French hip-hop was born from dance. Contrary to popular belief, it was only much later that hip-hop became widely associated with rap music - at least in France. In addition, today France is one of the only countries that is so open to hip-hop as a professional dance form.
So, what exactly is French hip hop?
Hip-hop came on the scene in France in the 1980’s and was primarily performed by adolescents. By the 1990s – only a decade later - it was professional dancers that took over the hip-hop movement. At the time it was not viewed as art, but just “street dance.” Fortunately, most of that opinion has changed in the past twenty years. In modern day France, hip-hop has a presence throughout the country, especially in large cities such as Lyon, Montpellier and Paris. Nevertheless, this presence has echoed in small towns and is recognized more than ever before as having a certain amount of power.
The power of hip-hop stems from its capacity to develop far beyond what has been institutionalized and considered culturally middle ground in the artistic world, thus creating a meeting place not onlyfor the artists, but also the public. Hip-hop, by nature, is all inclusive, excluding no one based on their socio-economic status, cultural background or language. With this movement, ”art” becomes the center, the core – or corps- and thus unites everyone.
Hip-hop started as and remains a way to challenge the dominant culture and how it views artistic expression, representation and narration. It to and succeeds in pushing the limits of what defines art in contemporary society – think Surrealism at its beginning.
This idea of narration is at the heart of hip-hop and goes back to the number one primordial human attachment: Mother Earth. This means that the stage, whether it is the street or a theatre, is the temple where movement becomes universal and everyone is linked. If we look at it from another perspective, since hip-hop dance stems from African dance, Caribbean dance, martial arts, capoeira, breakdancing, and so many other dance forms, the cross-cultural influences break all boundaries and link the dancers, stage and audience in one harmonious world. In this light, hip-hop dance has become an art of collage.
This urban art form began as an artistic movement and remains so to this day. It has resisted domination by rejecting the idea that there is a difference between the street world and the art world. For hip-hop artists, these terms are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually binding. Combining both perceptions is not only a refusal to renounce any difference between popular art and cultural art, but it is also a way to reject the notion of an “elite,” consequently including every strata of the population. This rejection creates a unity and a certain mobility – not only of the physical body, but also of the non-refutable relation between the intrinsic nature of what is cultural and what is artistic.
The innate free-style of hip-hop dance is not only represented by the physical movements of the artists themselves but also by the inclusion of audiences in the performances. This active participation by the audience reinforces the all-inclusive, boundary-breaking nature of hip-hop dance.
The power of hip-hop therefore lies in the reaction and participation of the audience. The only legitimate judgment of this modern art form can come from the public who is, of course, the target audience. The power of the people, so to speak, inherently reinforces all the underlying goals and messages of hip-hop dance. Consequently, hip-hop is almost by definition an art for the people and by the people.
Written by: Megan Russler