Street dance means different things to different people. Red Bull Dance Your Stylepushes the barrier of what it means to be a dancer by asking a simple question: Can you adapt to what’s being thrown at you?.
‘It was the in thing when I started dancing in the hood. Everyone wanted to be a pantsula; that was the only form of entertainment [we had] besides soccer,” recollected South African pantsula dancer Teboho “Tebza” Diphehlo in a 2019 interview with Red Bull.
Diphehlo is the archetypal pantsula – a loose-limbed, fast-shuffling cat with a bucket hat permanently plastered on his head and a pair of Dickies cargo pants on his wiry frame.
He was crowned the Red Bull Dance Your Style national champion in 2018 and went on to represent South Africa in the national final in Paris, France, the following year.
The competition is a one-versus-one street dance battle in which dancers perform a street dance style of their choice to unpredictable music hits. Any street dance discipline – sbujwa, amapiano, pantsula, hip-hop, popping, locking and more – can enter.
What makes the competition unique is that the audience is the judge and it decides who takes the crown in each battle. Unlike most dance competitions, the deejay and audience play a crucial role.
The deejay is tasked with challenging the dancers with unpredictable hits to see how versatile they are at adapting to the beat. The audience is the only judging panel and decides on the outcome of the battles by simply raising voting cards to indicate their favourite dancer.
This year, the competition returns to South Africa, first for the national leg and then the global final in December, which will bring together street dancers from across the world.
Diphehlo feels upbeat ahead of the global final.
“It makes sense for South Africa to host the second Red Bull Dance Your Style global final. Our country has a rich and diverse heritage in dance, [which] is often used as a form of day-to-day expression and to celebrate the past and the present. I am thrilled that South Africa will be at the centre of the world in 2021 by hosting the Red Bull Dance Your Style world final,” he says.
Depending on who you ask, street dance means different things to different people. The genre has no specific template; it is essentially whatever vernacular dance style is developed in a specific locale. In the Bronx in the US, that may translate to popping and locking; in Soweto, it would be represented by isipantsula and isbhujwa; and elsewhere it might be breakdancing.
Red Bull Dance Your Style’s format pushes the barrier of what it means to be a dancer by asking a simple question: Can you adapt to what’s being thrown at you?
In the 2019 global final, Diphehlo did a skhanda routine to Busta Rhymes’ Break Ya Neck.
Each of his mechanical movements was fluid, transfixing and on-beat. And if it weren’t for the nature of the competition, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking he had been choreographing his routines to hip-hop his entire life.
During his time in Paris, he struck up a friendship with Angyil McNeal, who is no stranger to the international dance circuit.
McNeal, who is from Kansas in the US, has featured in commercials for Adidas, and has taken part in dance battles in the US, Netherlands, Singapore and Korea. For her, dance is more than a pastime, it’s a pathway to much deeper existential conclusions.
“Dance has helped me explore layers of problems – I can understand life if I can understand dance. Also, dance has brought me physical pain from growing muscles and stretches, so my tolerance has increased and made me calmer. It’s my way of seeing a therapist … but less expensive,” she mentioned in a 2018 interview.
She started joining dance battles because it helped her perfect her craft.
“I didn’t really think about it; I just did it because I wanted to dance as much as possible and spend time with people. I love doing things I love, but after [I started battling], it became my way of life and I look at it as a way to sharpen my sword and keep me on my toes.”
Watching her performance in the 2019 Red Bull Dance Your Style final, one can’t help but notice the universality of dance.
McNeal’s dance style is popping and locking, but there are moments in her performance where one can spot elements of skhanda and a bit of kwasa as she danced to Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You.
It may sound corny, but these small moments are a reminder that dance really is a universal language, that its different dialects are available for everyone to learn and incorporate into their preferred “dance language”.
South Africa’s road to the world final will begin this month with the Red Bull Dance Your Style country tour in search of the best dancers to represent the country at the world final. The tour audition workshops will take place in Johannesburg, Polokwane, Durban, Gqeberha, Cape Town and Pretoria, culminating in the national final set to take place in October.
The tour features South Africa’s hottest dance talent, including Diphehlo, Bontle Modiselle, Sne Mbatha, Rudi Smit, Lee-Shane, Limpopo Boy, 250Machine.
Dancers can audition during these workshops, while those from outside of the cities hosting the workshops can take part in the competition by submitting an audition video to redbulldanceyourstyle.com.
1. Red Bull Dance Your Style is a one-on-one street dance battle in which dancers move to unpredictable music hits and perform any street dance style.
2. Any street dance style discipline, such as sbujwa, amapiano, pantsula, hip-hop, popping and locking, can enter.
3. In this distinctive competition format, the deejay and audience play a crucial role.
4. The deejay is tasked with challenging the dancers of the different styles, who face each other on a red and blue side of the dance floor, with unpredictable music played to see how versatile they are at adapting to the beat.
5. The audience is the only judging panel and decide on the outcome of the battles by simply raising voting cards that are either red or blue in line with their favourite dancer.