The spotlights come to life. Red and blue beams scythe through the arena. The DJ drops the needle on the record. Boom! Cheers explode from the audience. Pimply youths in baseball caps leap from their seats and throw their arms in the air. A guy with dreadlocks steps onto the stage and roars into the microphone, his voice barely audible over the din of the fans. “Moscow, are you ready?”
The braying that greets this suggests they are. Most lined up for hours in the snow, or traveled from the furthest corners of this vast country to be among the 3,500 packing Moscow’s Old Circus. This is their Super Bowl: The top 16 B-boys in the world going head-to-head in a single-elimination tournament.
“I’m on the road all year, watching the most important competitions,” says German B-boy and promoter Thomas Hergenröther. “I’m looking for B-boys with personality who can entertain on the stage, because at Red Bull BC One you not only have to be a perfect dancer, you also have to perform with the crowd as well as your opponent.”
One false step can send any of them out of the contest -- all the participants here know that.
The organizer of some of the breakdancing scene’s biggest battles for more than 30 years, Hergenröther established Red Bull BC One eight years ago. Every year, he scours the scene for 10 dancers he recruits directly into the competition. Five further competitors have qualified through national elimination competitions on four continents. The only certain starter: Last year’s winner, the Brazilian Neguin. That’s 16 B-boys from 10 countries. But only one can take home the championship belt.
Five minutes before the first battle, the B-boys are in the training room behind the stage. As the crowd howls outside and camera crews and security staff move past the back entrance, all is quiet in the lounge. Roxrite, a former delivery boy who grew up in California’s Bay Area, warms up on the small dance floor. Brazil’s Neguin, eyes closed, chills out on a bean bag. One false step can send any of them out of the contest -- all the participants here know that.
El Niño certainly does. The fresh-faced Boston native with Venezuelan roots is here for the first time. He stares straight ahead, dance scenes playing in his mind’s eye. His gaze then wanders over to his opponent, who is doing stretches a few feet away. For a moment they make eye contact. A quick, respectful nod. Then -- “ding!” -- the bell chimes, and someone calls out his name.
Check out the February 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands January 10) for more of the article. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.