JOAT Montreal dance festival

Get ready to move at this year’s JOAT International Street Dance Festival

Danse Danse presents JOAT, bringing 29 events to the Quartier des Spectacles from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4.

Montreal contemporary dance promoters Danse Danse are kicking off their 2023–24 season with the JOAT International Street Dance Festival, happening in the Quartier des Spectacles from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4. 

Launched in 2014 as a smaller-scale dance battle competition by Handy Yacinthe, JOAT quickly evolved into a full-fledged festival by 2016. Yacinthe says that the festival has earned its “international” designation, evolving from a staple of the street dance scene to “growing more and more on the international circuit because now we attract international street dancers.”

While street dance remains the festival’s primary focus — the main events at Club Soda are Battle Breaking, Battle Hip Hop and Battle Popping — Yacinthe explains that since Danse Danse became co-producers of the event, it “was a trampoline for us to go up, and to offer a bigger production value. And that on its own makes JOAT the biggest street festival in Canada and the largest in North America. People were inspired by this new idea, and then this idea of being multidisciplinary evolved more, so we thought, ‘Let’s go further than just dance with this festival.’” 

In more recent years, JOAT continued to focus on dance battle sessions and exciting performances, but it also began to offer other events, such as exhibits and learning sessions related to street dance. With 29 events scheduled for this year’s edition of JOAT, regular attendees will notice some new additions to the event programming, including an inline skating performance, a research and creation session in beat-making, musical performances from numerous DJs and more outdoor activities.

JOAT montreal dance festival
JOAT. Photo by Do Phan Hoi

Some events that people can expect this year include international dance battles, beat-making battles and an art exhibition by Montreal Loves Hip Hop that portrays the history of hip hop in this city. “While there’s different types of activities, the main thing (attendees can) expect is that there will be an international street dance community there. I know lots of people from the U.S. and Europe who are coming to be a part of the festival,” says Yacinthe.

As with any major festival, the planning process can be arduous. Yacinthe notes that planning for JOAT begins with a meticulous search for the artists, the ones who will take the stage for the main events. The team then has to find judges and battle guests for the main events. “So, the way the process goes is finding the artists, and while we’re doing that, working on the funding from September to January and then working on the festival programming and production.”

Yacinthe, who is a street dance ambassador and has been involved in international street dance culture for a little over 25 years, drew on his own experiences when developing this festival. His involvement in the international sphere of street dancing granted him many opportunities to travel across the world to learn more about the many street dance communities abroad. 

“My experience comes from me experiencing street dance festivals all across the world,” he explained. “So, when I came up with the festival, it was kind of to challenge the status quo, but also it was to inspire the community, which then inspired the international street dance community.” Some notable street dance scenes that Yacinthe has encountered over the years include those in Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and the U.K. 

Yacinthe says that when it comes to the international battles at the JOAT festival, he wanted to challenge participating dancers to become more multidisciplinary in their practice. The dancers who participate in these main events have challenges that they have to accomplish and are restricted in their movement. The innovation that must stem from these restrictions is what makes the performances so captivating for audiences. 

The JOAT Festival, which takes place from Aug. 29–Sept. 4, hosts three main events at Club Soda (1225 St-Laurent), Aug. 31, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, 8:30 p.m. each night, $30 each or $80 for all three. All other events are free. For more on JOAT, please visit their website.

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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