The Olympics of breaking, Red Bull BC One, comes to Austin this weekend; some of the b-girls representing the sport share their journeys.
By Cy White, Photos courtesy of Red Bull Media House
The world of breaking is one of the most intricate, storied histories in the world. From the Black and Brown youth of the South Bronx in the mid ’70s to an Olympic sport, breaking is a phenomenon of elite athleticism and poetry in motion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, women are often left in the shadows of their male peers. B-girls aren’t rare in the field. But just as their presence in every element of hip hop, in the world of breaking they do tend fade to the background. Not this time.
The veritable Olympics of breaking, Red Bull BC One, has itself become a worldwide phenomenon. And the b-girls refuse to sit in a corner. Ahead of the iconic tournament’s stop in Austin on August 6 and 7, Austin Woman spoke with four competitors on their journey to breaking and their desires to bring much-needed representation to the scene. B-girls, stand up!
Please introduce yourselves to our readers and tell us what crew you rep.
Hi! I’m Saree McIntosh, a.k.a. Bgirl Blondie. I’m 16 years old, I live in Vegas and I’m with Full Force.
Hello, my name is Jeyna Ponce, and I’m repping Battle Born from Las Vegas.
What’s up! My name is B-girl Genesis. I rep Flooristas crew.
My name is Michiko. I’m a 25-year-old b-girl from Houston, Texas, and I rep Air Force Crew.
Have you always had a love of music and movement?
Blondie: Yes! I have loved music from such an early age. My mom was a professional dancer for the NBA and NFL. My dad is a musician. I think it’s safe to say it’s in my blood to love music and movement. Haha.
Jeyna: I’ve always been intrigued by music and movement and have had a deep passion for any forms of art.
Genesis: Yes. Growing up my father would listen to jazz, ’90s party jams, and I grew up watching MTV/BET/VH1 channels, watching music videos. I loved learning the dance trends during that time with my friends like the “running man,” “tootsie roll,” etc. My father was in the military, and I grew up overseas in Japan where he was stationed at multiple Air Force bases. During that time, my parents hosted house parties, and I went to a lot of house parties that my family got invited to. I was always around a party vibe growing up. Filipinos love the “cha-cha slide” and karaoke.
Stay true to who you are an always stay humble.B-Girl Genesis
The Air Force bases would have places called The Teen Center and have Teen Center dances monthly. My best friend and I would create our own steps, and we would do them there. It’s such a great experience to reminisce because it helped me to become less shy and make friends. My exposure to different genres of music expanded during my high school years to R&B, rap, hip hop, alternative before I got into breakin’ in 1999. Now I listen to Soulection, Korean R&B and my husband’s music. Doesn’t matter the genre or music era; if it makes you want to move, then it’s good music. Knowledge of music is important and powerful. If you can display musicality with your breakin’, that’s a level one should strive to achieve.
Michiko: Yes, both of my parents were athletes who loved R&B music. My dad used to let my brother and I chose our favorite songs, and he’d burn CDs for us to take turns playing in the car. I remember growing up I was always insanely active. At 3 years old, I was doing handstands and headstands. At 8, I was jumping from the second floor of my house to a makeshift couch cushion crash mat. Around middle school, I discovered dance.
Could you each tell us your journey to dance?
Blondie: I started dabbling in tumbling and dance with my mom when I was younger. She eventually put me in a gymnast class. Shortly after, my brother started breaking, and it looked so fun, so I wanted to do it too!
Jeyna: I began dancing about a decade ago, and I auditioned to be in prestigious magnet performing arts schools majoring in dance. Then I attended KO Knudson and Las Vegas Academy of the Performing Arts, which is where I acquired my foundation. They were great schools that not only put an emphasis on your academics but your craft as well. In this time frame, I was also training at studios such as District Arts and Millennium Dance Complex. I was training in multiple styles such as ballet, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip hop and choreography.
When I trained at Millennium in Summer 2020, I was introduced to Alchemy Breaking Academy and began taking breaking choreo classes. I grew extremely close to the instructors ATN, Geom and Delgado. After a couple months, they invited me to their open sessions with Battle Born. I trained extremely hard, and a year later, I battled into the crew.
Genesis: I was introduced to breaking in 1999 as a freshman in high school on a military base in Okinawa, Japan. My first influences and inspirations derived from the Japanese bboys and bgirls organic fluid style. Throughout the years and many travels, my style has been a collective fusion of what inspired me when I resided in AZ, CA, WA, VA and Flava Florida breaking scene.
