CN D Magazine

#5 march 24

United in Loss: The Dance Sisters of Paradox-Sal Crew

Nina Payrat

Queen Blood by Ousmane Sy and Paradox-Sal © Timothé Lejolivet

Composed of women who specialize in modern, social and club styles, Paradox-Sal Crew was initiated in 2012 by Ousmane Sy, a leading figure of house dance in France. Eight years later, the choreographer died of a heart attack while in rehearsals with them for One Shot – a turning point in the crew’s history, yet not the end. After recently celebrating their ten-year anniversary, five of the sixteen-strong collective – Nadéeya, Valentina, Audrey, Odile, and Allauné – spoke with CN D Magazine about identity, legacy and the process of sharing what they’ve learned.

“It’s quite rare for such a large crew to have such a long career.” Twelve years ago, Valentina would never have imagined she’d still be dancing with the fifteen other women of the Paradox-Sal crew. And yet, when hip-hop choreographer Ousmane Sy (also known as Babson) started the group in 2012, she remembers that he had “a long-term vision for us” from the beginning. If Paradox-Sal’s identity was initially shaped around house dance – which was born in Chicago clubs in the 70’s and 80’s, and is characterized by dynamic legwork and a fluid groove – it has been refined over the years through the connection between crew members. This partly explains why the collective is still so vibrant, celebrating their ten-year anniversary (with a bit of delay) in December 2023 on the stage of the Paris-Villette Theater and a program of special events at La Place, a Parisian hip-hop venue.

“Individual identities only serve that of the broader entity,” says Nadéeya, explaining what has been the crew’s motto from the start. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, everyone is a piece of it,” she adds. “We’re strong individually and together we create something even bigger.” With house dance as their common aesthetic, the personal and artistic identities of each dancer combine without ever overshadowing each other. Odile explains that “Valentina is going to kill it in her signature house style, Audrey will bring her incredible dancehall flow, Allauné is going to take no prisoners in floorwork, and Nadéeya can do everything!” But for her, it’s the way crew members listen to one another that has been the key to finding balance over the years. “We believe in each other,” she says. “We give each other permission to try things out, to test things out, to create. We’ve always had the space to make our voices heard.” This level of interpersonal attention and the way they complement each other is visible on stage, where they easily flow between group dances and solos in their pieces. 

One Shot by Ousmane Sy and Paradox-Sal © Timothé Lejolivet

Whenever the word ‘legacy’ is uttered, Babson’s name is on everyone’s mind, with a great deal of emotion. The choreographer, who died in December 2020 during the creation of One Shot, left his dancers with a deep “life experience”, as they say, which they hold very dear. Thanks to the National Choreographic Center in Rennes and Brittany, directed by the collective FAIR-E, of which Babson used to be a member, the Paradox-Sal crew has kept the project alive and continued to tour. “It wasn’t like taking over a company. It’s like a family, it’s a human experience, with all the emotional side it entails,” says Odile. “In reality, even at the start, it was never just about creating a company.”

For them, the choreographer’s legacy is mainly about the vision and values he bequeathed them, beyond steps and choreographic identity. Many stress the importance of valuing “where we come from.” For some, it means remembering the dance styles they started with, while for others it means using all the different stages in life, even the most difficult ones, to serve their art. Audrey recalls that she used to insist on her weaknesses, but  “Babson was always telling me ‘You’re strong, and if you show how strong you are in what you do, people will forget about your weaknesses’.” They are all proud of being able to keep these lessons alive. And after more than a decade together, the Paradox-Sal crew are starting to wonder: what about their own legacy?

The Paradox-Sal Crew © Aurélie Chantelly

“Culture dies if it can’t be passed on. Transmission is what allows our art to live on for the next generations,” asserts Nadéeya. She is grateful to have been able to learn so much throughout her career. Born and raised in Cameroon, Nadéeya feels that, “as a kid who grew up there,” she has a duty to pass on her knowledge. She organizes workshops and training sessions all over the African continent, sharing what she has learned with Paradox-Sal. “These dancers don’t necessarily have the possibility to travel, so for me it’s a way of giving them the same chances as I had here in France,” she explains. For Odile, transmission is both a duty and a virtuous circle. “Understanding a culture isn’t just about movements, and the question of transmission goes way beyond giving classes,” she explains. “You bond with the people you teach, and they also give you something in return.” Valentina shares this desire to pass knowledge on, but adds that “we should only do it if we really want to do it, because it’s also a big responsibility.”

“Our crew is about more than just dance, and when we do dance we put our whole life into it,” says Odile. When she looks back on her time with the crew, she finds that her connection to Paradox-Sal largely exceeds the boundaries of their artistic project. Spending so many years together creates strong friendships. For Allauné and Audrey, dance is just a part of their bond, and they consider each other as sisters. The women of Paradox-Sal hope they’ll still be on stage together in twenty years. Audrey’s greatest wish for herself and her fellow crew members is “to celebrate ourselves, to give ourselves permission, like we did twelve years ago, to do whatever we want and not to limit ourselves.”

Nina Payrat is a member of HippoH Mag, a new magazine for dance. Her connection to the art form started with a quest for identity, and today her passion takes other forms, as she wishes to use her passion for writing to tell the stories of male and female dancers, to make their voices heard as much as she can.

Paradox-Sal, 10 years already 
Until March in La Place, Paris 

Paradox-Sal Intensive
From March 29 to 1st of April
Learn more

Queen Blood 
Choreography: Ousmane Sy and Paradox-Sal 
March 19 in théâtre Les Allos, Cluses
April 11 in La Maison, Nevers 
May 18 in Theater Heilbronn, Allemagne 

One Shot 
Choreography: Ousmane Sy and Paradox-Sal
March 21 & 22 in Théâtre Sénart
April 13 in Théâtre de l’Esplanade, Draguignan
May 3 & 4 in TSQY, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines