Transforming Our Own History
"Love and empathy are the real Hip Hop"
I don't want this to become an autobiography, but there is no presence or materiality or Hip Hop without a DNA that is forged by previous experiences being a young women in a patriarchal culture.
None of what I want to share with you would make sense to me without the paths that I’ve had to travel. When people ask me what hip hop is in my life, I usually answer that it manifested without me knowing it, and today, studying it with responsibility represents my way of making decisions.
An individual need observed from responsibility, love and empathy, is projected into a collective need starting the action of a dream to transform own life and consequently that of the community to which we belong. Today I want to share a little of this story that I keep rewriting every day.
Since I can remember, I knew that I would dedicate myself to dance. Finding myself at Carlos Casares, a town in Argentina with no professional opportunities after studies for art, in which I had trained every week Gymmania Dance School since I was five years old, the plan was always to migrate to the city, to Buenos Aires, to master my dance and find work. The months were approaching when the social calendar said it was time to decide your post-high school future and things at home were going from bad to worse. Mom got sick, lost her job and we were left homeless; my dream of migrating to another city was shattered, and my uncle (whom I loved very much) was seriously ill.
Since I was very little, my mother repeated a phrase to me (because of her background and the story that her parents didn't let her write): “You are going to be what you want to be. Nothing and no one is going to stop you. You will not repeat my history.” One and a thousand times, it was almost like a cassette tape stuck in a loop. At first, it was only a motivational phrase, but in that moment it made sense.
That sentence sprouted in my teenage brain and soul like a superpower, I couldn't allow the reality that was hitting us to wear me down. I wanted to grow, I wanted to dance, I wanted to give myself a chance and I felt deep down that at that moment I could show my family that there were still reasons to keep fighting even though the present was showing us otherwise.
When I was eighteen years old I travelled with my uncle to Buenos Aires for a health check. In my bag was 20 curriculum vitae and a change of clothes. While they were in the hospital I went out to explore the city and distribute my CV, walking without a planned path. With my last CV I found a supermarket that needed a cashier. “Can you start tomorrow at 9 am?” “Yes, of course! I'm going to be here tomorrow.”
Fabrice, in his text Self-Teaching in Street Dance, ends with a phrase that touched my heart. "The unschooled is now a teacher." Hip-hop dance and most street and club dances crystallise for us the possibility of being and doing with nothing. Even in our material lack, if there is an abundance of determination we can obtain the most significant learning, taking these and later applying those lessons in many areas of our lives. If there is no money to travel, we travel the same. If there is no money for training, we investigate the same.
It was my only chance, with nothing more than a backpack and the furious desire to write another story, a dancing story. I called mom: “Ma sit down, I have something to tell you. I'm not coming back, I found a job. I’m staying here to live.” Between the happiness of a daughter who fulfilled herself and the sadness of permanent distance without prior notice, she supported me in her own way.
June 14, 2014.
A new phase of my life began with a lot of work, a lot of complications and a lot of learning. Hip hop dance became my guide, motivation, a tool for self-knowledge as well as personal and professional development. Which brings me to this beautiful present, where history continues to be written and transforms in this very moment in which you’re reading me.
Analizando El Trablero
The moment I made the decision to dedicate my life to hip-hop dance, I had to start studying about it. Over time and between classes with teachers and self-training, I began to understand that it had to do not only with a form of movement but with everything that made up that movement, the famous foundation. It was not just about how to move the torso, the arms, the legs, but what moved it? Going back in the history of the movement as a dance, movement and culture led me to understand that I could not make sense of what I was doing by ignoring the sociocultural processes that led to what I was learning today. Later on, I understood - in the same way - how those stories connected with mine and my context and it helped me to develop my language within the style and connect, above all, with my purpose. An infinite path that began to expand more and more within me.
What happens when I’m allowed to see beyond myself? I begin to understand the circumstances I thought were individual are also collective.
