On Saturday, June 27, in a dark room with flashing lights and funk-laden instrumental tunes, on a round stage about 30 feet in diameter, 16 of the best b-boys in America threw down their gauntlets — or sweaty beanie caps — for the Red Bull BC One, a 12-year-old international competition that Red Bull calls "the most important one-on-one b-boy battle in the world."
Throughout the year and around the globe, break dancers compete in a series of local battles, called cyphers, for a shot at regional battles in their countries. The North American finals will take place in Orlando this August, and the winner will head to the world championship competition, this year in Rome on November 15.
On Saturday, at the Gallery of Amazing Things, an event space in Dania Beach, b-boys came from all over the South: Keebz from Orlando, K-Lou from Houston, JKilla from Atlanta, and even last year’s champion, Tung Fu, also from Orlando.
But it was a lanky, mop-topped 16-year-old in a white T-shirt and jeans who had the most awe-inspiring moves. Sergio “Zeku” Garcia is a Cuban-American and Miami native who was repping the Future Force Crew. He took the first-place spot, securing him a prestigious cardboard trophy and a spot in the North American Final.
“He’s been dancing since he was 3 years old,” said Zeku’s father as his son was mobbed by friends congratulating him. “He’s always training, every day, to come out victorious.”
David “MexOne” Alvarado, cohost of the event, explained that participants are evaluated on four criteria: toprock, footwork, freezes, and power moves. "Toprock" usually refers to moves performed while standing, including when the b-boy introduces himself, stepping across the dance floor. "Footwork," to the breaking community, means moves performed on the floor, using hands as much as feet. A freeze is when an interesting position — such as a handstand — is held by the dancer, usually involving a lot of balance and coordination to achieve. Power moves are moves that tend to take more acrobatic skills and momentum, such as headspins, leg flares, and even consecutive backflips. The judging isn’t completely technical, though, Alvarado added: “It’s about innovation, foundation, concept, control, expression, aesthetics, rhythm, and difficulty.”
Florida's b-boy scene seems to ebb and flow, with cyphers happening sporadically at community centers and gyms. Alvarado in 2008 started bboyspot.com, which includes news and a forum, to bring breakers together. As explained on the website, “In 2010, the Spot made history by opening its headquarters in Orlando, making it the first ever b-boy-owned and operated b-boy/hip-hop community center in the world. Our headquarters is a free center for b-boys, b-girls, and anyone that wants to learn what hip-hop culture is all about.” In South Florida, the Miami Bboy Academy offers classes on Saturdays (Zeku is listed as a teacher there). RedBull's sponsorship of BC One brought some usually elusive funding that enabled a killer event. As Alvardo posted afterward on Facebook, the event was “possibly the best jam in South Florida since Outbreak 4 in 2007. The scene needed it.”
With years of preparation, much was at stake for the dancers Saturday night, but the atmosphere in the gallery had an air of calmness, even playfulness.
B-boys from all ages and backgrounds would freeze in handstands, perform backflips, and toprock around the gallery while other members of the audience would watch them.
Alexander “Drud” represented the Navi Crew from Austin, Texas, but exhibited a heavy Eastern European accent. Drud got into break dancing nine years ago in Ukraine. “When I found out we have such stuff as breaking,” he said, “I, like, figured it out: This was mine.”
All of the qualities that make a great b-boy shined in Zeku, as even the crowd made all clear. During a semifinal match between Zeku and another dancer, the building echoed with chants of Zeku’s name, and when there was a tie, the decision was booed.
Alvarado had to calm the crowd: “In this panel, there’s over 60 years of breaking experience,” he said authoritatively, pointing to the judges, veteran b-boys Marlon, Lego, and Abstrak. “Of course you want your guy to win! That’s why we have judges!”
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The final match had a clearer end. Going up against Keebz, Zeku showed off his flexibility with flares that seemed to last an eternity and freezes that made the crowd gasp. Keebz did not hold back at all with exemplary footwork, but as the match came to an end, the judges had seen all they needed to see.
When Zeku was announced the winner, the Miami native collapsed on the floor as his friends and crew members cheered and danced around him.
“It was an amazing journey and all,” he said through tears. “I just wanna keep growing and developing. I don't care where it takes me, as long as I keep on a positive role.” Zeku's next stop will be going up against the best b-boys that America and Canada have to offer on August 22.