No longer dancing in the dark

A B-Boy Middle Eastern break dancing competition was held at Dubai Mall.

Dubai - October 1, 2011- Members of The Over Boys Slam Fam from the UAE, from left, Lee, Junior and Mounir perform at the Battle of the Year Middle East break dancing championships at Dubai Mall in Dubai, October 1, 2011. The Over Boys won the competition and will travel to France to compete in the Battle of the Year World Finals in November. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
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DUBAI // The B-Boys know they face a struggle to get their message across in the Arab world.

The break-dance movement is overtly western, with its baseball caps, oversized trousers and hip-hop beats. It also carries a darker association, of urban gangs and violence.

But now the push is on to bring public acceptance to street dancing in the region.

To that end, 11 "crews" gathered in Dubai Mall last night to compete for the right to represent the Middle East at the Braun Boty grand final in Montpellier, France next month.

Ibrahim Taha, 21, an architect student from Oman and a member of the SNK Revo crew, says suspicion of the movement is so high police often stop his team practising in parks.

"I love dancing and I want to take our dancing abroad, but there is no platform for this kind of dance here," Mr Taha said.

"Many people view our dance as useless. They see us as gangsters involved with drugs, a waste of time."

Alaa Samir, 23, says he and his Incredible Crew teammates have to wait until dark after the shops have closed, because there are so few places in Jordan that accept break dancing.

"We are here to represent Jordan but being a B-Boy is not easy in the Arab world," said Mr Samir, a graphic designer.

"We are looked at with suspicion, as youngsters who blindly copy western culture. But we are trying to merge cultures.

"We hope that through winning this competition to present our culture to the others in France."

B-Boying has its origins in the 1970s streets of New York. It was one of the main elements in the birth of hip-hop culture in the United States.

James De Valera, known as DJ Lobito, is one of the organisers of last night's Braun Boty battle, which was won by the UAE team Over Boys.

Mr De Valera says the movement is even slower to gain acceptance in the UAE than the rest of the region, and suggests the rapid development of the Emirates may have played some part in that.

"In the UAE, the dancing is more limited than other places in the region such as Oman, Iran and Kuwait, maybe because there are so many events and opportunities it has not developed from the grass roots, while in these other countries the youth are pushing harder. The censorship in these [other] countries is making them rise up.

"We want to help raise the culture here and we wanted to do it in Dubai Mall to expose ordinary people to the culture."

Exposed they were. The pumping beats drew crowds to the stage while the crews practised their moves before the start of competition.

Some stayed just for seconds to see what was happening; others stayed to watch the dance-off.

The crews took to the stage with routines including handstands, head-spinning and "body popping" to impress the three judges, Swift Rock, Ronnie and Neeko.

There was an audience watching from the balconies of all the mall's levels and, as the competition became fiercer with a dance-off, cheers and whistling filled the Atrium.

Middle East B-Boys are given precious little encouragement, so it may have been fortunate the words of a passer-by, Mohammed Obaid, went unheard.

The 33-year-old Emirati businessman stopped for a few moments to watch what was going on and was not terribly impressed.

"This is useless, what's the point of this?" Mr Obaid said.

"It is neither art or sport," he commented. "It is not bad but it does not benefit anyone."

The UAE crew will represent the Middle East at the Braun Boty grand finale in France on November 19 and 20.