The dance situation in Argentina and several Latin American countries is complex. Living from it is a privilege of a few and not a possible reality for many who attempt it. It is a very precarious sector of the wider cultural industry. How can an emerging artist bet on their growth if there is no circuit or decent conditions to receive them as a worker? Many times we tend to look at the problems of our sector from afar, believing that we are not enough to contribute to or solve them, as if something invisible had the only true power to do so. How many more colleagues are in the same search? Or on the contrary, quick responses are sometimes proposed, from the desire to solve the problem in the short term, without taking into account the issues that not only belong to the street dance sector, but dance in general, as well as the deeper social, political, economic, cultural and institutional problems. We cannot pretend to see the flower, without taking root first.
What impacts at macro levels? How can they generate change? Who makes the rules? States and the market. This is where my curiosity to understand politics and the business world began. I am not referring to political parties, but rather to understand how institutions work, how proposals are made and how decisions are made that have a real impact on civil society and understanding that dancers are part of it. On the other hand, the market. What makes some dancers part of it and others not? We must understand how the system in which we find ourselves works. Studying the system I began to understand that its rules are quite hostile, racist, and patriarchal. But now that I know that, we can begin to modify it from our little great place. Virginia illustrates it very clearly in her text "The energy and success of artistic activism also have a residual effect on legislative and media frameworks, allowing future schemes to emerge." I really encourage us to recognise the impact and transformation capacity of our actions.
“Hey, wait. That is too much for me. I am just a street dancer wanting to grow and see the community grow. I do not have the power of the state or the market. What can I do?”
Study it, investigate its instruments, application and understand the power of its long-term impact.
If we magnify the community to which we belong (with its virtues and conflicts), we will notice that it doesn’t differ that much from the rest of society, because we are part of that whole. And to transform the environment. Go from active consumer to active observer and encourage me to propose. I can stay in the place of complaint that I think it is necessary to improve. Or can I analyse why the situation that I want to improve is occurring, what factors make it up, what can I do to propose another way of doing things? It is not a reality show, it is real life and we can act in a real way in the face of circumstances. A big ego challenge to ask ourselves what I think is best for me, what I think is best for the community?
Each one of us with our being has a direct or indirect impact on our environment. By making it conscious, working on it, and understanding that it will happen anyway allows us as individual beings to decide what kind of contributions we want to sow from observing, encouraging at park, competing, producing spaces, putting our voices in the media or sharing on social networks. We are an active part of this community that we form as beings with something in common "the passion for street dance" and we are therefore all responsible. As we take action to get together to train, it is necessary to do so to grow, something might not happen immediately today, but a new way of doing things can take root and germinate over time. Let's look back. What of those ways of building do we not want to replicate? Let's get to know the basis of the history of our dances, of our history too, and let's start another engine from there. It is necessary and urgent to speak out, decolonise ideas, debate, and study the historical mechanisms of patriarchy and racism. Are we ready to understand that we are part of the problem and also part of the solution? The community is made up of us, it is not something invisible floating around, therefore its virtues and its defects we must work inward first. Be a mirror.
Being A Bridge: Conexión Urbana Argentina
In 2016 I created Conexión Urbana Argentina (CUA). Today it’s an interdisciplinary management platform for the street dance community in my country but in its beginnings, it was an experimental project whose mission was to create a long-term positive impact in my community by providing professionalisation opportunities and new tools to street dance artists in Argentina. It started life as a Facebook fan page where I encouraged reading and research by interviewing artists I deeply admired and brought their stories closer to people who were far away like me before and could only access them online. It was where I published dates of the events so we were able to generate better connections between dancers, productions, participation opportunities and stimulate sales for the events. I fell in love with the education side and over time this led me to hold several study subjects of hip-hop dance and history, research of social dances in training careers, designing curricula for public and private institutions. Providing solutions to collective needs that belonged to my colleagues, students and myself was becoming a superpower that led me to the path of producing – training sessions, parties, and events, as well as connecting with organisations that work towards dance in the country and later with the State to understand it and find a way to bring new opportunities to the sector.
