How A Woman Finally Won The Foremost Breakdancing Competition In The World

Posted by Cherise Johnson on

Courtesy of Red Bull

Since 2004, Red Bull has been holding an annual breakdancing competition called Red Bull BC One Camp to honor and celebrate one of the historical — and currently, often overlooked — tenets of hip-hop. Founded in Switzerland, the competition has actually never been held in the US until this year, when the city of Houston, Texas was tapped to host it this past April.

The camp was held in the tiny, yet charming downtown Houston venue called The Secret Group, and its American location wasn’t the only first for the event. This year, the BC One Camp included an all B-Girl Cypher for the first time — historically “B-Boys” have been the focus of the event, but this year they brought the competition into 2018. I had the pleasure of attending this historic 3-day event and was incredibly excited to experience “breaking” up close and personal.

Hours ahead of the historical B-girl Cypher, The Secret Group swelled up with a crowd thrilled to possibly learn a thing or two from Beyonce’s most popular dancers and 2017 World Of Dance winners, Les Twins at their “Dancing On The World Stage” workshop, one of many teaching experiences offered during this weekend. The French twins had just reunited with Beyonce at Coachella a week before the event, which made it surreal to see them then right in front of me, in her hometown, teaching a dance workshop to Luke James’ “Oh God.” It was honestly a privilege just to be in the presence of such greatness.

As I watched Les Twins, aka Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, teach a velvety routine to their troupe of dancers, another teacher — colloquially dubbed Crazy Legs, as a hip-hop pioneer who leads the prominent Rock Steady Crew — walked up to me and offered some kettle corn. At first I say no, but eventually gave in, because… kettle corn. We start talking about “breakdancing” — a lost art, I tell him — before n he suddenly lowers his voice to caution me to never call it “breakdancing” again, especially in an environment like this camp. It’s called breaking.

Legs gently explained the story of how his team, back in the day, used the term “breakdancing” to help translate the movement to their growing mainstream audience. He also proudly repped his hometown neighborhood, the Bronx, New York (aka the birthplace of hip-hop), noting that plenty of people don’t realize B-boy and B-girl are simply short for “Bronx-boy” and “Bronx-girl.” From that moment on, and throughout the rest of the weekend, I was eternally grateful for Crazy Legs correcting me — and for the quick history lesson that came with it.

After day one was almost over, the venue seemed to get smaller and smaller as more people began to show up; everyone itching to see the all-B-girl Cypher began to crowd around the dancefloor in anticipation. It was truly incredible to watch all the B-girls rhythmically contort their bodies with precision to the sounds thumping through the speakers. The room’s energy was high, it was sweltering, yet nobody cared. The emcee for the evening, New York’s Dstroy, kept the dance room’s energy flowing as the crowd’s cheers — which included major love from the B-boys too — grew to become almost deafening.

It was like Breakin’ in real life. Everybody was hype! Rock Steady Crew members Jeskilz, Baby Love, and their legendary President, Crazy Legs, all sat on a big, red couch in front of the dancefloor as judges. At the end of each round, they simultaneously pointed in the direction of who they felt was the best breaker. When it came down to the final two B-girls, JK-47 and MANTIS, the judges unanimously commissioned Diamonds Crew member JK-47 as the winner.

“This was history,” the Canadian B-girl gushed to me during a phone interview following the event. “Just to be in the presence of all these people, to be on that Red Bull floor, it was just an honor to be there. For me, regardless of if the judges were to pick me or not, I felt like a champion. When I saw all the judges point at me… I was crying so hard inside because of all my hard work. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Unexpected or not, her win was well-deserved. JK trained a grueling six days a week, twice a day, for three months. All this, while she also competed in various breaking events leading up the historical Red Bull event. As a woman in a male-dominated culture, the support shown for B-girls by B-boys was surprisingly great and came as a shock to her.

“I know there are guys who support B-girls, but I mean growing up in the scene you have B-boys who really don’t care,” she shared. “A lot of these girls are just winning these battles and now there is starting to be more awareness with B-girls making noise and are really legit. I think guys are just like we got to give props.”

And all that was just… day one. Every day that followed, the Red Bull BC One Camp was flooded with opportunities to learn more about the culture of breaking, whether it be in casual conversation with other attendees, or in structured, formal workshops. In fact, one of the most elements about the event was the abundance of workshops and panels offered on the schedule, including the “Community & Culture” panel hosted by Crazy Legs, dancehall choreographer Blacka Di Danca, and Houston B-boy Marlon Marley Havikoro. All of these experts offered compelling thoughts on how to best keep the hip-hop community growing and the culture breathing.

“My definition of culture is the habits of the youth today,” Blacka expressed. “…a lot of times when you have that nostalgia and you say ‘this is not hip-hop’ or ‘this is not real dancehall,’ I think what we mean to say is that this is not our generation of hip-hop and our generation of dancehall… part of our responsibility as being the older generation is helping the younger generation be who they are in the moment and not force them to be who we were back then because then the culture dies.”

All around, there were plenty of other lectures and workshops to attend, such as the workshop led by “Single Ladies” choreographer JaQuel Knight who taught a routine to N.E.R.D.’s No One Ever Really Dies cut “Kites.” In contrast to Les Twins’ laidback teaching style, Knight took a more proactive approach and substituted lyrics for counts. He didn’t slow down a bit for any dancer who was lacking and it was an absolute blast follow along.

The close of every evening was a great celebration of dance, and in essence, the Red Bull BC One Camp was a true hip-hop experience provided by DJs spinning the best music, dancers from different styles battling it out on the Red Bull dance floor, and knowledge from some of the most respected pioneers in the game.

The next Red Bull BC One Camps will be a bit farther away, taking place overseas in Russia and Kazakhstan, and the last stop, in September, will be for the BC One World Finals in Zurich. There, the first winner of the B-Girl Cypher — now legendary JK-47 — is slated to compete next along with B-boy Cypher winner Zebra. No matter what her luck is in Switzerland, the Red Bull BC One Camp in Houston was a phenomenal experience, and it was genuinely empowering to watch a woman earn the opportunity to compete with the boys.

Uproxx was hosted for this event with accommodations provided by Red Bull. Check out the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.