Get to know French popping champion Dey Dey
Dey Dey is the first female winner of the UK B-Boy Champs popping battle and a former champion of Juste Debout. Find out about her experiences as one of the strongest popping dancers in the game.
Dey Dey made popping history when she became the first female World Popping Champion after previously winning the 2009 UK B-Boy Championship solo popping battle and Juste Debout in 2010. She’s worked with the likes of DJ Martin Solveig, Katy Perry and Madonna and performed across the globe. French champion Dey Dey gives us her take on the evolution and rise of female dancers in the hip-hop scene.
What first made you decide to become a popper?
My two big sisters were dancing, my two older brothers were DJ’s. I come from an area of France where there's a big hip hop culture, a lot of dancers and emcees, so it was like I was born in to hip hop. It was only natural that I got into it.
The first time I remember really taking a class I was thinking, 'Ok this is the thing I want to do'. I was able to learn everything pretty fast and became good pretty quickly. That way I was able to really see a future in this. From that moment I think being so hungry and loving it so much and having this passion that I had for it that I just went for it! I was really young too, when I started I was 8, but there was no doubting where I wanted to go.
Did you feel outnumbered at all, being a female in a predominantly male scene?
I never really felt any difference. Is it because I come from a family where there's a lot of men? I grew up with four brothers, so I don't know if it's because of that. Even being in hip hop culture back then when it was mainly men, I never really noticed.
There’s a stereotype that boys aren’t intimidated by females. But that’s not true, not at all. I could feel it at an early age when I came into a battle. Before it even started they were thinking, 'Shit, Dey Dey is next' – they were scared of me.
How have you witnessed the scene for female poppers growing?
When I started there was a few that I could look up to of course, but only a few. Now there are a lot more poppers on the scene, but I still think that at the highest levels of major competitions, there are not enough.
It's like there are a lot of girls that start, and there are a lot of female dancers that are out there that have talent for sure. But in my opinion there are not enough that push really to be at the highest level of competition.
Why do you think that is?
It happens on many occasions because the point in time that many women start to reach their peak is the same age that a lot of women want to have kids and I know some dancers leave for that reason.
Outside of that I think a lot of it is mentality. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking negatively, but I've heard many girls telling me: 'I'm scared of this, Dey Dey. I’m scared of entering battles' I don’t know what it is. It’s not as though this is a girl thing. There's guys like this too for sure, but for me I don't know if it's because there's still not as large a percentage of girls involved that the fear takes over to push that extra bit harder.
Who did you look up to?
My idols weren't women because, like I said, there weren’t many. I looked at guys like Poppin Taco and Electric Boogaloo in general and Flat Top and a lot of French OGs too, like Walid and Smiley.
How would you describe the b-girl scene today from a female perspective?
There are definitely more b-girls than there are female poppers. I think the breaking scene is much bigger than the popping scene still, so that it’s normal. In France there are a lot and in Asia too so (especially Japan and Korea) but, like I said before, not at the highest level. For example if you go to the biggest competitions they will maybe invite one female popper at best. Sometimes there's not one female in the whole line-up. So I’m lucky because I’ve won some big competitions before and so I’m invited to come, but I think there should be more.
Were there any challenges along the way?
The most challenging thing was that you might have a certain style that you love, but when you do battles you have to be rounded. You can’t just be focused on that one particular style, you have to be able to show everything. Of course you have to show your own take and what makes you unique, but you have to be an all-round dancer. You can’t just focus on the one element that maybe you’re the strongest at. That was the most challenging part for me.
I used to love animation before, but I had to learn other styles like boogaloo for example. I knew that without that I wouldn't be able to achieve what I wanted. So that was the hardest part for sure, but at the same time it was a challenge and it really made me so much stronger and brought a lot to my dancing to learn those other styles.
What do you think has been the biggest factor that's made you different from the other poppers out there?
It’s all about personality. I’ve always been driven from day one. Like I said, it’s not about being a girl or a guy for me I don’t think. A lot of guys don’t have the personality to really go for it and be like 'errrgggghhh!!!' in someone’s face. I feel lucky to have this hunger. I was never afraid of anything.