Michiko: So, I was a gymnast from first grade through to my senior year of college. When I was in middle school, dance movies like the Step Up franchise were at their height. As much as I loved gymnastics, I was really feeling the urge to expand my movement, so I decided to sign up for a hip-hop class as an elective in eighth grade. The teacher (Mark Chavez) was a b-boy, and I would watch him practice during lunch before classes started.
Well, sometime during that year, he and his crew did a show at my gymnastics gym. There, I saw a b-boy by the name of Judo (Joel Rivera). I had never seen anyone move the way he did. It completely expanded my mind on what dance could be. After that I decided to try out for my high school’s dance company for the breakers (I had no clue how to break at the time) and by some miracle made it. Since then, breaking became a fun hobby until I chose to pursue it more seriously after retiring from gymnastics.
What led you to choose breaking (all around b-girling)?
Blondie: I started breaking at School of Breaking in Colorado. I trained mainly with B-boy Chasemdown and Ray Ray. I ended up moving to Las Vegas and started training with Break Ninjaz, which included Eric the Diss, Steve and Yust. When I moved to Vegas, I got more serious about breaking, at that time I mainly did kid battles. I did leave breaking for about two years. When I came back about six months ago, I trained some with Ben Stacks and did open sessions at Distrct Arts. I recently joined the amazing crew Full Force, and it’s my first year doing b-girl battles!
Jeyna: I have been introduced to a multitude of styles my entire life. The one that I’ve gotten attached to most is breaking. I’ve put an immense amount of energy and effort into breaking and have developed a deep love for the style and the culture. I have an attachment to breaking because I’ve grown up surrounded by family and peers in prominent dance crews such as Super Cr3w, Jabbawockeez and Full Force. My family is very invested in dancing. So it’s very significant and special that we all share a love for breaking, and it just enhances my connection and attachment to breaking even more.
Genesis: I had an affinity to breakin’ since I started. I’m a visual learner. The process of learning a move was rewarding in itself. Learning from friends, crew members and mentors made the journey enjoyable. The years of building upon a foundation provided me a place to create. Creating, developing, expressing myself through breakin’ and learning to grow within my craft has always lead me to choose breaking. Times when I couldn’t break was tough. I felt a void. Like taking the tools away from an artist to create. It’s an innate feeling that this is what I am meant to do.
Michiko: I have a love for most dance styles, contemporary probably being my second favorite. I chose breaking because it allowed a range of movement I didn’t even think was possible. It satisfied my athletic nature but constantly challenges me with how complex of an art form it is. It’s like a puzzle you’ll never fully solve, but you can’t help want to.
BC One is essentially the Olympics of b-boying/b-girling. However, the Olympics have recognized breaking as an Olympic sport and it will be a part of the Games in 2024. Will you all consider competing in Paris if given the opportunity?
Blondie: Yes! I think it would be an amazing experience to compete if I had the opportunity. I, however, would be so honored and beyond excited to accomplish my first dream of becoming a BC One champ!
Jeyna: I would be very interested and honored if the opportunity arose to participate in Paris 2024. I am breaking full time and train very hard to prepare for any upcoming competitions. For breaking to be recognized as an Olympic sport is a pivotal turning point for this culture and something I would love to be a part of.
Genesis: Yes. I have competed in the majority of the Breaking for Gold Qualifiers thanks to my sponsor Soul Culture. I am ranked #5 National in the b-girl category and will compete in the nationals next weekend in Philly.
Michiko: Definitely! All of us are actually competing in the National Championships next weekend. Personally, the Olympics has always held a special place in my life. My grandfather was a three-time Olympian. It used to be a dream of mine, and I had the honor of working and training at WCC and watching multiple girls make the Olympic team. I see it as a celebration of the hard work and dedication of the top athletes in the world and a way to represent your country while showcasing your sport to the entire world. I’d love to be a part of it.
What do you think makes a good b-girl?
Blondie: Originality! I think every b-girl knows that there’s got to be a balance of foundation, power, tops, and freezes. What makes a b-girl standout in my opinion is how they deliver it with their own personal style.
Jeyna: Breaking is art. Art at its core should make you feel something. A good b-girl is able to turn their energy and movement into something beautiful and impactful that is able to resonate with others.
Genesis: Thirst for growth. Staying true to who you are and your style. Being self-disciplined to go the distance to what you’re capable of and more. Being well-rounded.