Since its genesis the street and club dance scenes have been opposed to the State, however, its development and birth have been intrinsically linked to political decisions and economic and social crises in each of the cities where these dances have emerged, so it is possible to understand the link between them, their makers and the State. Conflict and consensus are necessary parts of conversations that can generate disruptive changes. The public and private sectors are not the enemies that the media share with us, but part of the same game where rules and roles are established and, like any game, to win, you have to understand the rules and draw up strategies. The artist as such usually believes that they are out of the game but there is no way to get out of it. We are a functional part and it is our art that must break out from within. In Virginia’s text:"Democracy on the move: How young people in Argentina are using Hip Hop Dance to build future democracies" you have to dance the problem, put it into action, body it and give it entity. If we stop at the study of hip hop we will be able to decode many tools and concrete examples of history where foundations of change have been built from violated realities and entire communities have rewritten their history-breaking reality with their art as in every country that is touched culture.
I think the freestyle rap industry is a great example of how this street art reached the business world and understood the rules of the game to create one of its own, opening doors to thousands of young people who have returned to freestyle their profession.
And here an important question. Who do we take as a reference? Under what values and ways of doing the community is built? The female representation, and dissent in the staff and the awards of competitions and events do not be equitable in 2023, that diversity and anti-racism is not a central theme in 100% of the spaces where dances that originate from Afro-Latin American communities and were part of pioneering struggles for diversity are taught is a political, social and cultural problem. Perhaps they sound like problems that are outside our possibilities, but no. As dance makers we must seize the transforming, mobilising, and disruptive power of our body, mind and spirit and put them into motion.
Accompanying Malvina in her essay The Economies of Freestyle Dances and the Construction of a Community: an anthropological case study of dance in Barcelona I believe that CUA was the materialisation of that exchange that occurs naturally that she mentions. Each person that I crossed, without knowing it at the time, was bringing me a little closer to myself and the life for which teenage Belu abandoned everything. First I started offering my service just out of love and desire to support other artists, then they started calling me for work and referring me to other people. Was a long process, it’s a long process. I’m still learning to give myself and others, and learning to receive too the energy to keep growing together. I was discovering myself and I realised that not only was I living in a world surrounded by dance as I had dreamed of, but I was also a dancer, educator, guide, producer, and speaker on topics of street dance, self-management, and young people. It was no longer just an idea, but other people requested that service. CUA was growing and transforming with me, and me with it. Life had shown me that I could trust other possible realities for myself and for those who were part of my environment. That was, is and will be the great engine of action. On this trip I met many teachers and I'm not just talking about teachers, but people who have inspired me a lot with their work.
In this journey, one of the biggest obstacles has been having to build a space where most of the references that I was meeting were men. Hostilities, violence disguised as a right to pay for being new, experiences that we generally choose not to share to protect our integrity but that mark our way of acting and the choice to transform the mechanisms for our generation and future ones.
This time I want to be focused and mention all the girls as they inspire me for their dance and their work.
Other Possible Realities - HIP H.A.P.
Throughout my training, I have been finding and hearing about great man teachers. But what about them? Godlive in her text Dance as Hard as a man: How female hip hop dancers have had to man up to try to get a place in hip hop scene and Ariyan in her text Dancing Goddesses: African American Women Hip Hop Dancers - Cultural Contributors reflect how the scene has been plagued by patriarchal dynamics from its beginnings and are still present today. Why do we know little about the women
who have contributed to the expansion of this movement in Argentina? Why does the “correct” way to dance in competitions generally correspond to masculinised stereotypes? How is the inequality in battles and wins so unbalanced? Why are event and training staff mostly comprised of men when there are so many women within the community who have the knowledge to contribute?
Little by little things are changing but in many more conservative spaces these practices continue - even amongst colleagues. The patriarchal dynamics do not only occur from men to women, but it does not distinguish between genders - there is a collective learning that we have to transit. Through the difficulties that were present in my career and that of colleagues, I began to see that there was a lot of this in the system, but there was also a lot to change in myself and my environment. It's time to look inward, see how much of what we learned was right and rearm ourselves with courage, confidence, and self-esteem. We need to put attention on the idea that if we don´t know them is different than they didn't exist. We need to break with the pattern of silence and symbolic violence that represents when women who have been part of and are part of the path are not mentioned.
