in commercial industry. Besides teaching and judging, dancers make money with product placement, incentive events and commercials. Social media platforms like Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram also offer an opportunity to generate an income through their video content.
The Recognition of Streetdance in Theatre
Streetdance has recently received more and more attention from theatres in Germany. We know streetdance is the most popular dance amongst young people and we know it is used by advertisers and content creators on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Tik Tok. Social media is no longer just an information platform for young people but it has become a place for cultural exchange. Our social media is full of streetdance and viral videos that are related to and drawn from streetdance culture, so naturally theatres, contemporary dance choreographers and other cultural institutions have started to realise the popularity of streetdance and want to use streetdancers to attract younger audiences.
Contemporary dance choreographers have also begun to cast streetdancers in their productions; I think this is because streetdance offers them new movements and new aesthetics that they can’t find in contemporary dance. I see this as instrumentalisation. Very often directors and choreographers are working with streetdancers for the first time and are massively inexperienced in the streetdance world. The field of streetdance is wide and some styles are very complex, you need a certain knowledge and sensitivity to understand the dance and its origins. You also have many different histories within a single dance style and this complexity of culture is often underestimated by those who want to instrumentalise it. Styles like Krump or Vogue are strongly rooted to their culture and to understand the dance, you need to understand the culture behind it.
In Germany a regular production time for a new theatre work is one to two months; it’s difficult for anyone to understand streetdance and the culture in this period of time alongside creating a production. I think it’s very difficult to present streetdance in a “right way” if you do not understand the dance and the culture behind it. In art there is no right way, but at this point in time - where streetdance does not have the same reputation and financial resources supporting it like other institutional dances - people should be careful in how they’re using it.
In theatre, context abstraction is common, but if you’re using the history, credit and credibility of streetdance in a concept or description and then it’s presented in such an abstract way, that the dance cannot be recognised as the dance you are naming by that community, I see cultural appropriation. I don’t want to criticise the work of specific contemporary choreographers or directors that do work with streetdancers, I want to criticise how they use the social and historical capital of streetdance culture to promote their own work. Cultural appropriation is a highly discussed topic in the USA; I see accusations of cultural appropriation against many white streetdancers within the streetdance scene in the USA. However, Germany has a different streetdance history and wider political history; we have to be aware that most of the streetdance styles came from the USA and we should be careful when working with streetdance especially if you’re not from the culture.
Streetdance culture is known for its individuality, authenticity and creativity. For me, it is predestined for theatrical creation. Streetdancers are constantly developing new movements and styles and there is always creative competition and exchange between dancers. Battles, cyphers, sessions and balls are competitive platforms that are a breeding ground for creative diversity. In streetdance you have certain rules and foundations but you are - relatively - free to add other influences and styles. That’s why streetdance is able to develop so fast. Individuality is also important in the culture, whereas in classical dance styles, technical perfection is prioritised and movements are defined precisely, in streetdance individual style is as important as technical execution.
When I compare the dance theatre scene 15 years ago to now, I see only a small development of dance theatre and streetdance. When we’re talking about dance productions from streetdance choreographers in Germany, I can count them on one hand. There are a lot more streetdancers involved in different theatre projects, and the popularity is growing, but there are only a few streetdance choreographers who are able to create and produce their own theatre productions.
The reason why we cannot find many streetdance choreographers in the theatre field is because to create a theatre production, you need to get funding. In order to get funding you need to make an application. In order to make an application you need to have a theatre or a cultural institution as a partner. These barriers are already a challenge for many dancers in Germany and to find a theatre that is willing to cooperate is time consuming, unpaid and difficult.
Right now streetdance on theatre stages is made by cultural institutions and contemporary choreographers in Germany. I think this is a problem. Streetdance has had little chance to develop an identity on theatre stages. Whenever we see streetdance on a stage, it’s how contemporary choreographers and cultural institutions want to see streetdance. It’s through their lens. Streetdancers are having to adapt to contemporary ideas and so the development of streetdance in theatre is uneven, not from the culture and one-sided.
Streetdance needs its development managed by the streetdance scene because it has a completely different approach to other dance styles and practices; there are no academic grades and no institutions to train in and streetdancers develop their skills through exchange and improvisation. The scene is built more on a philosophy than on rules. If a streetdancer wants to enter the dance theatre world, they have to adapt to its rules and systems, so streetdancers are already at a disadvantage. That system is not made for streetdancers and streetdance culture and this is one reason why we don’t see many streetdance productions.
I believe that streetdancers are capable of building an identity and aesthetics in the context of theatre performance. But if streetdance culture is going to thrive and respect its history then we need our own system and our own funding that allows streetdancers to produce their own theatre performances. If not, I fear streetdance will be absorbed by contemporary dance and lose its own identity.
The Future of Streetdance in Germany
I see contemporary dance and streetdance as two different systems, like android and ios. They have things in common but both systems are independent and have different users. I see a future and an audience for streetdance and an audience for contemporary (which uses streetdance); however, I want to see streetdance recognised as an equal to contemporary dance and ballet. In my opinion dance is dance and it shouldn’t be categorised so much.
Streetdance is still far away from the status of other performing arts. Although cultural institutions have started to realise the importance of streetdance there are still too many decision makers in cultural institutions that do not accept streetdance as an art form. They don’t accept streetdance as an equal to institutional dance, because if they do, their whole academic value and hierarchical systems will be questioned.
However, exciting times are coming. Breaking will be in the Olympic Games in 2024, which means Breaking will become a sport. What will happen with the cultural side of Breaking? Will it die? Will it thrive? I don’t know, but I think it will change a lot. Breaking is the original dance of Hip Hop and in my opinion when money comes in, the scene will change.
Streetdance needs to have its own independent power. Right now it is adapting to other systems rather than developing its own. To achieve this, I think the streetdance scene needs to build new platforms for theatre and performance, ones that bypass the existing structures and creates a culture and scene of its own just like it did with the events and the battles.
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, November 2021
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Takao Baba is a dancer and choreographer born in Japan and raised in Germany. He started to get into streetdance in his early age and before he started to create dance theatre productions he worked as a dancer for many music artists like the Spice Girls. Besides his work as a choreographer he organizes events for the streetdance community. He is the co founder of Funkin´Stylez - an international battle in Germany.
Credit Patrick Williams (Twoface)