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Gazans break(dance)ing boundaries

Camps Breakerz crew made a video in January 2012 called "Breakdance Revolution In Gaza" that shows them making moves across the Gaza Strip.

GAZA STRIP – In Hamas-ruled Gaza, where Islamic fundamentalism controls every aspect of daily life in the city that has been under an Israeli-imposed siege since June 2007, a group of eight young men from the Nuseirat refugee camp are breaking boundaries by break dancing.

The Camps Breakerz took their moves out onto the rundown streets of Gaza for the first time this month, even though members have been practicing together since 2005.

The dancers released a video on YouTube that shows them doing elaborate dance moves – from spinning head stands to arms stands and flips in “I heart Gaza” t-shirts all over Gaza. 

"When I danced in the street I felt free for the first time in my life. I challenged the conservative society and mainly I challenged the Israeli siege," said Mohammed al-Ghrize, otherwise known as “Funk,” who brought together the Camps Breakerz crew.

Challenging strict code
Ghrize, a 25-year-old who works as a nurse, was introduced to the world of break dancing at the age of 16 when he lived with his family in Saudi Arabia. Since returning to his homeland in Gaza, he searched for others who shared his passion for dancing. "It took me two years to persuade seven people to establish a break dancing crew, two of which are my own brothers," he said.

Over the past five years Hamas has imposed a strict code of conduct in Gaza, forcing residents to follow strict Islamic law.  The laws have restricted women from social activities like riding on the backs of motorbikes and smoking traditional shisha pipes in public spaces. They have even restricted men from working in women’s hair salons – believing that men cutting women’s hair is immodest.

In a new attempt by the fundamentalist militant Muslim group to crack down on behavior it sees as contrary to its conservative interpretation of Islam, Hamas banned Gaza youth from participating in the Palestinian version of "American Idol."  Their reasoning was because Muslims can only sing and dance to the sound of drums – not any modern instruments.

"Because I know it's very hard for our conservative society to accept our Westernized hobby, we introduced break dancing as a kind of sport," Ghrize explained. “We even managed to convince Hamas to regard break dancing as a sport by performing in their sports events and dancing only to the beats of the drums.”

The group understands that in a society struggling under the ongoing Israeli blockade, break dancing can be viewed as a waste of time and seen as lacking respect for the Gazan reality. The Nuseirat refugee camp where Ghrize lives is home to 66,000 refugees, even though it was initially built to accommodate 16,000 people. And conditions are grim: According to the U.N. 90 percent of the water there is “unfit for human consumption.”

So for the members of the group, dancing is a welcome distraction.  

"We regard our activities as another form of resistance against the occupation; all of our sketches are inspired by our people's tragedies, especially children. Break dancing for us is a way of expressing our freedom.”

Ghrize studied nursing and works at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. “All members of our crew are very well-educated,” he said. 

At the end of video the crew recently released, the dancers names, nicknames, ages, job and special moves are listed. They range from “Chino,” a 22-year-old cook whose specialty is “style break beat,” to “Dark,” a 26-year-old teacher whose specialty is “combos,” to “Fox,” a 15-year-old student who likes “power moves.”

One of the many obstacles the Camps Breakerz faced was finding a place to train, especially after the Nuseirat refugee camp’s community center was destroyed by an Israeli raid during the war on Gaza in 2008.

"We have a dream," Ghrize said, "that one day we will have our own center where we can teach children to break dance and give them a stage to express their feelings."

The Camps Breakerz hope to go to the U.S., where break dancing originated, to meet other break dancers who will help them grow, excel and become an internationally recognized group. They want to eventually be able to compete internationally among the best break dancers in the world.

"I wish I lived in a free liberal country where I can practice the thing I love most without any political or fundamentalist boundaries."

Related link: Gaza youths find escape in free running