Senegalese B-Boy Ben-J, one of the stars of the ultimate breakdance-battle-film Turn It Loose, had to fight prejudice and exploitation on the road to becoming a professional dancer.
When did you first come into contact with B-Boying?
It fascinated me from the word go. I discovered it in 2002 when I saw some people dancing on a stage where I live in Dakar. I didn’t know that it was B-Boying, Hip-Hop or whatever. I must have been 14 or 15 years old, and they were a bit older, but it fascinated me. That evening I started to try to copy the moves I had seen. My friends didn’t really understand, but one day some other friends who knew about this world told me I was pretty good at it. I worked, especially on the footwork, and my friend Hugo persuaded me to take up breaking. I started working on it and that’s how I really got into it.
What are your specialities?
Footwork and top rock mostly, but above all I love the musicality. Putting the dance to the music is the main thing. A lot of B-Boys only dance to strong rhythms and beats, but I try to “pass through the music”. I also work on slower rhythms, and slow beats, I want my movements to reveal the things that exist within the music. It’s probably tied to the fact that, apart from breaking, I also do modern jazz, contemporary and traditional dance.
Turn It Loose shows that conditions for training are very difficult for B-Boys in Senegal...
Absolutely, you have to be serious because it is not easy. We train in the aisles of an indoor market. Each evening, at around 8pm, when the market is empty, we stretch the cables to plug in the music and train as much as possible. It’s not easy; we don’t have many resources.
The film really highlights the major differences in the training resources available for the different B-Boys?
What sets us apart is that the majority of the guys you see in the film are well organised, they have the resources, and proper training rooms. Here, to get a place to train, it is really difficult, almost impossible. In 2006 a guy asked us for 1000 francs each just to hire the room. It is really difficult, we work, but there are always sharks who come to eat you alive when you want to progress. I am happy that the film shows these things for what they really are.
How did your family react when you decided to take up breaking?
When I quit school, my dad was really angry; he was dead set against the idea. It was really difficult for me; I didn’t dare look him in the eye. I left the house very early in the morning and only came home when everyone was in bed. I avoided bumping into him. Now things are much better, we understand each other. But it was my decision, I have a goal and I have to stick to it.
What is your goal?
Resolving the problem of African B-Boying, which doesn’t exist at the moment. We have to move forward, create facilities for the future generation, set up schools, competitions and battles. Everything remains to be done because there is nothing at the moment. For instance, I would like to organise an African Hip-Hop dance festival, to showcase this culture to the whole world.
What do you think about when dancing?
I am in another world completely. In Africa, a lot of people say that I am on drugs, which is totally untrue. It is true that I have a crazy amount of energy, it is something that carries you away. It’s the atmosphere. You look at the dancer in front of you and say: “This guy is trying to take my life; I have to beat him at all costs”.
One final word about Turn It Loose?
It is an exceptional film about Hip-Hop dance because it gets on the inside; it really penetrates what happens behind the moves, behind what people actually see as the end product during competitions. It recounts the lives of B-Boys, more than their techniques, and that is what is so interesting. What is interesting is to see how we struggle to get by. We are not millionaires; it is something that really happens in local areas.