How to support the creations of the emerging Belgian hip-hop dancers?

One year ago, in March 2021, Get Down – Dancers Management was launched and a visioconference was organized with several artists, members of the sector and members of the agency: Nadine Baboy (dancer and choreographer), Flora Chassang (Lézarts Urbains), Kristien De Coster (Ultima Vez), Tine de Pourcq (Mestizo Arts Festival) and Mouss Sarr (from Timiss).

The Belgian cultural stage is facing the emergence of hip-hop creations. Whether it is during street shows, on the national and international stages, or in advertisements where all opportunities are good to let dancers try out various products, Belgian hip hop artists are finally a little more frontrow, after being left out for years. This relatively recent rise in Belgium created the need for them to be supported, and several forms are envisageable. 

What are the different forms of support for these artists?

Often victims of prejudices, hip-hop artists undergo many changes and evolutions along their career. Consequently, the support must be progressive and personalized. At the beginning of their careers, dancers don’t have the same expectations, the same projects or the same needs as a dancer already reputed and with experience. Thus, it is important that the artist is progressively supported, as their career evolves. 

Indeed, the hardest thing for dancers and choreographers is to be able to earn a living from their art, not to create. Thus, they need to be supported and helped. If the artist is alone, then too many roles are done by the same person : from administrative tasks like grant applications to diffusion and communication, all that being too time-consuming and leaving little time for creation. The problem is that the hip-hop culture undergoes a lack of training places and that most of these artists are self-taught, and so they do not know the institutional circuit and the steps to follow.

Prejudices and difficulties

In Belgium, the emergence of hip-hop culture is relatively recent. Indeed, the Belgian cultural stage has been rather accustomed to other performing arts such as theater for years, as dance was generally considered as “the little sister” of other arts. Kristina De Coster, general manager of Ultima Vez, mentioned a study showing that dance used to be only 3% of cultural and art centers’ programming. This alarming percentage shows a real lack of interest from the media, but also from the programmers, often resulting in a lack of opportunities for the artists of this culture. Moreover, until recently in Belgium, there were very few or not one hip-hop dance performance on the cultural stage; according to Kristien de Coster this was due to the country’s reputation in contemporary dance. Consequently, there is a real institutional racism here in Belgium, and a neglect towards hip-hop artists. Because of the lack of recognition in their own country, many Belgian hip-hop dancers rather move to France or in England, in order to gain value and opportunities, as Mouss Sarr testified with us. Being a dancer or a choreographer and to make a living from it are thus very little recognized, those being relatively more used to sublimate any other art, than as a project by itself. There must be a change in mentalities, in order to consider this art as a profession in whole share, and to allow the professionalization of people in this art.

Towards a cultural opening?

It is high time that Belgian talents stop exoding. That is why we have seen for the past few years and we will keep on seeing more hip-hop creations on the Belgian cultural stages. The generational hypothesis is fundamental here. Indeed, when all the programmers who started their careers at the beginning of the hip-hop culture (i.e. in the 1980s) will be at the head of the big institutions, then hip-hop will be more likely to be programmed. 

History and hip-hop culture being strongly bonded, the movement Black Lives Matter, born in 2013, thus created a real awareness of cultural venues’ representativity. However, being used to a certain audience, they sometimes don’t want to change their type of programming. Thus, the evolution towards more dance performances in the francophone cultural stages is very slow but remains positive. 

Being undervalued as professionals, Belgian artists must see themselves as business projects on their own. However, it remains very complicated, in a world where this discipline is little recognized or valued. The key to all progression starts with self-confidence and self-value, in order to invest and to be invested. Nadine Baboy, hip-hop artist accompanied by Get Down – Dancers Management testified last year : “It is important to be self-invested first, and I think that it is a very important mentality shift, and I encourage all of my dance brothers and sisters and the street hip-hop community”. Self-confidence to make people interested, here is the secret.

However, it is often the same artists on top of the list, and artistic creations are usually not recognized. Many dancers find themselves relegated to dance schools where they end up in a weak position compared to artists used to stage performances, and thus end up discouraged.

The accompaniment of Belgian hip-hop artists is as such necessary, in order to maintain this growing and talented group. A lack of recognition, structure or opportunity can no longer lead to the exodus or the limitation of so much talent. And so, that is why Get Down – Dancers Management was born.

Written by Louise Giraud, intern at Get Down

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