In the Autumn of 2018, Ami Yuasa and Andrea Mondoloni stepped out under the hot lights of Zurich’s Hallenstadion. Both young b-girls wanted more than anything to be crowned the first ever Red Bull BC One b-girl champion, and they had four minutes to showcase what b-girls can do to a global audience.
The enormity of that first female final wasn’t lost on the fans that packed the Swiss metropolis’ second-largest stadium. The contenders, known respectively as B-Girl Ami, of Japan, and B-Girl San Andrea, of France, entered the stage to a deafening roar. This dance battle, after all, was a first among firsts, paving the way for women not only at the Red Bull BC One World Final, but leading the way for their art.
The lights dimmed, the crowd fell silent, and the hip hop cranked up: the signal for those two exceptional dancers to do what they did best. What followed was a blitzkrieg of athletic power moves, one-handed handstands, breakneck spins and freezes, as Ami and San Andrea took turns to outdo each other’s moves. Just four dizzying minutes later – by the tightest of split decisions – judges deemed Ami the better dancer on the night. The giant gold-plated champion’s belt was bigger than Ami’s head. She lifted it aloft with ease.
“Being a part of the first ever solo b-girl competition was a dream come true, not just for me, but for female breakers all over the world. It felt like b-girls were finally being taken seriously after so many years.”
Says Russia’s B-Girl Kastet, who lost to Ami in the preliminaries that year but went on to become breaking’s first ever back-to-back Red Bull BC One champion after winning the title in 2019 and 2020.
Still, in 2018, the inaugural women’s final saw just four b-girls battle for the title, alongside the 16-strong male competition that has thrilled audiences at the Red Bull BC One World Final across the world since 2004. And so, three years on, as the world’s best breakers head to Poland on 6th November for the Red Bull BC One World Final 2021, the competition will make history again as men and women compete for the first time with a full line up:16 b-girls and 16 b-boys.
“Red Bull BC One was the biggest platform to include b-girls four years ago, and I’ve seen the changes made since then.” adds Kastet, whose name means ‘Brass Knuckles’ in English, and is hunting down an unprecedented third consecutive Red Bull BC One title next month.
“Suddenly, girls saw it was possible to reach this stage and be seen, be heard.”
The Red Bull BC One World Final is the climax of 30 national competitions – known as ‘cyphers’ – held in countries from America to Europe, the Middle East to Asia Pacific throughout the year. The winners are then further whittled down in the Last Chance Cypher (held this year on 4th November) for the opportunity to represent their nation in the championship, alongside a selection of invitational wildcards. There, in front of thousands of fans in Gdansk’s Ergo Arena, 16 b-boys and 16 b-girls will compete in epic breaking battles for the ultimate prize in the discipline of competitive breaking.
Another b-girl with that giant belt in her crosshair is Anna “Stefani” Ponomarenko, winner of the Red Bull BC One UK Cypher in August. Now, as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her breaking career to date, she believes b-girls, finally, are a force to be reckoned with. She says;
“We’ve always been made to feel like b-boys are more important than b-girls. But I feel like for b-girls it’s much more difficult to be at the top levels – because our bodies are different it can be harder to do some of the moves that require real upper-body strength. So when we do pull them off, it’s all the more impressive. If anything, b-girls are better because they can do the same things as the b-boys despite finding them harder to do.”
To keep herself in the best physical shape, 27-year-old B-Girl Stefani trains up to 6 hours a day – a gruelling training regime she fits around her day job as a beautician. And despite the combative nature of breaking battles, her femininity, she says, is her greatest power. “As a beautician, I always try to look really good,” she adds, raising her hand to reveal a faultless manicure in electric pink. “I do my nails every day, and I want to look good all the time. Why would a battle be any different?”
Of course, none of these women learned to dance in a vacuum. Indeed, they toprock, spin and freeze at the end of a long line of trailblazing female breakers, one of which is American veteran B-Girl Beta Rawk, who is one of the two female judges presiding over this year’s competition.
“When I was young, I was always told that I couldn’t dance because dancing is for boys,” says the 38-year-old from her home in Florida. “But I did it anyway. And for years, I used to be the only girl at the cypher. I was always the only girl. It was isolating, and a lot of pressure.”
“I had to be tough in order to fit in back then. But I’m glad to say times have changed. Now, the b-boys have stopped taking the b-girls for granted. And I couldn’t be more proud of the current generation for getting us to a place where b-girls are accepted and respected.”
Now, thanks to the pioneering efforts of b-girls like Beta Rawk and this year’s other female judge, France’s Sarah Bee, the new generation of dancers are flourishing on the breaking scene, from winning global titles all the way to finding fame and becoming role models to girls across the world.
But, while competition is fierce, the biggest factor that drives most of these women at the top level of breaking is not rivalry, but sisterhood. “There’s a strong sense of sisterhood in the b-girl community,” Beta adds. “B-girls stick together. And you know what? I’ve judged a lot of competitions over the years and recently, the breakers who have left the greatest impression on me were the b-girls. They were unique. They were themselves. They took risks. Some of them are mothers! And it is beautiful to see enough b-girls with the confidence to do their thing at the highest level.”
That said, there’s one thing all the women interviewed here say they are keen to avoid: that the conversation falls down an “us-v-them” rabbit hole. “It’s not about b-boys against b-girls, who’s better, who can do what,” asserts Kastet.
At the end of the day we are all part of the same breaking family. Breaking isn’t only about battles and titles, it’s also about putting on a great show, together. It’s about the music, the history, the culture and, above all, the community. And if we lose that, we lose everything.”
This year’s Red Bull BC One World Final will be available to stream on Red Bull TV and the Red Bull BC One channels on November 6th 2021.
To buy tickets or to find out more information about the livestream of the Red Bull BC One World Final taking place in Gdansk visit: www.redbullbcone.com