|Hip-hop dance is taking the world by storm, and Egypt has not been able to escape. A hip-hop tornado hit the country last month, with American dancers and choreographers Gigi Torres and Asaki Imai shaking the dance floor in Cairo, alongwith some help from our local dancers. Dancepiration, a five-day event of classes and workshops, culminated in a spectacular performance at El Sawy Culture Wheel in which local groups Ups n’ Downs Cru, H.O.O.D, Swaggers, Shams Academy and various guest choreographers took the stage.Dancepiration, which ran December 9–13, was not so much about teaching hip-hop moves; it was about inspiration. The project, created by Egyptian-born Belgian Naomi Sobol, is the first initiative of its kind in Egypt.
“I felt [the dance scene in Egypt] needed new energy and a new vibe,” says Sobol, who invited Torres and Imai to come all the way from Los Angeles, California. “I see many people with an amazing potential, adults and especially children, but unfortunately the emphasis on dancing is not strong enough. And hip hop here is quite limited,”
According to Sobol, hip-hop is not as popular in Egypt as it is in Europe and the States but it’s picking up. The challenge is that there are very few places that offer classes and resources for local dancers. For the past six years, Sobol has been teaching hip-hop dance, a passion that she shares with Torres and Imai, in Cairo at the Samia Allouba dance studio.
In addition to holding workshops for professional and semi-professional dancers alike at El Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo, Torres and Imai taught more than 70 kids in four beginner’s classes and 34 adults in four advanced classes. On the sidelines, the two choreographers visited an orphanage to show the children some moves.
“[Teaching] kids, it’s more fun stuff. I love to see their smiles,” says Imai who recently moved to Los Angeles, California from her native Japan to pursue a career as a professional dancer. In March 2010, she joined Essence Ladies, a group of professional hip-hop performers which Torres created five years ago.
For Torres, the LA-based dance company has a special meaning. She founded the group after the girls came together to support her during a painful break-up with a former boyfriend. “The best performances [I’ve ever had were] when performing with my girls onstage at a show called Carnival,” Torres says, “and that’s where [the Essence Ladies] crew was born, and each year we go back to perform.”
Torres wants to pass on the inspiration that dance has brought into her life to kids who aspire to become professional dancers. She has set out to travel around the world teaching hip-hop dance and has already visited all six continents. “I think [hip-hop dance] is so popular because dance right now is taking a crazy world turn,” she says. “There are movies with hip-hop dancing, [the American reality TV show] ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ is worldwide, and there’s YouTube.”
Dancepiration was a great opportunity for young dancers to get exposed to hip-hop, but more needs to be done to accommodate all the interest there is in hip-hop dancing. “There aren’t many dance activities for kids [like] there are for grown-ups,” says Cherine Fahmy, a mother of one of the girls who attended the last workshop.
Fifteen-year-old Zein Dakrouri, who showed up for one of the pro workshops, wants to continue to dance but the Egyptian stage is too small. “I want to do hip-hop professionally abroad, maybe in America or Canada,” Dakrouri says.
What started as a one-time event is blossoming into an ongoing project. Torres and Imai are already thinking about coming back, and Sobol promises to continue work with Dancepiration. “All I can say is that Dancepiration will continue, and we will keep you posted about the future project.”