Not just a hobby

The Israel Street Art Festival aims to show Israelis how to take hip-hop culture to the next level.

Breakdancer 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Breakdancer 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ten years ago, Dvir Rozen had a dream of bringing street art culture to Israel.
At the time, few Israelis knew much about the various forms of art that street culture entails, as the scene itself was largely unknown in Israel, he recalls.
But a decade later, the Israel Street Art Festival is set to mark its 10th anniversary with a three-day celebration, packed with competitions and performances by artists from all over the world.
According to Rozen, the event’s founder, over 30,000 people are expected to come and experience the culture at the festival, which takes place July 29-31 in Modi’in.
This year’s event will feature high level performers from the United States, Austria and France, specializing in various forms of street dance. Their talents will be on display during a theater show on the first day of the festival.
Rozen says the purpose of bringing in foreign performers is to teach Israelis, particularly the youth, about the global street culture scene outside the country.
“I want to give the young generation the opportunity to see how it goes on abroad,” he says. “You can make it a profession and be on stage… and make a living out of your art form. This is very important for me… to show the young people they have a goal they can achieve – it’s not only a hobby.”
I n addition to performing, the i n t e r n a t i o n a l artists will be holding workshops throughout the festival to impart their knowledge of street art to the younger generation.
“Here you have all of the youth in Israel coming to express themselves and to take part in something they love and do for a hobby, and for much more than a hobby – it’s a way of living,” he says.
Leigh Foaad, an American  hip-hop dancer, will be one of the international artists coming to perform, along with his Los Angeles-based dance company Versa Style.
Foaad, who will be performing in Israel for the second time, says he is hoping to inspire the hip-hop scene here by spreading the American hip hop culture.
“It doesn’t matter where we come from or what language we speak, dance is universal,” he says. “Even if there are two sides of people that are not getting along, for some reason when you put on music and you see them dance, it all turns into unity.”
He describes his company’s dance style as a “really raw, very passionate” brand, noting the dancers incorporate various techniques such as locking, breaking, popping, house, and social party hip-hop moves. He says these different styles of movement represent the diverse techniques of hip-hop dancing from early American culture.
“There’s really nothing new under the sun,” he says. “All we’re doing is basically taking what we’ve seen our ancestors do, or our legends and our pioneers in the early-day times, and it’s basically what it is today in terms of movement.”
One of the big draws of this year’s festival, as in past years, will be the individual and group breakdancing competitions.
The winners of these competitions will have the opportunity to represent Israel this October in Germany at the international Battle of the Year, the world championship of breakdancing.
“This is always the main highlight, to have this intense energy on the dance floor and dancers taking it to the next level,” Rozen says.
He estimates that close to 100 individuals will compete for the spot to represent the country internationally, while 13 crews will battle it out to be named champions of the group competition. The competitions will take place during the first and third day of the festival.
The second day, meanwhile, will feature brand-new events the festival has never seen before, Rozen says, including a skateboarding competition at the Modi’in Skatepark, and a street basketball competition.
He notes that the final day will be the main day of the festival, with a performance by the Israeli Parkour team, a graffiti wall for artists to leave their mark, and a rap stage where freestylers will compete head-to-head.
The rap stage will provide an open mike for about two hours, offering a platform for those who may not have their own place in the music industry to showcase their talents in a friendly competition.
Tamir Stepper, last year’s rap stage winner and this year’s host, says the main challenge for freestylers will be to portray an interesting message to the audience and lead them through a story, while at the same time sticking to a consistent and engaging rhythm.
“Rap or emceeing, I think that’s the hardest freestyle form there is intellectually, because you cannot just make up words,” Stepper says. “Freestyle is one of the elements that I really love in hip-hop, just to do and talk about what you see in the place that you’re in.
It’s like a really, really big intellectual challenge.”
Whether it’s adding rap battles, hiphop dancing, skateboarding or graffiti, Rozen says the festival continues to help grow Israel’s street art culture each year.
“Ten years ago when we started, the gap between the dancers in Israel and the worldwide dancers was really big,” he says. “And now it’s really shrinking.”