Local dancers ‘step up’ at French hip hop festival

Break-dance fanatics Francis Butcher (L) and Kensley Hippolyte (R) bust a move for the STAR.

Break-dance fanatics Francis Butcher (L) and Kensley Hippolyte (R) bust a move for the STAR.

The term hip hop is often associated with rap stars from Grand Master Flash, Run DMC and NWA all the way to Jay Z and Eminem. It’s really a culture which embraces the beats as well as the dances born from marginalized black and Latino groups in South Bronx back in the seventies. New York has always been the hotbed of hip hop; a mecca if you will, even though the art-form has been credited with origins in Jamaica or at least one Jamaican who migrated to the “Big Apple.” Interestingly, France was also at the fore of adopting the culture which is why today the country and it’s territories enjoy a vibrant, thriving hip hop scene.

One of the pioneers of the French hip hop movement is David Milome, who this year hosted his second annual Caribe Hip Hop Festival in Guadeloupe and Martinique. And thanks to Alliance Française de Sainte Lucie, two rising local dancers were able to hone their skills in the neighbouring islandsFrancis Butcher, 20, and Kensley Hippolyte,18, were the lucky lads selected to participate in the multicultural dance explosion. For both aspiring dancers it was a welcome opportunity to showcase their burgeoning talents, especially since they are still relatively new to the genre.

“I have been dancing from when I was 14. I started break dancing. My cousin taught me how to dance because I was amazed by him. Then he taught me the steps and the movement. And then I said it looks good on me so I continued. My first trip to Guadeloupe everyone was amazed by my dance. I’m pretty flexible and double-jointed so my moves will be more effective,” said Hippolyte.

Butcher is also a relative newbie.

“Ever since I was in secondary school in about form three I saw the guys doing break dancing and I was like wow I need to learn that. I went home and I went to do some stuff but I didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t my calling at the time so I left it. Up until form five I told myself to do some serious research. Then it hit me that I wanted to dance but I didn’t go directly into hip-hop. Someone told me that I should do contemporary instead and get the basics. And ballet. So I did a little bit of ballet. I didn’t like the whole men in tights thing. So…then I went into hip-hop. So it’s been like a year of hip hop only,” he explained.

How were the boys plucked from the crowd of up and coming dancers on the island? Thanks to an organization committed to developing youth arts.

“Untitled 51 is a group of young people who came together simply because they want to broaden the reach of arts in St Lucia whether it be photography, videography, dance, music, rapping. They took the time and formed this sort of company and then they reached out to us. I was one of the first recruits so I’ve been there from the inception,” said Butcher.

Hippolyte chimed in:

“They had a few dance events by Caribbean Cinema. So I came to dance and that’s where I made my name. Then they signed me up to Untitled 51 after.”

The Alliance Française connection was heaven sent for the young dancers who continue searching for new ways to glean knowledge and showcase their moves.

Said Butcher, “My liaising with Alliance Française is simple. During my time doing contemporary dance my choreographer told me he knew I was interested in hip hop but there’s no avenue here. So he told me that Alliance Francaise was sending people to Guadeloupe. So I got on. I got the chance and I took it. That was last year. It’s been a wonderful relationship from that time to now because they are giving me an opportunity that I would never get. I hope the relationship is not one sided and I get a chance to give back.”

Hippolyte underwent an audition process and was impressive enough to nab a spot.

“I was quite interesting to them so they gave me a chance to go to Guadeloupe. It was great. I gave it my best.”

Both admit that despite the hours that they spend on You Tube mimicking their French counterparts, it was nothing compared to being immersed in the culture.

Hippolyte was awestruck. “When I was in Martinique I got goose-bumps watching them dance because those moves were unbelievable.”

Butcher was equally effusive in his praise.

“These people live and breathe hip hop everyday. They practice 24/7. They dress hip hop, they speak hip hop, they mix the French and hip hop together. The grafitti, the rapping, the beat boxing, the dance, it’s crazy. I swear St Lucia has a lot to learn from the French Caribbean countries when it comes to hip hop culture. The dancing you see in St Lucia is nothing compared to what I
saw in Guadeloupe and Martinique. The quality of the moves is exactly what you see on You Tube. You’re literally looking at a Step Up 3D movie,” he gushed.

The dancers participated in workshops with their peers from the world over including Korea, Italy, and the U.S. Moving forward, they have been inspired to share their new bag of tricks with their local dance family. But they are also eager for self improvement and it looks like they’re both ready to step up their game.

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