Originating among the African-American populace in 1970s-era New York, breaking (or break dancing or b-boy/b-girling, pick your term) is having quite its moment on an international scale.
While the prestigious one-on-one breaking competition Red Bull BC One has held annual editions since 2004, breaking will now also be an Olympic sport starting with next year’s edition of Summer Olympics at Paris.
As for the break dancers in India, the BC One continues to serve as a million dollar ticket to succeed in their athletically-intensive and back-breaking (quite literally) work. Chosen from regional rounds in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, 16 b-boys and 8 b-girls were shortlisted for the Red Bull BC One Cypher on May 7 (Sunday).
This was the final for the Indian breakers following which the two winners (a b-boy and a b-girl) each would proceed to compete at the preliminary rounds of the Last Chance Cypher. And if the odds are in their favour, winning this Cypher would guarantee a spot at the World Final which will yet again be hosted at the French capital this October.
ALSO CHECK OUT: DailyO’s Instagram story highlights to access full coverage of RedBull BC One Camp and RedBull BC One Cypher.
Armed with “power moves”, “freezes”, and “toprock-downrock” combos, each contestant had something new to offer as they faced off against each other at Mumbai’s Nesco Center, an exhibition center in the B-City that can be best described as a spacious, air-conditioned warehouse.
After hours of sweat-shedding and RedBull-chugging, Kurukshetra b-boy Ginni AKA Goutam Kalsee and Jaipur b-girl Glib AKA Simran Ranga emerged as winners of the night.
Both of them, evidently elated from their wins, now harbour high hopes for the World Finals in Paris. Break dancing aficionados from the country can only hope that Indians don’t just win big at RedBull’s global stage but hopefully also get to compete in Olympics in the subsequent years.
Wearing her trademark dot bindi and delivering some jaw-dropping freezes (all with a smile hiding her exhaustion), Glib has been b-girling for over seven years now. From her first battle in Jaipur (which was devoid of any other female contestants) to making it to the top-4 of the India finals in 2021 to her latest victory, the 20-year-old has definitely come a long way.
Jaipur b-girl Glib prepping, moments before the tournament. pic.twitter.com/qiiQLm7vLS— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
Holding her rectangular box-like trophy, she opened up about the euphoria she was feeling fresh off the win against finalist Bar-B. The latter is herself as young and talented as Glib, having already won the Indian round last year. Born Siddhi Tambe, the Mumbai native admitted that she was very nervous when she made her BC One debut in 2021.
Here's B-girl Bar-B in her intense final against B-girl Glib (who eventually won). pic.twitter.com/km0VGkrCug— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
But the 2022 victory and this year’s finals seem to have boosted her confidence. Glib’s win over Bar-B was definitely no easy feat and as cliche as it might sound, both b-girls seemed as hungry as ever to clinch the top spot.
“Initially, I heard the word b-boying. And I thought to myself that ‘oh, this is just a dance form for boys’. But then, I slowly got into it and now it’s all that I want to do", says Visakhapatnam’s Shreya.
B-girl Shreya repping Vishakapatnam. pic.twitter.com/eb7xY3xREd— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
The breaker made it to this year’s semis, delivering some unique body sweeps. While her competitors were intent on suspending their bodies in mid-air and breaking into handstands, Shreya relied on using the floor to full advantage, worming her way to some intense dance-offs.
Most of the b-girls revealed that while female representation is expectedly scanty as compared to the b-boys, they still have not felt threatened or judged as women. The overall breaking circuit seems inclusive for the moment even though BC One and other tournaments still function according to the gender binary like any other sport.
To quote Shreya again, “Styles like crumping and breaking can come off as aggressive and that’s why one might stereotype it as a masculine dance form. But we (b-girls) are proving that it as effective and powerful when done by women”
Almost all of the finalists at this year’s BC One final included breakers adopting their unique aliases. Some of the nicknames were self-explanatory as in the case of the fiery Mumbai b-boys Tornado and WildChild.
WildChild is also notable for competing at the World Finals last year, a rare feat for Indian breakers that was achieved only by B-boy Flying Machine who competed in the 2019 World Finals. While Flying Machine was absent on Sunday, WildChild lived up to his name and made his way to the semis. The same can be said for Tornado who gave his best only to lose out in a tie breaking quarter final.
