When you think about the world of street dance, many things come to mind. The alluring buzz of that hip-hop bass, the colorful, baggy ensembles, the roaring support from the crowd, and the utter amazement of watching bodies bend, break, flip, and fly right before your eyes. But in the midst of all the gritty intrigue, lies another recurring truth that is hard to ignore–women often find themselves left out of the picture.
The culture of street dance has thrived for over 50 years, encompassing styles such as popping, locking, house dance, breaking, krumping and more. In a field largely centering male performers, women have shattered ceilings–and pavements–to protect our right to the art form. Thanks to spaces like Red Bull’s Dance Your Style, the space for inclusivity continues to grow.
The fierce competition takes place around the world, pairing the best dancers and entertainers in 1-on-1 freestyle battles. The crowd votes live in real time, giving women in dance a welcome space to showcase and celebrate their talent. At the competition’s stop in Washington, D.C., we got the chance to hear from a few dancers ahead of their performance.
“I want the young girls in Baltimore to know it doesn’t stop at one competition. It goes further. Don’t be scared to say that you’re serious about dance.”
“[Black people] pray through dance, we’ve communicated through dance, we’ve gotten ourselves out of trouble through dance. In my culture dance is a part of our daily routine. It’s just what we do.” Says Baltimore native Stylz. Named the queen of Baltimore club dance in 2013, she hopes to take the intricate dance style of footwork to another level. With over 15 years given to her craft, Stylz is passionate about preserving the legacy of her hometown, which was impacted after the loss of legendary DJ and MC K-swift. “I want the young girls in Baltimore to know it doesn’t stop at one competition. It goes further. Don’t be scared to say that you’re serious about dance.” she tells GROWN.
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The unique opportunity provided by Dance Your Style is not only life changing for the women who are competing, it serves as a necessary moment to address our healing through art. Fourth time contestant Neverless shares how dance saved her while growing up in Puerto Rico. “I just want to inspire people. I know how it is coming from places where you don’t have much. But don’t stop what you love doing.” As Neverless explains her passion for dance, she became emotional revealing just how much it means to her. Stepping into the art at the age of five, she created her own style after experiencing a lack of mentors or a place to learn. “In Puerto Rico we do a little bit of everything. Our culture comes from our ancestors ,the Tainos, Bomba and Plena, and from many places like Africa and Cuba. [Dance] is like a way of really bringing that root alive.” Now as a studio owner, Neverless is able to amplify her story while inspiring a younger generation of women to do the same.
On the day of the event, the energy was intoxicating as each contestant prepared to be crowned the crowd favorite. While none of them backed down from giving their all, at the heart of each performance was a larger respect for the dance community. Round after round the brackets condensed and eventually Las Vegas dancer J-noy took home the trophy, but the joyful spirits left behind proved that everyone won in their own way.
“Dance in general is a feeling. The music comes on and your body wants to move. It’s a heartbeat. It’s engrained in humanity.”
“Dance is important because it’s an outlet. The pandemic has shown the world that art is important because it allows everyone to escape.” Philadelphia house dancer Imani tells GROWN after her performance. “Dance helps you connect with people you don’t even know. It’s like nothing else.”
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As a graduate of The University of the Arts, Imani has been building a name for herself for years. As a principal dancer at Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company, she’s performed at events such as Pennsylvania Ballet’s “Shut Up and Dance” and at The International Association of Black in Dance Festival. When she’s not competing, she’s working on earning her Masters degree in dance. “Dance in general is a feeling. The music comes on and your body wants to move. It’s a heartbeat. It’s engrained in humanity.”
While they didn’t walk away with a trophy from Dance Your Style, it’s clear that women like Stylz, Neverless, and Imani have no intention of letting up. Through their dedication, they’ve made it possible for our culture to take up space and inspire a new generation. So the next time you find yourself picturing the magnetic energy that is street dance, remember to include the incredibly talented stories of the women who leave it all on the floor.
*Find out more information for each event on redbull.com/danceyourstyleusa
- May 6 – Red Bull Dance Your Style Oakland @ Frank Ogawa Plaza, Downtown Oakland
- May 13 – Red Bull Dance Your Style Atlanta @ Heaven at The Masquerade
- May 21-22 – Red Bull Dance Your Style USA Weekender