Breakdancing may be fairly well known in the west but it’s still an unusual thing to see in Baghdad. Nonetheless a small group of young men have gathered in Baghdad to practice exactly this kind of dancing, which started in the US in the mid-70s before becoming a global phenomenon.
The men have come from other Iraqi cities to the capital and they put on displays in the central city’s Abu Nawas park by the riverside. A crowd quickly gathers to watch them. Some people seem to think it’s great, others appear offended.
“I started doing this with my brother and we both really liked it,” says Amin Tareq, one of the dancers who has travelled all the way from the northern city of Kirkuk to be here; he and his brother were at high school when they started practicing, in 2010, and Tareq found the Baghdad breakers via a Facebook group. “So now I come from Kirkuk every now and then so I can practice with them,” he explains. “All of us try and learn from the others, and to improve our technique.”
Tareq also mentions the international organisations that come to northern Iraq to hold workshops for Iraqi youth, including classes in breakdancing. Some of the dancers were even invited to go to the US to learn more, he enthuses.
“We wanted to do something different,” adds Azhar Tareq, a member of the Baghdad breakdancing group who has been earning money by dancing since 2015. “People don’t really know about this kind of dancing here even though it has a lot of artistic merit. We have tried to organise as many performances and shows as possible but it is difficult because of the security situation here.”
Breakdancing started to become better known after 2012, notes Kathim Taleb, another member of the Baghdad troupe. “We used to get a lot of young people wanting to join us but now the numbers have dropped, because there’s not a lot of support for this kind of dancing in Iraq, there’s no money in it. And also because members of our group left the country.”
It’s tough, Taleb continues, because some people don’t like the dancing. So sometimes the dancers are harassed. And as yet, there are no females on the squad.
“We spend a lot of time practicing,” Tareq adds. “We dance to forget the problems of the life we have here in Iraq. When we finish we always feel happy; this kind of dancing gets rid of negative energy.”