My fascination with dance battles and competitions stems from growing up during the aughts. Dance provided as a backdrop for some of the time's most classic teenage films. Who could forget a young Zoe Saldana in Center Stage, or Sara Johnson’s big audition in Save The Last Dance? Before Jessica Alba was the queen of The Honest Company, she won our hearts playing the title character in Honey. Of course, there's also Step Up, Drumline, and Stomp the Yard, and the opening dance scene of You Got Served makes up for the rest of the film.
Red Bull’s Dance Your Style series filled my nostalgia this weekend as I traveled down to their New Orleans qualifier. The competition series invited young and hungry dancers to participate in one-on-one dance battles, where they could show off their popping, locking, hip hop, house, and breakdancing. With previous qualifiers in Boston, Miami, Honolulu, DC, and Miami, the final regional competition happens in Los Angeles this weekend before it all comes down to the U.S final in Las Vegas on September 28th.
Big Freedia and her dancers performing at the event. Photo credit: Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Content Pool
Spider, the winner of the New Orleans qualifier. Photo credit: Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Content Pool
Hopeful dancers from all walks of life filled New Orleans' Generation Hall for the event, and their existing resumes were already impressive. Robo Steve was a member of the rival group Das Sound Machine in Pitch Perfect 2, while Rico had worked previously with Janelle Monae in her "Tightrope" video. I personally took interest in Dassy, a dancer from Seoul Korea who specializes in popping and was one of many participants to have previously competed on So You Think You Can Dance. She wanted to win to help pave the way for increased opportunity for other young dancers, expressing interest in helping them financially.
“Growing up in Korea was cool. Seoul developed as a city really fast," Dassy said about her upbringing. "I started studying dance by learning all of the OG street dances in Korea, including all of the popping and locking styles.”
Other influences for Dassy include Diana Ross, James Brown and D’Angelo. When the dancer first got to New York at 21, she knew no English and had little money, but she did possess a heap of determination. Now, living in L.A at 28, she feels more confident than ever. In five years, she says she wants to make the scene better for dancers, as they are hungry to learn the styles properly but aren't always making the money necessary to receive the best instruction. "I want to open the door," Dassy said of what she would look to accomplish in collaboration with Red Bull.
The whole event was exhilirating. The audience acted as the judges, lighting their bracelets up either red or blue to vote for the dancers in their one-on-ones. Sometimes a round warranted a tie-breaker, and other rounds were so unanimous that it was tempting to vote for the loser of the round to make them feel better. Dassy made it far, but she ultimately didn’t win.
Before the final round, the Queen of Bounce (and of Diva, for that matter), Big Freedia, came in with a performance that bounced the house down with her brigade of backup dancers. It was a spectacle everyone should see in their lifetime. After 16 rounds, the talented Spider (Marquez Alexander), who hails from Memphis, Tennessee, emerged as the champion in a final battle against Nick Fury from New Orleans.
The next Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier is in Los Angeles on August 11th, and tickets are available here.