For almost three decades, China’s homegrown hip-hop has been
stuck on the fringes like so many sub-cultures, only hitting the mainstream
when sponged of its grimy authenticity.
Despite a broad constellation of
prodigious talent, from China’s wild west to its affluent coast, tuning in to a
CCTV dance contest will leave fans of the genre rather uninspired. Which is why
the members of Beijing-based urban dance troupe Team Invader continue to work
the Beijing club circuit in order to pay the bills – which are considerable
since they opened their own studio in 2012. Their membership is as diverse as
Beijing itself, and by not only welcoming LGBT members but actively
assimilating queer aesthetics into their styling and choreography, Team Invader
is fusing diversity politics with a ruthless commitment to kicking artistic
Their explosive routines smash ballsy gender-bender visuals into the
hyper-masculine world of hiphop, creating a uniquely subversive style that is
truly mesmerising. Put simply: these kids celebrate being outsiders, and every
high kick, every grind, every roll is a gauntlet hurled at the feet of the
flabby facsimile of their art exhibited on state television.
Today, their lead
choreographer, Dark, is one of China’s most highly regarded urban dancers, but
spent his early years in Beijing in a dank basement flat struggling to make
ends meet. Most members tell a similar tale.
One such member is Roy, an
androgynous Inner Mongolian with a background in traditional folk dance and a
ferociously energetic stage presence. Thanks to a teacher who spotted his
talent early on, Roy was able to turn a passion into a career despite the
initial reluctance of his parents.
His softly spoken shyness contrasts with the
bright-eyed enthusiasm of the chiselled Scorpio Darchy, who jacked in a career
in finance (much to the chagrin of, yes, fretful parents) to develop his own
confident, sinuous style. Roy is gay, Darchy is straight, and together they
have an easy, playful familiarity that is emblematic of the acceptance that is
the Team Invader watchword. In Darchy’s words, ‘Each member of society needs to
have a sense of self-worth. What people see is the spectacle, but the pain of
each individual dancer’s experience is something you can’t feel.’
hopes to change hearts and minds, exposing China to the beauty and artistic
accomplishment of street dance. Their hardcore vibe, they hope, will awaken
other young people to the potential of urban dance as a vehicle for dynamic
ideas. Darchy tells us that the goal of the troupe is to ‘Help each member of
our “family” to do better, to use their own resources to excel,’ but, he adds,
‘we can’t progress without public support.’
Find Team Invader's schedule via their WeChat (tiwudao).