At first glance it looks tribal or even charismatic – arms flail, legs juke. These are dancers "battling" one another right on Paris streets, in a scene found from Notre Dame to the Marais – and all over France.
A dance craze mixing hip-hop, techno, and aerobics, "Tecktonik," or "Tck," is spreading among young working-class Parisians. Made popular via websites like YouTube, it's inspiring a sub-subculture with a post-postmodern kaleidoscope of fashion, symbols, and moves. Like disco, it's nonpolitical. As a scene, it ignores alcohol and drugs. The kids say it's all about freedom.
Tecktonik claims French, or at least European, origins. In the past 18 months, huge numbers of suburban kids have latched onto the dance that started in small Paris circles in 2001, was put online, and then reemerged on the street.
But don't call it hip-hop. It's not. In a way, Tck is an evolution of punk, hip-hop, house music, rave, and techno styles, with not a lot of fixed rules – which leaves a lot of latitude.
In Tck, arms and hands move at lightning speed in tight complex patterns, then shift to broader, expansive stretching movements. At the same time the body may double over, or the torso may spin, and the legs may pump in what looks like a primal native American ritual dance. The three basic styles: hard, electro, and jump.
Glenn Lenga, a young model, says he got hooked on Tck when he realized it was new. Until Tck, he says, "we weren't getting enough out of the music, something was missing … and I think Tck is growing because people feel like they are expressing more. It is evolving. We don't dance the same as a few years ago."
That Tck comes out of the ethnic banlieue, the outskirts of Paris, in France, where rap and hip-hop are greatly loved, is not a small point. Tck's got less attitude – is self-consciously egalitarian. Tckers wear tight jeans. No baggy clothes or jogging suits.
"Hip-hop is for tall guys, tough guys, really big shots," says Mohammed, Mo-tek, manager for the Scorpio team. "Tck is a people's dance, about participation. We are here for enjoyment, for fun. Everyone dances, that's our message."
"Paris is our center. The rappers don't like Tecktonik," says another Tck dancer, Volcanic, aka Alan.
To the extent that Tecktonik has an address, it is a club called Metropolis, on Saturday night. Located in the Val-de-Marne suburb near the Orly airport in a neighborhood of hotels and fast food, Metropolis is definitely more mature, intense, and aware than the Paris street version of Tck.
Crowds line up before midnight and leave around dawn. A lot of Metropolis regulars don't dance in public, a scene many see as faddish. The presiding spirit is DJ Dees, who favors a hard-beat style that makes the building, a structure over a highway, shake.
Tck fashion is on display. Hair is jelled into ducktails. Stylists even set up chairs and clip and snip right next to the DJ stage. Clothes are 1950s greasers and punk: Tight jeans and neon colors mix with black and white. Accessories include electric belts with signature buckles, and glow-in-the-dark tubular gloves covering the wrist. Hot symbols are stars and skulls plastered on faces, clothes, accessories. Guys seem more prevalent than girls, but not by much.
Fatih, of slight frame and large bespectacled eyes, is joined by his girlfriend, and says he's been dancing Tck at Metro every Saturday for two years. It's a dance for his time and generation, he says. "You go out there and forget about your problems and you are moving in a way that gets the negativity out of your system. You feel free and the Tck scene doesn't rely on drugs or alcohol to achieve this."
Cyril Blanc, Tck's founder, says Tck stresses dance athletics. "We don't focus on alcohol. The clientele for Tck are more 'energy drink people,' " he says. "We don't like a scene that starts with booze and gets increasingly rowdy."
In this sense, Tck seems to reflect and draw more from a "good times" middle-class and blue-collar youth culture in European suburbs. The phenomenon is so new that very few social commentators, of which France has many, have caught up with it.
One who has is Guillaume Erner, who writes on the sociology of fashion. Tck "is a very festive, joyful movement … young, mostly 16 to 20, and very ethnically mixed," he says. "The kids are nice, easy to talk to. They aren't like the fashionistas, who are often hard to deal with and full of themselves.
"[Tck] has risen so quickly and diffused so fast," he continues, "because of the Internet, and this is a first. The Internet has made a mass phenomenon out of something that may have otherwise been marginal."
Sorbonne sociologist Anne Petiau, who has started a study of Tecktonik, says she is not yet sure the Tck numbers will outstrip the "rave movement" of the 1990s, but that it is not fundamentally an alternative youth culture of the kind that "glorifies the dark side."
Rather, it is born of the media age, she says: "The people in Tecktonik were born with the media and Internet culture. They reflect a reality-TV-show world, where anyone can become a star and where existing socially means existing in the media."
Videotaping is integral to Tck culture. After the Scorpio team – all from different suburbs and most going to vocational schools – started dancing in a fountain at Trocadero this month, the bit was posted online. On a plaza in front of the Eiffel Tower, they swarmed to the top of a wall, then drifted into a series of "battles" with one another – pseudo-confrontational and in-your-face, but no one is actually hit or slapped.
Points are scored by the most number of moves that seem provocative without an answering move. The battles are taken seriously for a few moments. Then the dancers jump over one another and again regroup. Everyone shouts and feels good.
Parisians of all ages are alternatively bewildered or dismissive.
"I don't like the gestures or the music," says Mathilde, a young soft-spoken Parisian, who is nonetheless in a crowd watching the young dancers.
"I dance all the time," says Diablo-tek, aka Olivier, the leader of Scorpio. "I dance between classes at school, sometimes just with my cellphone [on music setting]."