It’s a long way to the top for B-Boys in Egypt

October 01, 2010 By Maha El Gazzar
  B-Boys, also known as break dancers, have been in the past years forming their own community in Egypt. However, very often they are faced with negative perception from the Egyptian audience who ridicule this form of dancing and regard B-Boys as “hip hop wanna be’s.” Community Times met with the members of “Ups ‘N’ Downs” crew to know more about the culture of break dancing in Egypt.

“The audience in Egypt believes that break dancing and rap music have to go together,” says 18 year-old Charlie, who was a member of another crew titled, “Black Bullets” before he formed Ups ‘N’ Downs.” It was clear from the beginning of the interview that Charlie takes b-boying very seriously. In fact, it was his devotion to this form of dance that made him leave his former crew, “Black Bullets.” It wasn’t mere creative difference, rather that crew members disagreed on what a real B-boy should be. “B-boying is a lifestyle,” explains Charlie, referring to some dancers that are moonlighters in the Circus and the Balloon Theatre. “It is much more than dancing.”Hailing form the South of Bronx in New York, breaking or b-boying evolved as part of hip-hop culture among Black and Latino American youths during the 1970s. Music that accompanies breaking is both hip-hop and other genres of music that are often remixed to prolong the musical breaks.

Charlie began his fascination with break dancing at the age of 10 when he saw Bomfunk MC, a dance music act formed in 1997 in Finland. Shortly after, he began researching the genre and discovered that B-boying consists of four fundamental elements; ‘footwork’ (downrock), ‘power moves’ (aerobatic spins), ‘toprock’ (referring to the upright dancing and shuffles) and ‘freezes’.

His parents’ move to Oman proved to be a great help to his new-found art as B-boying was much more developed there. He joined a “crew” in his high school- a dance crew is a group of dancers who perform in different arenas and compete against other crews - and practiced alongside the members until he had to return to Egypt at the age of 14. Back in Egypt, Charlie was happy to join “Black Bullets” and continue his B-boying career (they performed in El Sawy Cultural Wheel among others), yet he quickly realized that Egypt was far behind on the breakdancing scene.

Although, according to the members, B-boying started emerging in Cairo in the early 90s, and Alexandria shortly followed, the genre didn’t pick up strongly enough because, according to 21 year-old Ziad, who met Charlie in 2007 and is also a former member of “Black Bullets”, it didn’t find an audience at the time. Ziad fell in love with break dancing 10 years ago when he saw a group of dancers performing in the streets of Cairo. He started to try on different moves at home, but found better results when a friend lent him some videos to help him practice.

To date, B-boys in Egypt still face several other problems, as Charlie explains.  Lack of direction is a major problem. “Many dancers copy and paste what they see,” says zealous Charlie. Moreover, when compared to other Arab countries, Egypt is still far behind. For example, “Syria has a B-boys Union,” notes 18 year-old Alex. He is the recent addition to “Ups ‘N’ Downs” and started b-boying in 2006 when he saw a guy performing in the streets of Alexandria. He tried to imitate the moves but soon realized it is much more difficult than that. In 2008, he met Ali, a veteran break-dancer from France, who taught him the basics. Alex ended up meeting Charlie and Ziad in August of this year during the “B-boying Jam” in Egypt. “We tried to have a union here in Egypt, but it didn’t work out,” continues Charlie.

Formed in April 2010, the six-member crew “Ups ‘N’ Downs” includes some former members of “Black Bullets”, and although the future of B-boying in Egypt seems unclear, progress can definitely be seen. “Talent this year has definitely improved to a great extent than that of last year,” notes Ziad.

A couple of months ago, Red Bull Egypt contacted Charlie and asked him to invite some break dancers to a workshop they were hosting in partnership with renowned American B-boy Roxrite. Charlie described his over-excitement as he appreciated the kind of artist Roxrite is, and to be able to learn from a dancer like him - free of charge, was the icing on the cake. In spite of this, he was disappointed to find a negative feedback from the Egyptian dancers he called. “Some asked me how much will they pay them to come, instead of being concerned with promoting B-boying in Egypt,” remembers Charlie. “I felt bad for Roxrite, for the fact that an artist like him had to deal with such mentality in Egypt.”

Though Charlie invited around 40 dancers, only 10 showed up in the first day, yet the number kept climbing every day to reach 30 dancers on the last day of the workshop. The workshop included all levels of breakdancing - from beginner to advanced, all dancers had the chance to learn something, explained the boys. It also included performances at the American University in Cairo, Virgin Megastore, Stars Cinema, Purple Bar and others.

When asked what does meeting Roxrite mean for him, Alex answers, “Roxrite changed the way I practice break dancing. He changed my perspective of B-boying. ”As for the audience, Charlie explained that performing in a mall like City Stars provided them with all types of audience; the one who is familiar with the dance, the one who has no idea why a bunch of boys are moving in a weird way and the one who saw the dance for the first time and enjoyed it.

“There’s still a long road ahead,” says Charlie. “We are hopeful that the culture will change, but it may take longer than we want,” continues Ziad. “ Many break dancers in Egypt believe that if the dancers of the 90s couldn’t accomplish anything, why should they,” says Alex, “but it will take a real dedication and passion for B-boying to answer their question. When I look back at my life, I want to remember it in terms of the moves I made and achievements I had in break dancing,” concludes Alex.