Are you coming back soon? A girl in her early twenties asks in her best English. I look from the seven dancers next to me to the children and adolescents in front of them. It’s a hot day and most of the young inhabitants of the domestic shelter have been drained of their energies. But the dance show they just saw brought the spark back in their eyes. Six fierce young, stereotype-breaking girls have just turned the house upside down with a smashing living room dance performance of their dance group BangingB. Followed by Ismail, the happiest breakdancer I know, who blew their minds with his tricks on the tiled floor. Not caring about the remains of the last meal sticking to his clothes, he spun, turned, kicked and rolled around. The children can’t believe what they see. I can see that watching fellow Moroccans dance, and being able to ask them questions in their own language, has another effect on the children than I, the foreign contemporary dancer, had when I first danced for and with them.

In our Q&A after the show, the dancers explain to the children and adolescents what it means to be an urban dancer. Even I, a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer, have a lot to learn from them. I come from an environment where the main advice to make it in dance would be: take as many classes as you can. But dance classes are scarce in the North of Morocco, and definitely not accessible to everyone. The dancers I brought with me today, trained themselves mostly at home or on the streets. Even now that they have access to workshops and are starting to work for newly emerging professional dance companies, they spend a lot of time training by themselves. Alone or in groups, they use video tutorials, peer teaching and their own creative ideas. If anyone can show the children how to work towards their goal independently, to fight through socio-economic factors and stereotypes, it is them.

The urban dance scene is a social one, which thrives in peer learning and mutual encouragement and challenge across all levels and styles. It fits the Moroccan culture of sociality and sharing and it definitely fits the culture of the domestic centre we visit today. Although societal norms force the brothers and sisters to live in separate houses, whenever there’s a holiday the organisation brings its children and adolescents of all ages and genders together. Together they share meals, games and, especially today, dancing.

Our performance and Q&A turn into a cypher; a circle of people within the middle of which every time one individual takes place to show their moves and challenge others to follow. Our cypher is a special one: not only is the youngest member only 6 and the oldest 25, but also the variety in styles is huge. From urban styles such as hiphop and house, we soon go into traditional Moroccan dances, then back into contemporary moves they learned from me before. Teenagers who usually shy away from being in the centre of attention, now get convinced to claim their place. The children start requesting songs and bit by bit our cypher breaks up into an energetic living room dance party. The dancers and I are invited, no, obliged to stay until way past sunset.

 

CROWDFUNDING

The dance visit you read about was made possible through a crowdfunding that paid for the dancers’ travel costs. The exchange served a double goal. The dancers were offered a performance and teaching experience in the social domain. They expanded their understanding of dance and its value in a different context and trained their capacities teaching, presenting themselves and organising small-scale activities.* The children were not only offered a chance at self-expression through dance, but were also introduced to stereotype-breaking artists. The dancers challenge norms of gender and societal career expectations and show the value of thinking creatively, critically and independently.

If you want to contribute to making more of such exchanges possible, consider donating to the crowdfunding! All donations go to travel costs (for dancers outside of Tetouan) or small performance/teaching fees (for Tetouani dancers). Dance teacher and anthropologist Ilja Geelen will offer pedagogical guidance to the dancers on a voluntary basis.