They call him “The Muscles From Brussels.”
Round-house kicking his way out of Eliana Van Varenberg’s uterus on October 18, 1960, Jean-Claude Camille François entered the world with his teeth firmly planted in his own umbilical cord as he gnawed it in half.
His birth was nothing short of biblical.
His father Eugène, upon seeing the apparent martial art talent in his baby boy’s bulging biceps and quivering quadriceps, immediately signed him up for karate classes and Jean Claude was kicking ass and taking names before he could even wipe his own ass.
Everyone knows about Van Damme’s complete and utter domination of martial art films, his subtle french accent that had so many movie heroines and damsels in distress melting in the palm of his hand like candy, but many of you have no idea of his other talent, that I for one think was glossed over when it so clearly out-shined the lot of them.
It is in his fantastical fanciful footwork that Jean Claude’s talent truly shines.
Not many people are aware of the fact that he is a classically trained ballet dancer, that long before he donned a Gi to portray Frank Dux, Jean slipped his lean physique into a sleek unitard and performed his first battement frappé to the delight of his ballet instructor. He quickly climbed the ranks of his class and was soon awarded a black belt in ballet, along with the much revered title of Le Pirate Piquée De Pirouette.
To this day Jean Claude’s rendering of the rigorous rond de jambe en l’air remains unrivaled.
Ask anyone to name his first movie, and most will assume a kickboxing stance and spout out: “Bloodsport!”
And they would be absolutely wrong.
Before he was hand picked by director Newt Arnold to go fist-to-fist and toe-to-toe with the most terrifying Chinaman to ever walk the earth, Bolo Yeung, Jean snagged a role as an extra for the now cult-classic break dancing film Breakin’, released in 1984. As seen in the following clip, Van Damme’s move to America exhibits an apparent shift in his attitude, as he sheds disciplined ballet routine for an all out dance assault, breaking all the rules and pushing the envelope of physical expression.
You can see him in this video sporting a black shorts-styled unitard in an obvious respectful reference to his years of ballet instruction.
And then the angelic flourish of his feet vanished from the silver screen for 5 long years. Years I personally spent mourning the loss of the magical mystique of Jean’s dancing from the movies he was producing. Of course in the intervening interlude there were dozens of displays of his ability to do the splits, hundreds of scenes exhibiting his mastery of martial arts movements, but nothing that had, well, a beat one could dance to.
And then 1989 rolled around and saw the release of Kickboxer.
Wronged brothers, blah, blah, blah, revenge, blah, blah, blah, naive Asian girl, blah, blah, blah. And then, when one least expected it, and completely irrelevant to the plot of the film, Jean Claude busts out some killer moves on the impromptu dance floor of a ramshackle Thailand diner. I completely forgot all about my popcorn and stretched arm across the shoulders touchy-feely movie theater ploy as he shimmied and shook across the screen.
Here he is, in what has so far turned out to be, unfortunately, sadly, and weepingly the last time he ever danced in a film. Quite proudly, I think I may have been the only fan to ever note the reference of his attire to his first dance scene, albeit half covered in a pair of well-fitted khakis.
It was only until last year, some 20+ years later that I stumbled upon the following video. It was the best surprise I have ever found. It in fact saved my life. It’s a hard thing to admit, but it rescued me from such a deep dark hole that I was sure I would never be able to crawl out of that I had resigned myself to living in. Day after day after day of raging suicidal thoughts that never ceased. I spent my afternoons collecting the change passersby would fling at me with not so much as a glance in my direction as I wailed and wallowed from inside a washing machine box, saving those coins to buy a gun so that I could end the pain.
And then one day a light shone upon my face and a ladder found its way down to me, one that was comprised of Jean Claude’s hair and rung by his smiles.
This video is the culmination of his career, the plateau of all of his performances. His pinnacle of perfection. It truly exhibits the genius of his footwork, his knowledge of dance and the love and passion that he instills into his each and every move. Watch as he twists and turns a tawdry tango that culminates in totally tubular tumescence.
Witness the tempting and tortuous truth of the one and only “Muscle From Brussel!”
There may be an argument as to whether he is the master of Muay Thai, the King of Kickboxing or the Tsar of Taekwondo, but you absolutely cannot deny that Jean Claude, well, damn! That man can dance!