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Step, step, kick, flail

Tecktonik, a jumble of dance styles, is hot in France. The name is trademarked, but there are no rules. Just move your arms -- a lot.

July 18, 2008|Geraldine Baum | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — A young teacher was leading her class in a "good morning" song in a run-down suburb when a couple of 6-year-olds began flailing their arms in herky-jerky motions, swiping their hands around their heads and pretending to claw up and down their faces.

"Tecktonik, Tecktonik," the teacher murmured. These motions were all she'd been seeing on the dance floor at clubs around Paris. Now, her "little ones" were going at it.

Tecktonik, the dance craze that's a bit techno, a bit hip-hop, a bit original, is everywhere in France, in clubs and classrooms, in cities and suburbs, on the streets and the Web. (A video on YouTube of a young Frenchman called Jey-jey dancing Tecktonik alone in a garage has been watched more than 10 million times.)

And suddenly this spring it was popping up in the mainstream media. Which probably means that it's about to become uncool.

But Tecktonik -- trademarked by its founders early on -- is already as much a movement as a way of moving on the dance floor. There is above all "the look," distinguished by skinny pants, above-the-ankle sneakers, flashy colors splayed on tight T-shirts and futuristic haircuts that merge mullets with Mohawks but are mostly unpredictable. Think '80s aesthetics: David Bowie meets Kiss with a dash of punk and glamour thrown in.

Whether this is a trend manufactured to sell T-shirts to teenagers or an organic dance form that blossomed into a scene, Tecktonik is particularly striking here in France, where culture is usually high, trickling down from well-funded national institutions to academies, classrooms and finally the streets. Rarely has an aesthetic movement pushed up from the sidewalks, experts say.

Certainly, France has a history of popular dances like swing and tango done in working-class dance halls throughout cities and villages. Even now on warm Saturday nights, ballroom dancers turn up on the concrete risers on the Seine River's left bank and tango the night away, and nostalgia lovers flock to eat and dance at the accordion-fueled, open-air restaurants called guinguettes on the Marne River east of Paris.

But now they're outnumbered by Tecktonik enthusiasts jumping and swatting the night away.

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Alexandre Barouzdin and Cyril Blanc, the dancers who invented the label Tecktonik, insist that it is a real first for France in more than a century -- and not just because it's the first dance to be trademarked.

"The last time the French people were known for a dance was the cancan," says Barouzdin, 31, who quit his day job as an assistant trader at Merrill Lynch to promote Tecktonik branding efforts. "Now, this French dance is spreading internationally."

Tecktonik began about eight years ago at Metropolis, a suburban nightclub near Paris' Orly airport. Known for its five themed rooms and wild, although not druggy, weekend parties, the club draws thousands of kids of all backgrounds from the region.

Barouzdin, who grew up in Paris, and Blanc, a classically trained dancer from the Loire Valley, began going there after they got tired of the gay dance clubs in Paris, where you could get noticed only if you wore high-fashion labels. They liked Metropolis' anybody-welcome attitude and techno, a fast-tempo electronic dance music. By 2000, Barouzdin and Blanc were organizing what they called "Tecktonik Killer" parties that mixed electronic music styles with synthesized voice-overs -- and were drawing as many as 8,000 dancers a night to Metropolis.

The music originates out of Belgium and the Netherlands and falls under many names, including "electro," "jump-style," "hard-style" and "hard-core." The dance is the Tecktonik, with moves blending voguing, break dancing and hip-hop, all done with a big emphasis on arm movements.

The dance and the scene became so popular at Metropolis that within a few years Barouzdin and Blanc had copyrighted the name and were in partnership with EMI Music France making "best of" CDs.

Tecktonik is associated with a range of products licensed by a division of a leading French TV channel. They include T-shirts, hoodies, an energy drink and chewing gum. There are two official Tecktonik hair salons in Paris, and popular vocalists such as Yelle and Lorie have included the dance in their videos.

Barouzdin and Blanc also launched videos on the Web, and these and other homemade videos by fledgling dancers helped drive the popularity of Tecktonik during the last year.

"We protected our name from the beginning because we didn't want people doing hip-hop and calling it Tecktonik," Barouzdin said, acknowledging that early branding helped boost the buzz.

Tecktonik's biggest critics think that it is a fad that has been commercialized to death or at best is a derivative art form invented to sell clothes to poor kids and exploit their need to feel cool. Many Tecktonik fans resist the official name because of the commercial links and prefer to call their dance "electro," "tck," "vertigo" or "Milky Way."

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