Red Bull Dance Your Style Competition Highlights Black Dancers

Black dancers are the blueprint for popular culture but are often overlooked and underpaid.

Red Bull Dancing Your Style is a global series of 80 street dance competitions. The tournament fosters battles between Krumpers, Voguers, Afro-beats dancers, and Hip-hop freestylers, among others. To participate and qualify for the final competition, dancers travel throughout the world. and the audience has the opportunity to observe street dancing up close, with their votes eventually determining the victor.

Dancing has always served as a means of bringing the globe together, and it continues to do so today. In Black culture, dancing is art with African roots. African dances were carried to the Americas and the Caribbean by slaves in North, Central and South America. As enslaved people spread around the world, their dancing forms were influenced by the local cultures. Enslaved Africans used dance as a method to preserve their traditions and cultures.

Today, Black dance has been an inspiration for popular dance culture, especially on social media platforms like TikTok. Black dancers have created the blueprint for viral dances and have constantly been appropriated by popular non-black dancers Often, Black dancers are overlooked and aren’t paid, credited, or given brand deal opportunities like the dancers that benefited from their work. Last summer, this led to a massive strike on TikTok where Black dancers and creators refused to record dances for Megan The Stallions hit song “Thot Shit.” 

During a recent interview with, RedBull Dance Your Style dancers, Onpoint (@andredouglas2), DonSoup (@DonSoup), Enerjaee (@ enerjaee), Glo. Zig (@glo.zig), Leo Ra Soul (@leorasoul), and Olivia Danso (@olivia.danso) spoke about dance as a Black art form and extension of Black culture and Black culture vultures who appropriate dance on TikTok.  What does dance mean to you?

DonSoup (Anthony Campbell): Dance means history, self-expression and creativity. It's an art form of release. Dance is a language because it's how you learn how to speak with your body movements. When you can't use your words to articulate something, you use a gesture, hand signs and movements that can be used as dance. ​​Danced helped me articulate what my words couldn’t. So, to me, it's a different language, it's another language. It’s been a huge extension of my culture because I'm Jamaican and Haitian. So you know, the dance culture runs deep. It's been heavily influenced in my family, from kickbacks to funerals. Dance is something that brings joy in the good times and the bad. There's always a lot of history implemented in the dance moves.

Enerjaee (Jaden Christian): I grew up in the Caribbean and dancing is how you connect with other people dancing is how you're able to relate to other people. In the Caribbean, we have Carnival which is practically dancing. We have massive parties and what we call fetes and Juve, where you're literally marching through town while dancing. It's to the point where you dance with people that you don't know—I don't know who you are, but we're dancing together and that's how you're able to connect with each other.

Enerjaee and Leo Ra Soul compete at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022
Enerjaee and Leo Ra Soul compete at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022 How is the dance that you practice connected to Black culture?

Glo.Zig (Zakira Penny): Dance is connected to black culture because you're dancing to lyrics and that is how our ancestors danced. They danced to communicate with each other and tell a story. I am a storyteller as well. I’ve been dancing for years and it has landed me in great opportunities, such as this one. It’s my escape from me being different in this world. I don’t try to impress people when I dance because I dance to release steam.

Enerjaee (Jaden Christian): Bone breaking is one of my specialties and it’s a style that only about 30, maybe 40 people in the world can do because it's arm contortion. It was created in Brooklyn, New York, which is a huge platform for Black culture in general and dance. Voguing, flexing, light feet,  hip hop, and b-boying also came from Brooklyn.

Onpoint (Leandre Douglas):  Well, I made it my business to archive all of the black dance styles from the time we were slaves to now: colonial dances, jazz dances, etc. Dance doesn’t define me, it helps articulate the person I am. It's not a definition, it's a medium. The same way an artist uses paint as a medium to express their culture. Dance is the lived expression of the culture at the moment.

Leo Ra Soul competes at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022
Leo Ra Soul competes at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022 In what ways have you seen Black dance being appropriated?

Enerjaee (Jaden Christian): I’ve worked in the TV, movie and commercial sector and I've witnessed, my peers and myself get booked to choreograph dances for people who are not Black, you know, Casting managers will sayt things like “I'm sorry, you're just not the right look for this part.”Also, a lot of people will come into the dance scene and learn from us because we anybody and we love everybody. We just want credit for our creations.We want people to acknowlwgde the culture and people that they learned these dances from and educate others. Black dancers have no issues with anybody from another race learning our culture if they gave us the respect and payment that we deserve. Tagging a Black dancer, who created a popular dance, in their social media posts can go a long way. How can black dancers get the recognition that dude?

Leo Ra Soul (Leonardo White): I think you have to present your skills at the highest level. It's easy for someone to copy and move but because you're the creator, you should always be able to do that move or style the best. You can't afford to slack because there's always somebody ready to replace you. There's a difference in training a ballet dancer and the prima ballerina. I know the prima ballerina is going to dance the best regardless of if another ballet dancer is doing the same routine. We have to be like the prima ballerina and give 100% to whatever we do. We have to work over time, stay innovative and collaborate with other dancers. The original people who created certain dances should embrace others doing their dances because they will evolve from that. People will begin paying respects to the originators because it's like, wow, you embrace me and I am inspired by you.

Eevy competes at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022
Eevy competes at the Red Bull Dance Your Style qualifier in Atlanta, GA, USA on May 13, 2022

Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

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