I began to want to know more about the history of street dance women in my country, to know about those who wrote part of the history and those who are just beginning, to observe them move, to know their fears and their lights, to talk about what ideas they have and had. What experiences have they had throughout their lives, those who have stopped dancing due to sexist violence, those who have been able to break in? What moves them? It is necessary to recover the sisterhood and connect with our ancestry to heal the wounds of before, of now, and those that will come.
These discomforts and constant transformations through the years led me to create Hip H.A.P. The name of this initiative is a play on words: from the Anglo-Saxon etymology, "hip" to know and "hop" movement, as a compound word “conscious movement”. The three axes that we develop and promote internally are from the practice of hip hop dance itself: we are Human, Artist, and Professional beings. It’s a space for women and dissidents to meet, recognise, debate, and empower ourselves together through the tools provided by the study of hip-hop culture and related dances.
It began in the middle of the pandemic in an online program for the exchange of experiences, then it was transformed into a face-to-face experience of transformation and this year 2023 the research stage on women in street dance with a federal perspective will begin. There are many women who are part of hip hop and leave their seed in various ways and whom I admire and respect. Some of them: Romina Bianchini in the cultural manager job, Gaby Pardo, Miriam Paez, Bgirl Marce, Bgirl Roxana, Lu Greco, Anita Pirosanto, Campanita, Mica Elah, Nenas Crew, Super Powerful Crew in Buenos Aires, Daisy Miscieli in Mendoza, Vane Herbas in San Luis, Luchi Araa in Salta, Bgirl Natural, Magui Rabal, Bgirl Merchu, Maru Aieta, Nanika, Lu Vuelo, Bgirl Abril, Lour Franco, Lula Giachero, Balu 280, Selene, Male Mendoza, Camila Gorrini, Ailin Suarez, Bgirl Nanu, Bgirl Rachu, Bgirl Dao, all the women who have been present in these first editions, Maxi Vega, Mara Sanfiz, Vicky Branda, Ani Diarte, Vani Gual, Valen Uffelman, Luchi Alvarenga, Mili Lucila Camila Otazu, Dian Cisneros, Lucila Unu, Marina Paterno, Mica Kordy, Mica Prieto, Meli Fernandez, Agus Giova, Rochi One, Vibes, Belu, Johi Stumpo, Aichu One, Olivia, Mili Perez Cabral, Brisa, Lau Cardozo, Sabri and Emi Roizen, Beli Rotela with whom I had the honour of share, know them and giving life to this project. And many others that I am surely missing to mention and we will get to know throughout the investigation of Hip H.A.P. All of them have contributed in diverse and very different ways a seed for the community, with different times, realities and perspectives.
Being able to build from territorial diversity and an intergenerational perspective will allow us to learn more about their and our stories. If we want to know them we must go in search of them.
It has been a unique and transforming space. The energy, the safe and comfortable environment. Respect and mutual love. It brought me a new perspective on myself and my art. It's crazy, it changes you and it's worth it, do it. That it is only for women makes it even more incredible. Agus Giova
It is the best way to get into hip hop, its culture and the vibe that people inspire in you. A space for knowing each other and others. Sofi Zeinfeld
What I liked the most was listening to women take the voice, encouraging me to tell something about myself and feeling heard and accompanied. It is a circle of security, investigation, introspection, groupness. It contributed my way of connecting with people and with myself (and my ideas). Juli Campos
Community, empathy, support, sharing, love, containment, equality, awareness, information, hug, different and equal experiences, it helped me to exchange experiences, to be aware that we all go through the same things and there is no reason to go through it alone. You never know when you might be helping and inspiring someone else. All the beautiful and powerful women who made it up. Real. See the unique beauty in each one. I liked the exchange, meeting people, being able to chat with people I had found but had never given themselves the opportunity. very happy that you will be inspired and nourished a lot, recharge your strength. Rochi One
Hip Hop culture and the various dances that surround it have their genesis in artivism. It started as a social transformation tool whose first focus was to raise the voice of minorities. We seek to recover and promote the use of this practice as the tool for social transformation that it was, promoting artivism as another possibility of self-knowledge. Is this phrase the same for men as it is for women and dissidences? To our surprise, the answer is no.