B-boy Tornado from Mumbai. Man lives up to his name in every performance. pic.twitter.com/0yn8J1s14B— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
Coming back to Tornado’s name, it’s only poetic that one of his competitors of the night was the b-boy named Wind!
For some breakers, the stage name can be an important identity-marker for to stand out. The aforementioned Bar-B originally went by her b-girl name Sid but changed it when audiences began mistaking her for a boy! Similarly, for Mumbai’s MGK (no, not the rapper Machine Gun Kelly), her chosen name is an abbreviation of her legal title: Mughda Mangoankar.
B-girl MGK from Mumbai. pic.twitter.com/zvIMFzsfOo— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
Sentimental value can unexpectedly arise in other cases. For instance, Jalandhar’s Ranjit Masih adopted the name Lil Shadow because he aspires to walk in the shadow of his dance guru, the man who got him into breaking in the first place.
Lil Shadow in action. pic.twitter.com/zNWUzTdJvM— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
Glib similarly has a teacher’s connection behind her name as she told RedBull in 2022, “(My teacher) used to call me “glib” because I would slip a lot while training.”
For Kurukshetra’s Ginni who picked home the B-boy trophy, his name carries a wholesome backstory that people with petnames would perhaps relate to.
In an amusing contrast, Ginni’s competitor in the final had a name that solely stood for his dancing abilities. The tallest contender of the tournament, the lean and lanky b-boy known as Flexagon drew a multitude of cheers.
Flexagon, another audience favorite. He competed in the final but ultimately lost the winning B-Boy title to Kurukshetra's Ginni. pic.twitter.com/RZ5JqqnXfL— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
“That guy is truly a flexagon, whatever that is. He’s like a flexible Rubik’s cube that can bend in all directions.” An audience member remarked after the final. While Ginni’s blend of strategy and improvisation ultimately gave him the upper hand, Flexagon too managed to emerge as an audience favourite much like Bar-B dominated the stage against Glib.
The fact that breaking is now formally recognised as an Olympic sport seems to be reassuring news not just for the Indian breakers but even their parents! Glib, who herself has played sports like volleyball and basketball, admits that her father was relieved ever since the Olympic news got to him.
For Ginni, his parents had been supportive when they began seeing how serious he is towards the art of breaking. “My mother still supported me from the start. My father had his doubts but when he began seeing how I somehow managed to travel to different cities and compete with all that I had, he seemed to feel better.” says Ginni who is also pursuing a BA degree in a Kurukshetra university. “As the youngest sibling of three, my parents are happy that I am finally serious about something.”
Glib in action. She finally won the Red Bull BC One Cypher (India) in the B-girl category. pic.twitter.com/SxasSUX6kg— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023
In both the winners’ cases, the physical extremities of the dance-sport proved to be another deterrent for their parents. Tornado, who smilingly mentions that his parents have never seen him perform (and he prefers to keep it that way), showed the dead skin tearing away from his fingers and shed light on the health scares in his dancing career.
“I once broke my back and had to train wearing a belt. But if I was too scared about my health, I wouldn’t have been a b-boy in the first place.”
It doesn’t require a dance expert to judge how challenging breaking can be. The Mumbai finals only bore further testimony to this. But for the armband-wearing performers, stages like BC One offer them some much-required recognition. While Ginni and Glib are basking in their present glory and gearing up for the international events under RedBull, Indian breakers will have to compete at Asian Games to secure a spot for next year’s Olympics.
As for what went down in Mumbai last week, it’s not just the finalists but even amateur breakdancers earned themselves some therapeutic freestyling sessions and educational workshops. From May 5 to May 7, the so-called RedBull BC One Camp saw the presence of international talents holding their workshops.
There was Amsterdam-based DJ Nobunaga who talked about sampling music and his choice of needle drops during dance face-offs. Two-time BC One-winning b-girl Kastet also flew all the way from Russia to judge the finals and also to oversee a breaking workshop.
RedBull BC One didn’t just celebrate the best of Indian breakers but it also turned out to be a celebration of breaking. Just have a glimpse at a freestyling session at Kastet’s workshop where the cheery Russian just asked her audiences to break loose. The ensuing adrenaline-fueled result aptly puts the entire event in a nutshell.
But the workshops at RedBull BC One Camp gave me the best moments like this workshop by Russian B-girl Kastet. This was truly a celebration. pic.twitter.com/jFmdtdmEhJ— shaurya_thapa (@DalaiThapa) May 9, 2023