Michiko: I think what makes a good b-girl is the same thing that marks any good breaker or dancer. Mastery of foundation, musicality, creativity and confidence in one’s movement and style.
Could you each tell us your focus (footwork, power moves, musicality, etc.)?
Blondie: My main focus is power and flexibility. When I started breaking, those are the things that came more natural to me. Now I’m trying to incorporate more footwork and foundation.
Jeyna: I am very style and flow oriented. Another heavy emphasis in my breaking is also footwork. Style is definitely a crucial aspect in my breaking that my breaking has gravitated toward. I definitely feel like my previous background in dance has helped shape my breaking and the way that I move.
Genesis: Everything. Being well-rounded to me has always been my focus in breakin’.
Michiko: I would definitely say power and blow-ups are my strong suit and where I’m most comfortable, but I’m training to become a much more well-rounded breaker.
For the longest time, the hip hop arts were sort of a segregated world, and kind of a “boys only” club, where girls can only compete against other girls or just couldn’t compete at all (still kind of is, low-key). What do you think has changed, particularly in breaking, and what has stayed the same?
Blondie: Even though there is still a huge gap between the amount of b-boys and b-girls in the breaking scene, it makes me happy seeing a lot more b-girl battles happen these past few years. This is actually my first year ever competing in b-girl battles! Every year I see the b-girl community growing, and I’m excited for the day when there is less of a gap between the amount of b-boys and b-girls.
Jeyna: Though there is still a limit on the ability for girls to compete, I definitely feel like we are slowly progressing with more opportunities for females to compete and more equality. Outside of female-only formats I think that crew battles consisting of b-boys and b-girls is progression toward more chances for females to participate as well. There’s definitely events that have opened up 1-v-1 formats to b-girls as well, and have not limited it to just b-boys. I think that as breaking continues to grow and become more recognized, females will be able to share the same opportunities more frequently.
Genesis: This is my perspective on that subject matter. Breakin’ historically has been mainly male dominated for years. There are generations of b-girls before me that have paved the way. I feel that they didn’t get the recognition and opportunities that they deserved during those times. Even roasted most b-boys to shame. I have been given opportunities later in my b-girl journey that most b-girls now have that I didn’t. With breakin’ in the Olympics I believe more opportunities will present itself for everyone to shine. I have seen b-girls compete vs. b-boys and matching the skill level equally. What has changed is the level and quantity of b-girls rising worldwide.
Michiko: I actually think that integrating breaking has moved backward a little in recent years with the rise of more b-girl-only categories. When I was first breaking, it was mostly just 1-v-1, and rarely would there be a b-girl battle at jams. I battled guys way more often than women. Ironically, I do believe the rise in b-girl battles has actually allowed women to really fill in the gap in level between your average b-boy and b-girl. Although I do see the benefits in gender-segregated battles, I hope to see more purely 1-v-1 battles again soon like we see with youth battles.
Blondie: Being one of the youngest competitors, what has been your biggest challenge? What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned as a competitor?
Compared to the other competitors I don’t have a lot of battle experience. My biggest challenge has been controlling my nerves and adrenaline. In past battles, I’ve let the pressure get to me and lost the fun of battling. My goal for this battle and future battles is to calm down and enjoy the moment.
Genesis: You’ve been on the scene for almost 25 years and have an amazing amount of experience. My brother’s also been doing this for over 20 years. I know what propels him. What drives you to keep competing?
What drives me to keep competing is it allows me to share my craft representing as an American Filipina and someone of my age. I will be turning 39 years old next month. If my journey can inspire one person, then I can bridge that gap and also represent as a hip-hop advocate and show how positive hip-hop culture is and break any negative connotation that breakin’ was associated with in the past.
Jeyna: You’re still fairly new on the scene, having been in it for about two years. What went through your mind after winning your first BC One cypher?
Being a part of a Red Bull event was definitely a dream of mine that I never saw actually being fulfilled. But it was, and that was surreal to me. What was more surreal and shocking to me was my first win ever being a BC One Cypher win, especially with such little experience in breaking. It showed me what I am capable of and that my hard work in such a small amount of time has definitely paid off. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity and still continuing to push myself and grow every single day as an artist.
Michiko: You’re a six-time National Gymnastics champion, so you’re already a highly dance-inspired athlete. Can you describe the emotions of competing as a gymnast versus competing as a breaker?
