The Dance Floor is Their Arena

A bleak future and the feeling of having been left behind: Many young people are grappling with the issue of how to master their lives. School, the early stages of working life, and peer groups seem to be more hindrance than help. Seeking out easy solutions and like-minded people is an obvious choice, but one that often entails the risk of the young people associating with extremist groups and views. A Krump dance group run by the charity KielerKids shows how to find support in difficult situations.

Franziska Hein | November 2018
Jan Konitzki

Full-body workout: Can Yesil (front) dances freestyle to bass-heavy music. Being on the dance floor means freedom and happiness to him, even though Krumping may not always look that way.

There’s a circular workout room at the center of the gym in Kiel, Germany. Three stone stairs lead down into it, just like in a fighting arena. But here, entrants are not greeted by a roaring crowd of spectators but by a booming bass that makes the body vibrate. Driven by the music, Can Yesil’s body tells a story without words: by turning, jumping from one foot to the other, sometimes almost tipping over as if he can’t keep his balance. But the next step makes it perfectly clear that each movement is skillful, each step deliberate. Can’s arm movements are strong and abrupt, but never hectic. In contrast to the hard beats coming from the speakers, his movements are fluid and, in their own way, even gentle. “I’m comfortable with this dance because it’s freestyle. I can do whatever I want,” he explains.

Can is joined on the dance floor by Solomon, Amir, Alika, and Dilara. The young dancers have one thing in common: They all grew up in Kiel Gaarden or Mettenhof, two of the city’s most deprived areas. Kiel’s 2017 social report makes it quite clear: The two neighborhoods rank last for voter turnout but top for child poverty and long-term unemployment. For many young people who grow up in these neighborhoods, the problems start early: They hardly see any future prospects and feel frustrated and left behind. They find themselves facing particular challenges when it comes to coping with school demands or successfully entering the workforce. Seeking out easy solutions and like-minded people is an obvious choice, but one that often entails the risk of the young people associating with extremist groups and views.

Jan Konitzki

Low self-esteem, uncertain future: Where is my life going? Can’s thoughts and doubts play an important role in his dancing.

Guided by Feelings

For a long time, Can’s biggest problem was his low self-esteem, plus worries about his future: Where was his life going, and where should it be going? 12 years ago, his older brother took him along to a meeting of a dance group run by the charity KielerKids – although he couldn’t dance at all. Today, Can studies international management at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, is a passionate dancer and even takes part in international dance competitions. “Everything I have in my life now is a result of dancing – going to college, my friends, my job. It really defines me as a person.”

Jan Konitzki
Jan Konitzki

The same is true for the other young people who have also found a way to deal with the strains of everyday life through the club: Krump, a highly energetic dance, serves them as an outlet to get over their personal challenges. “When I am in a bad mood and start worrying about my future, it makes me even more depressed and at some point, I just can’t take it anymore. That’s when I turn on my music and let it all out,” says 16-year-old Amir. Krump is an expressive dance without any set choreography. It is all freestyle, with the personal mood of the dancers setting the pace, rather than any ambition to deliver the perfect show. The movements are powerful, and the dancer’s whole body is involved: legs stomp and jump, arms push and swing. The almost aggressive style of the dance is a way to communicate that helps young people express themselves artistically without words.

The time spent on the dance floor takes a lot of energy, boosts the young people’s self-esteem, and helps them work off negative energy. And more than that: The atmosphere in the bare space is familial, nobody feels lost. “Thanks to the club, you spend every other day with the others. That’s where I learned what close friendship means,” says Can.

Jan Konitzki

Amir (left) and Solomon have become friends, and the club is like a big family. Krump offers them the right balance between freedom and closeness.

Being a Role Model for Other Teenagers

The young people want to share their experiences and show others how Krump and being active members of the club helps them handle the curveballs life throws at them. They are currently shooting a documentary together and are actively involved in the concept design, implementation, and direction. Their message to other young people: Find something to do that is fun and motivating. Don’t hide behind extremist views to find community. The group also want their film to set an example of an open society that doesn’t exclude anyone.

Can dreams of combining his passion and profession one day: “Dancing has taught me to bring together different cultures and people. In real life that’s pretty hard.” He hopes that his business studies will help him do just that. A dance institute open to everyone in the community may be an option. And until he’s there, he continues to dance.