Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moving Fashion Through Street Dance

Fashion has always been a part of our street dance culture.

Personal appearance is part of the lifestyle for bboys, poppers, lockers, and other street dancers. Whether it's going to the club or battling in a cypher, having a distinctive look is a choice we often make. Fashion may change over the years but it's true that we choose clothing, hats, shoes, and other accessories that can accent our appearance. The Converse sneakers of bboys, the lighter color shirts and hush puppies of poppers, and the striped socks of lockers are commonly seen at our gatherings. 

But can there be a fashion movement within the street dance world that spreads outward? Could we see independent fashion lines creating signature looks for dancers, which are later consumed by a non-dancer population? In the competitive business world of the X Games, we've seen extreme sports athletes become spokesmodels for products - from skateboards to clothing to video games. There are arguments against seeing something like this develop in the street dance world. It's hard to compare extreme sports athletes with dancers when there is actual gear that the athletes are using: skateboards, BMX bikes, helmets, etc. A sponsor can market a skateboard, a bike, or helmet appealing to the fact that you can use the same skateboard as Tony Hawk. Street dancers usually don't have that kind of gear, although we could use specific shoes, knee pads, or elbow pads. In many cases, we also don't have the money to spend on clothing as few of us have the opportunity to make a living from dance. Also, there are valid concerns that sponsors would change the dynamic of our culture. Commerce could change our motivations to dance in the first place. As the old adage goes, money changes everything.

But if we saw some kind of product marketed through dancers, it probably would be fashion. Clothing hangs well on our bodies and we can rock it with style. For teenagers and young adults, fashion is important for self-identity so clothing companies could market to that demographic. Now, this isn't a new development. We've seen many independent clothing lines making a successful business for themselves including Panic 39 and recent lines like Kallusive and The Other Duck. But have these lines been embraced by a demographic outside of the street dance world? That's a tougher call. 

The advantage of a fashion movement from our world is that there would be more financial gain for sponsored dancers. Michael Jordan has built a successful shoe line of Air Jordans with Nike, powered by his career and personality. Yes, he is an athlete and that term may not be preferred by some to be used for dancers. But dancers can have magnetic personalities. They can be influential cultural role models. And they can spark trends world-wide as part of their artistic statement. 

For dancers, perhaps we need a stronger media presence to promote our future products. Compared to extreme sports athletes, our lifestyles are not as visible on the pop culture radar. It's possible that many folks have only recently gotten a taste of the our world through dance reality-shows on TV. As street dancers become more visible in the public spotlight, we'll have more opportunities to be seen, to be emulated, and to be influential voices. Perhaps we don't need to depend on TV shows or films for exposure. We're capable of portraying ourselves and building a fanbase via Youtube and other social media networking. If there are kids in Iceland who are emulating the dance moves of the Jabbawockeez and Kaba Modern, they might even want to dress like them too. Maybe they'd want the hair styles of Quest Crew. Or the eclectic fashion sense of Fanny Pak (which seems in progress as they're marketing a line to a dedicated fanbase). But it also would be great to see fashion trends being popularized by street dancers independent of these TV shows. Perhaps we're seeing this with the skinny jeans of the jerking movement from LA. 

Now, this doesn't mean that dancers must be fashionable or that fashion is a necessary part of being a dancer. Far from it. This is just a hypothetical look at a commercial business venture that could benefit street dancers in the future. Sure, there have been many experiments over time and some have failed. But what different decisions do we need to make now to market ourselves if we choose to be part of a fashion movement? Is it a do-it-yourself aesthetic where we continue to create our own clothing lines and accessories and then spread them virally around the world? Or do we partner with companies outside of our culture to create a commercial product? Do we need to increase our media presence in the expanding world of the Internet, television, film, and mobile media technology? 

It's going to be amazing to see what sparks the next stage of this revolution. What we'll likely see is a handful of saavy innovators who bring the right circumstances and people together to create a breakthrough. And it will be done with style.

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