The Brussels Bike Hundred

100 portraits, stories and bicycles

We’re teaming up with Bike for Brussels to put together a 100-strong selection of local heroes shaping the city each in their own way. From designers and DJs to performers and publishers, these are the creatives riding Brussels forward.

Mario Barrantes Espinoza

Mario Barrantes Espinoza, 1991

Choreographer and dancer

Describe yourself, your background and what you do today.

I’m a choreographer and dancer currently doing a master’s in research cycle at PARTS, where I’m creating my own work at the moment. Besides my research work, I perform in several projects with choreographers like Eszter Salamon and Michiel Vandevelde.

I was born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, but my father is from Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, known as the folkloric centre of the region, and my mother is from Managua, Nicaragua. This mix had a great impact on my childhood since I had the opportunity to experience the urban life of the capital, but also the traditions from the countryside and on my mother’s side as Nicaraguan migrants. December and January are my favourite months of the year because there’s so many festivities that are dear to my family and myself: the patron saint festivities of Saint Christ of Esquipulas in Santa Cruz, the Griteria for the Immaculate Conception of Maria (Nicaragua), the Fiestas de Zapote and National Horse Rider’s Day in San José. And I suppose you’ve already heard that in Latin American celebrations mean a lot of colours, loud music and good food, and if you add beaches, nature and good weather… Well, it’s just magic!

In 2013, I moved to Brussels where I have always lived since I arrived in Europe. I came here to follow my idea of becoming a dancer, although my original plan was to become an architect and study in Costa Rica. I enrolled in Theatre School out of curiosity and eventually dropped the idea of ​​studying architecture. I later got into dance and I decided it was time to leave the country so I took all my savings and came to audition in Europe – back then I had no idea what PARTS was, or even where Brussels was.

Anyways, after that long trip, I decided to stay in Brussels because I think it’s a good place to work as an artist and also because I found my partner here. So I got hooked to this city, literally. Last but not least, I’m a drag amateur on the way to give birth to an amazing character tentatively named Palomo, so stay tuned.

How has Brussels shaped you as an individual as well as your professional activities?

I think what struck me the most when I arrived in Brussels was Midi station. I had just arrived from the airport and the first thing I noticed when exiting the station is the beautiful outfits worn by the African, Arab and Gipsy communities. That was absolutely new to me. Then of course, it didn’t take long for the characteristic smell of pee and old cigarettes of the tram stop to get in my nose. We don’t have trams in Costa Rica so seeing one for the first time feels like an ultra-futuristic utopia in total contrast with the homeless people who used to live there and the post-apocalyptic vibe of the decaying building that is Midi. An intriguing but overwhelming welcoming.

Brussels is made as a quilt; its neighbourhoods are like these dissonant patches that together form an interesting place to live.

I think that’s what I miss when I’m abroad: the clash and diversity, the interaction and friction of things that don’t look coherent at first glance, chaotic but somehow coexisting together in their own ways. I started to become more aware of that. When I enter a bar or visit to a new place or country, I can feel right away if it’s too homogenous or lacks multiplicity, which makes it less interesting to me. I believe this also reflects o n my work; when I create or perform, I need my world drenched in an ocean of varieties and possibilities. I also need many methods and references, because I can’t stick to only one way of doing things. I like things to look wrong in the eye of convention, mixing subjects that aren’t supposedly meant to fit and creating situations that would look abnormal or incorrect.

List three things you like the most about Brussels.

  • Brussels is made like a quilt; its neighbourhoods are like these dissonant patches that together form an interesting place to live. Jump from Matonge to Sainte-Catherine/Sint-Katelijn or from Molenbeek to Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis, you’ll find everything you need.
  • The scene for performing arts is quite vibrant and since there’s no big institution centralising all the attention – at least for now – there’s a diverse offer in theatres, museums, galleries and festivals. I’m only scared that the scene will change with the arrival of the new Kanal Pompidou in the Citroën building.
  • It has a vivid music scene in amazing venues such as Ancienne Belgiue, Botanique, Fuse, Barlok and events like Gay Haze, Piknik Electronik, Couleur Café or Brussels Jazz Fest.

List three deciding factors that converted you to bicycle use.

  • I don’t know how to drive, we never had a car in my family, and biking was quite dangerous in Costa Rica, so I used to always take public transport. When I moved to Brussels, I was really amazed by how I could just take a bike to go wherever I wanted.
  • It’s faster than the car, or at least more relaxing. My boyfriend has a car so that’s how I got to know how stressful and chaotic it can be to get stuck in traffic in the centre – which is the case most of the time. What normally takes 10 minutes by bike can easily turn into half an hour by car.
  • Public transport stops too early, which is not handy when it comes to nightlife. I never understood why Brussels, as the heart of Europe, doesn’t have a 24h service, at least on weekends when people usually party. That’s when your bike becomes your hero! I prefer spending my money in drinks with friends than on a taxi.

List three favourite bike routes in Brussels.

  • Along the canal from Anderlecht to Vilvorde/Vilvoorde, because I like to see how the city landscape changes from one district to another.
  • Around the Forest/Vorst and Duden parks, but you have to get used to the ups and downs of the road.
  • Between Brussels Park and the Justice Palace so I can sit in the park, go to Sablon/Zavel for a drink, or buy something at a night shop and enjoy the view on the city from the stairs at Mont des Arts/Kunstberg or the Justice Palace.