Ben-J from Dakar, Senegal, is somewhat unique among the 16 B-Boys in Johannesburg. All of them have known hardship, but Ben-J is the one living in the least developed country of all. The Hip Hop scene in Senegal is big. Hip Hop found its way there from America in the early 80s and has been growing ever since. The local rap scene is much more socially conscious and political than in the US though. There are many B-Boys and MCs in Senegal, but only a few DJs and graffiti writers, since DJ equipment and spraypaint are usually too expensive.
Ben-J at the screening of “Turn it Loose” during Kaay Fecc Dance Festival, Dhakar
As the first B-Boy from Senegal to be invited to a big international battle, Ben-J has to deal with high expectations of not only every B-Boy in his country, but also his family and his supporters. This is a lot of pressure for someone who has never even left his country before!
Unlike the others, Ben-J is not used to traveling around the world and performing in front of international audiences. During a flashback we are introduced to his background in Senegal, where Ben-J is practicing with his crew at a market square. To mark the dance floor, the kids use plastic cups filled with sand. That shows how different the circumstances of Ben-J‘s surroundings at home are compared to his surroundings at the Red Bull BC One. When the battle pairings are drawn for the big fight in South Africa, Ben-J discovers he will have to battle Lilou from Paris in the first round – the winner of the Red Bull BC One 2005!
Q & A with Ben-J in 2010
How does it feel when you are in a battle?
When I’m in a battle it feels like it’s the most important thing in the world in this minute. I feel like I am fighting for my life!
What did you think when you heard you had to battle Lilou in the first round?
I was really worried. Lilou is such a great dancer and I had heard a lot about him. It was my first time in such a big international battle and in the first round I had to fight Lilou. I was stressed out because I wanted to win for my country.
What does your family think about your B-Boy career?
At first my family thought that dance isn’t a profession, but now they are cool with it and happy for me. When I got invited to South Africa, they thought it was a great thing and that my trip was for something important. Besides, they were very proud of me when they saw me in the movie.
What has changed in your life since the battle in South Africa?
Since the battle in South Africa many things have changed in my life. I got to travel – to Australia, where I visited a few cities and then to Paris. I improved my knowledge about so many things and I gained more experience in many areas, not just the dance! I am much more motivated and have a better idea of what I want to achieve in life. I’ve created a crew with street kids and I have plans for the future to open a dance school in my country, to create a big hip hop dance event and to travel around the world to discover other forms of dance.
How was your relationship with Alastair?
Alastair is a really good guy. We have a great relationship. He was the first person who comforted me and calmed me down after I lost the battle. He’s my brother.
How do you feel about traditions?
Traditions are very important to me! We have an original culture our own traditions and it’s very important to honor that! My roots and traditions define who I am and they also show in my dance. For me the most important traditions are the Walo and Jjola tradition from Senegal. You also should honour your elders. You remember the older guy in the movie that I talked to? Hi name is Joe Ouakam, he is a famous visual artist from the Senegal. He is a legend for me because he represents the old monumental artists of my country. He is like a grandfather to me!