Karima is the indisputable, old-school queen of French breaking. Having gotten her start in 1988 with the legendary Aktuel Force crew, she has never stopped dancing since and still remains today as an icon in the international scene.
Karima at Paris' La Villette before the Red Bull BC One France World Final 2014
Having graced the World Stage in November, she was also and was one of the dancers presented in the We B*Girlz book back in 2005. Read on as one of the globe’s original B-Girl superstars shares her thoughts on the scene today, what it was like being nearly the only girl in the early days and what she calls her style.
When did you start breaking?
I started breaking in 1988. I was first introduced to dance by watching black women dance at a party in September of 1982. I was 13 years old, and that was my entrance into it. A year later, I went to parties at Le Bataclan with my sister, who is two years my senior, and other friends. There was a slowing of the culture by 1986 as the legendary TV show H.I.P. H.O.P. was taken off-air, and my sister became interested in other cultures, as did many of the dancers. But all the disciplines of Hip Hop were available in my neighborhood, and I had real luck in that fact since the underground scene there never stalled alongside the mainstream.
Karima & friends at Paris' Trocadero, 1988
Why did you want to start breaking?
Well, I tried out graffiti and rapping without a single shred of talent! The dance was called “La Peewee,” then later “La Hype,” but I never really saw myself as differentiating between the two. I frequented B-Boy practice spots and I watched many power moves and footwork transitions that they would execute quickly. I hardly had the time to understand. One day in 1988, I saw Gabin do a footwork variation slowly, then more quickly, and then he re-started and it lent him a new path. That was a revelation for me. I asked him to teach me variations that I found and could develop. That really made me love and understand the art of B-Boying.
Were there other B-Girls dancing with you back in the day?
There were many dancers doing Debout (upright) before the 90s. I had my first shows with the female French rapper, B-Love, and since Sophie was also a Debout dancer who had integrated elements of boogie into her style, I later did my first show with Aktuel Force with her. I also danced with Natacha, a former member of Ladies Night crew, who did Double Dutch and La Hype. Our mutual bond was La Hype, but I started dancing closer and closer to the floor and then went my own way.
What is the difference between the French scene now, versus back in the day?
This goes for scenes outside of France as well, but there is now an openness and visibility that never existed before. It’s a different way of doing things that is somehow less human today. Technical skill has evolved, but the spiritual side of the dance has diminished as a result and the stakes just aren’t the same.
Who are you dancing with now? Are you mostly dancing with men or women?
My environment is about 95% male, but I dance with the people with whom I feel good. I mainly train with Xavier and Karim, and I go to Gabin’s Blaise practice space too. I also love to share footwork with Bruce Wayne, and with B-Boys like PacPac, who is a little genie. I have an eye for and help some B-Boys from the upcoming generation too, like Noos, Taz, Matéo, and the younger members of All School. I have a certain feeling for some people and how they function, the way that they emit their personality through dance. I get a good sense from good spirits and the rest just becomes detail.
Ultramagnetic MCs with Gabin & Karima
Do you have a crew?
I am Aktuel Force, and just like every other member, we together create the crew. We are Aktuel Force. Even if there is a member on the other side of the world, it’s what keeps us together. We’re more than a crew, we’re also Brothers of the Floor. In a crew, you have to find an equilibrium– a balance between listening and hearing, between making concessions between all the different personalities and above all things, keeping melded together as one.
Was it hard for you as a girl to find your place in this culture?
There were girls who were breaking before me, but not a single one kept with it for more than a couple months. Everyone thought that it would be the same for me. I was never really encouraged by the people around me, but I wasn’t rejected either. I learned to find my place. I didn’t play the girl card, but I was of course never accepted as a gentleman either.
Are you able to make a living on dancing?
I have been living off dance since 1994, and it’s a complicated life. There is not stability that can lead you to retirement. It’s not easy, but it’s a choice I made and would never change.
How do you see your style?
From the gates, I never wanted to do what was already done. It’s for that very reason that I turned against a footwork-only approach. I could tell the story of each of my variations, if you really wanted to me define my style. But if there is one word to describe my style, it’s “personal.”
Who inspires you?
There is an inspiration that comes from within, and that takes time to recognize not only in yourself but another dancer. Today we have a massive amount of dancers, but few of which are truly inspirational. It’s becoming easier to reproduce a series of the maximum of moves, yet it’s hard to say why, exactly, those moves are being made. I have a nice variation that was inspired by B-Boy Deep Trip, that I saw in a video. I thanked him for it and I showed him how I reproduced it as soon as I had a chance to meet him. The variation was then re-worked by other dancers. It became a ready-to-use move of sorts but that’s just a tiny example of the evolution of the state of the B-Boy spirit today.
What’s your advice to upcoming B-Girls?
Be you a B-Boy or B-Girl, just be you. And persevere. God is great.
Photos from the Red Bull BC One World Final 2014 Nika Kramer/ Red Bull Content Pool; Historic photos courtesy of Karima