We live in a patriarchal culture that stains all its areas with these ways of being, doing and counting. How do we feel about it? How much do we know about our power? What can we create together in spaces for dialogue and transformation? In a capitalist, patriarchal, racist and xenophobic world we need to rethink each base of each idea built. Is it ours or have we learned it? Part of this learning requires the reconstruction of our biography, allowing us to look to the side and see ourselves as equals, generating support networks being aware that beyond the various life experiences there is something that crosses us equally and it is the system, we will be able to empathise and rebuild our ways of connecting with ourselves and with others, see how many network and community values we have learned and how we can begin to build them.
To be valued and deserving, we do not need to be a benchmark for something, nor have the endorsement of any more experienced man. We need to encourage ourselves to build our own journeys from the values that identify us and connect us with our partners: love, empathy, making friends with vulnerability, letting our essence be the protagonist of our movement and gradually deconstructing the masculine moulds of “as it should look”. Open spaces for dialogue and debate where ideas from opposite poles can debate and face each other through argument and analysis, nullifying violence as a sinequanon part of differences and where all bodies are part of the history of the movement. Hip H.A.P. It is just beginning, and it is a proposal of thousands to continue contributing to break stereotypes and to be able to reach deeper and deeper to find ourselves in a mirror to our companions. It is important to keep in mind the ethnic, geographical and intergenerational diversity. Each one of them adds value and particularity to the identity of each person and their history, which contributes to social history and therefore to the practice of dance.
This project begins in Buenos Aires because I currently live here, but it aims to meet and connect with women from all over the country. What story did we learn from ourselves? What spaces can we inhabit from care, love and empathy? What dialogues do we begin to establish to recover our voice and the power of our body to tell the recorded stories? And what are those stories? What do we have to tell and in what ways? How can we re-signify individual and collective histories through dialogue, understand that my reality is mirrored in that of my colleagues under a system of power struggle that considers us a product for sale and thus our dance, alienating it from its expressive and political being. A great inspiration in this construction is the anthropologist Rita Segato, an Argentine author exiled in Brazil.
I invite us to get to know each other, to recognise each other, to continue weaving networks of listening, dialogue, movement, and research. Without the search to sustain ideas, but to disarm and rebuild them in the form of more questions as a result of a sharing of diverse realities, of encounters and disagreements, of turning to see past history and looking forward in a responsible way before history. that we want to build, remembering that our individual needs are also collective and that from that place we can work together for their transformation and improvement.
Rethinking the stories we want to tell our future generations
Shall we write it together?
An invitation to meet, dance and flourish.
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, May 2023
A response to Self Teaching in Street Dance by Fabrice Pika Taraud, Dance As Hard As A Man by Godlive Lawani, The Economies of Freestyle Dances and the Construction of a Community by Malvina Tessitore, Democracy On The Move by Virginia Fornillo and Dancing Goddesses by Ariyan Johnson
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Belén is a hip hop dancer, communicator, producer, activist and educator in the street dance community in Argentina.
In 2016 she founded the Conexion Urbana Argentina platform through which she seeks to promote street & club dance dances as part of the cultural industries, providing professionalisation tools for her community, under two fundamental thematic axes: Afro-descendence and gender perspectives.
She created HIP H.A.P. Human, Artistic and Professional Conscious Movement - an educational and transformational program to accompany women and dissidents in their personal and professional development through the recognition of their own identity in connection with the tools provided by Hip Hop culture, seeking to inspire and empower other emerging female artists through of her life story.
Conexion Urbana Argentina: www.conexionurbana.ar
Conexion Urbana IG: @conexionurbanaarg
Belu Arendt, Credit Zoe Pizarro