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A Break(dance) From the Elections: The Streets Hit the Kabul Stage

“It’s not raqs“ said Nasir, captain of a mostly boys’ breakdance crew in Kabul, Afghanistan, as he raises his arms and wiggles his shoulders in a caricature of the rhythmic, upper-body dominated dance characteristic of Afghan weddings. “It’s dance.”

Though “raqs“ actually means “dancing” in both Dari and Pashto, the languages of Afghanistan, Nasir and crew shy away from the word. Social dance and music are still touched by conservative taboo here. But, even more importantly, their insistence on the use of the word “dance” appears a matter of accuracy. “What they call ‘raqs,’ that’s not what we do,” he says. This attitude (with a capital A) is in tune with street dancers everywhere. Hip-hop, urban dance, street dance, breaking, finger-tutting, popping, animation (1) — as the growing delineations and the confusing YouTube rabbit hole I just emerged from show, street dance (not raqs!) is born and reborn out of a search for unique, often socially unconventional, ways to express oneself. For street dancers, there is always another way to manipulate the body, always a dynamic in the music no other dancer has exploited, no observer has seen.

(1) “Street dance” refers to a range of styles of dance developed outside of formal dance studios, as opposed to ballet, jazz, ballroom, etc. It is often used interchangeably with “hip-hop” though many hip-hop enthusiasts defend hip-hop as a more specific form and culture developed in 1970s New York. Dance genres within these categories are numerous. Those mentioned in this article include breaking: an acrobatic, strength-driven technique, popping: isolating and contracting/relaxing body muscles to perpetuate ‘pops’ in the dance, tutting: making geometric, angular shapes with isolated body parts, power moves: relying on momentum and spin within breaking for climax moves and animation: making oneself appear animated frame by frame, by stop-and-go locking motion, like a slow motion film reel....

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