Club Guy & Roni Invites.. Mohamed Yusuf Boss. In his performance LABA, Boss uses hiphop and several indigenous collective dance styles to explore the concept of “being at home”. Where are you at home? And how can you feel at home if you’re far from your family and roots?
Boss was born in Somaliland, a non-recognized state within the borders of Somalia. At the age of three, he and his parents, brothers and sisters moved to the Netherlands. After middle school he went to study in Groningen where, at the age of 19, he began performing hiphop and made a name for himself in the dance world. In 2019 he won the Groninger Talentprijs, awarded by the province of Groningen and the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, and in March 2022 he gained the BNG Bank Dansprijs for outstanding choreographic talent with LÍX, the fifth production by his company X_Yusuf_Boss.
You didn’t start dancing till you were nineteen?
That’s right, at the Underground Dance Center in Groningen. They gave me the key fairly soon afterwards, and it became my second home. I went to all the lessons with a couple of other kids, and we hung out afterwards. We were autodidacts, based on the hiphop principle of each one teach one.
I trained for a while in America to develop my skills, attended workshops in Europe, and completed my studies in small business and retail management. I’m really glad I didn’t train in the arts, and that dance was something I did alongside my studies.
It can be difficult to be judged on something you do from your heart, particularly at an age when you’re still very vulnerable. As a self-taught artist, I was able to develop my own style. I wanted to become better through intrinsic motivation, not because someone told me I should do better. Sometimes I imagine being given a mark for hiphop, and if it was a 6, I probably would have stopped dancing. However, the downside of being an autodidact is that you never know exactly who to measure yourself against.
“There’s so much richness hidden in the small and everyday.”
Laba means “two” in Somali. What do you mean by this in the context of “being at home”?
To me, the number two represents the journey from A to B, the point of departure and the destination, where you go from and to. It’s also about the two worlds I feel connected with.
I have my life here in the Netherlands, and my family in Somalia. The starting point for the performance was three sentences I wrote down: A migrant within your own family. The most painful form of displacement. A stranger to the people closest to you. How does it affect you if your own personal development distances you from your family? But it’s also an act of bravery to go your own way.
Where do you feel at home?
I feel at home with people. I come from a “we” culture: Somali society is very close knit, and I like always to be surrounded by others. Everyone has so much to contribute, so many experiences, and the great thing about human contact is that you can tap into someone’s world and find out who they are and what their perspective is? I get more from that than from a film or a book. There’s so much richness hidden away in the small and everyday.
You use several dance styles in this performance.
I mix hiphop with various ritual forms that express connectedness and togetherness. One is pantsula, a rhythmic South African style that uses the voice and whistling a lot; each person has their own whistle. I also incorporate elements of jaandheer, a Somali dance style in which the voice plays an important role. I get inspiration from the philosophy behind the haka, the Maori ceremonial dance, and the dancers provide a lot of their own personal input and the rituals they associate with being at home.
If you had to choose, would you dance yourself, or choreograph?
That’s difficult. I still really like dancing, but I think I find choreography slightly more fun these days, because it really lets me share and tell people things.