It’s a little belated now, but upon mentioning it in my ‘hi, I’m still here’ post a few days ago, I happened to realize that back at the end of September, I actually published my first cover story with The Grapevine. The story—a profile of two women who have worked really hard to build an authentic street dance culture here in Iceland—was a long time in the making and I was not only proud of how it came out, but also just really interested in the subjects themselves. So I think it’s worth sharing, even if it isn’t hot off the presses at this point.
So, here’s the start of the article, called ‘Back to Basics‘:
Although contemporary hip hop culture is undeniably global in its scope, most people wouldn’t think of Iceland as a hotbed for street dance, one of hip hop’s most recognizable and fundamental off-shoots. And honestly, it’s not. Today there are—at a generous estimate—maybe 50 people actively involved in the street dance scene in Iceland, many of whom are kids and teens who are years away from seeing the inside of a nightclub. Nevertheless, two women at the forefront of Iceland’s street dance community—Natasha Monay Royal, a 41-year-old Brooklynite who is part of “the generation to start street dance,” and her former student, Brynja Pétursdóttir, a 29-year-old Icelander from the outlying Reykjavík neighbourhood of Breiðholt—have set themselves a rather formidable goal. That is, to not only create an entire dance culture from scratch in Iceland, but to also “do it properly,” instilling their students with an understanding of the foundations of hip hop culture and the street dance movement, a tradition that honestly could not be further removed from Iceland’s own cultural and political history.
Given their very different backgrounds, Brynja and Natasha have, of course, taken very different approaches to becoming Iceland’s veritable street dance experts, and both have their own takes on where the culture currently stands and how it might (or might not) develop in the future. But as teachers, they both share a passionate belief in the importance of infusing their classes with historical context and proper technique.
“I could not teach ballet, so I do not advertise ballet,” Brynja states matter-of-factly. As far as she and Natasha see it, a lot of dance teachers in Iceland are trying to cash in on a fad without really knowing what they are doing. This has seemed all the more apparent following this year’s ‘Ísland’s Got Talent’ (the Icelandic version of the popular TV franchise), in which Brynjar Dagur Albertsson, one of Natasha and Brynja’s students, performed a series of popping routines that won him ten million krónur. “It was funny when he won,” says Natasha, “He’s fifteen years old and you have dance schools calling him and asking him to teach. And he’s like, ‘I don’t know how to teach!’ But they ask him to come because it’s good for business.
It makes street dance here unbalanced,” she ends. “And it’s never gonna grow if they keep doing it this way.”
(The full piece is here.)
I should note that I knew nothing about street dance when I started this piece and honestly, I still don’t know a ton. But I had a great time watching videos of people competing in different street dance styles, particularly of kids here in Iceland competing in the Street Dans Einvígi (Street Dance Battle), and in this year’s Ísland’s Got Talent! show, and I think you all may get a kick out of those videos, too. (They are also helpful context for the uninitiated, as is the primer at the end of the article with explanations of all the dances they talk about…)
So here goes:
From the 2013 Battle (they don’t have this year’s videos up yet), here’s the Cyborgs, who I love. (The ties! The octopus arms!)
Here’s the video of the waacking finals from the 2013 Battle, fun to see both for the dancing and also because I’m betting a lot of people are like me and have no idea what waacking is.
(I particularly loved Brynja’s description of waacking: “…The beats are disco, but it’s not like this disco [gestures ‘Saturday Night Fever’-style], but ‘funky disco,’ like Diana Ross and Donna Summer. They talk about heartbreak and it’s very dramatic, it’s all about your performance. You have to embody the emotions, you have to have your heart in shambles…”)
Here are last year’s hiphop finals (interesting, I think, that men and women ‘battle’ each other—it doesn’t seem to be divided by gender, really.)
And here, as mentioned in the article, are a few videos from Ísland’s Got Talent, the 10 million krónur (roughly $100,000) prize of which was won by 15 year old street dancer Brynjar Dagur:
Dance 2 (Awesome for so many reasons, not limited to: glow-in-the-dark gloves, the Matrix-y fall and pop up, the disembodied head dance….)
And finally, here is his winning, final dance (red bowler hat! King Kong t-shirt! And seriously, that casual fall and slide back up at the knee thing is insane…)
So, if you’re interested now, you can go read all about it. Góða skemmtun!