I will definitely say my nerves are way worse in breaking than they ever were in gymnastics. In gymnastics, you train the exact same routine day in and day out, and at a meet it’s all about if you can hit it perfectly in that moment when it matters. I would be more focused on staying calm and being able to perform. Most routines at the elite level have elements where the smallest mistakes could cost you your life. You have to be in complete control. There is an excitement in that that I miss dearly.
In breaking, there are so many factors out of my control, and there is much more room for expression; that leaves much more room for error, but also more room for something unexpectedly extraordinary. I had perfected a personal formula in gymnastics. I’m still trying to find my balance of being tuned in vs. tuned out in battles. That being said, both require you to have complete confidence in your capabilities. Even if you have to fake it to make it sometimes lol.
Jeyna and Blondie: What are you hoping to accomplish in the breaking world?
Blondie: I’m not sure what the future holds. I’m just taking it day by day, but I’m hoping to make a name for myself and inspire other girls to break!
Jeyna: I want to be able to show that females are capable of anything. I stand by how one should take risks or dream forever. I feel like I’ve been held back by fear a majority of my life. And I am still in the process of breaking those boundaries, but pushing myself has been the only reason I’ve been able to be more comfortable with myself. It is a learning process every single day. One percent growth is still gradual growth that compiles on a daily basis. You give life what you give energy to.
Genesis and Michiko: With all of your experience, what do you feel you have left to conquer as dancers/athletes?
Genesis: I would like to achieve my dream of competing international one day and win Freestyle Style Session when I turn 40 years old and older. People think I’m younger than I look. The years I have put in and now having the balance in life to push for those goals I feel are achievable more than ever.
Michiko: I definitely would love to win an international battle, but overall I feel like I still have so much growing to do as a dancer. I’m just excited to see the journey that takes me on.
Don’t let insecurity steal your life from you. You’re incredible and deserve to let the world see it!B-girl Michiko
I know that you all will never get it out of your system (once a b-girl, always a b-girl), but if you weren’t dancing, what would you be doing?
Blondie: I would definitely be doing something involved with music, acting or Korean translation. I can’t imagine a day where I’m not dancing, but if that day comes, I am very fortunate to have my music career. I have a YouTube channel I’ve been growing over the last six months, and it’s kinda unique in what I do. Take old Korean ’70s to ’80s pop hits and rewrite them into English covers. I also do have some Korean originals as well as English ones. I have been able to guest star in a TV show and have done a handful of commercials over the last four years, and sometimes they include dance!
Jeyna: If I wasn’t breaking, I would most likely still be working in retail. Prior to breaking full time, I was employed in high-end retail and focused on my academics in pursuing my interior design degree. I am still enrolled in university while breaking full time at the moment.
Genesis: I would be an artist or a yoga teacher.
Michiko: If I wasn’t dancing, I would probably be doing aerial arts, or I’d be pursuing a master’s in applied neurology.
What’s the best advice you can give any women and girls who want to break at a competitive level but are hesitant?
Blondie: I’d say whatever you have a passion for you should push yourself to try it. In life we’re really living when we do the things that scare us or intimidate us. So take a chance on yourself. The worst that can happen is you find out you have conquered a fear and realized you have some work to do!
Jeyna: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. It is important to recognize that the comfort zone is a graveyard for your dreams and aspirations. Stepping out of your comfort zone is necessary for growth. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and every single day is an opportunity for change. Be the woman who went for it.
Genesis: The best advice I can give is to take the leap of faith. Be realistic with yourself. Take the time to train and balance life properly to prepare. Battle at local jams to gain experience. Travel to gain perspective and insight to reflect on your breakin’ and continue to do so consistently. Have perseverance knowing that it’s not an easy road. Adjust your goals accordingly. It takes time and self-discipline and being truthful to yourself if you are willing to take that leap of faith.
Michiko: That battling is a skill that is only gained through doing it. Work your way up. Start by battling others during practice or sessions. Then try calling out a friend in a cypher. Next, enter a grassroots local jam. Lastly, enter a regional, national or international event. Going step-by-step will allow you to feel much more confident and comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with building your way up. You got this!
Any final words for the readers?
Blondie: Thank you to everyone who has supported me! I’m so excited to battle and see what the future holds!
Jeyna: I give all the glory to the Most High, and everything I have is because of God. I look forward to showcasing my love for this art form and being apart of this culture.
Genesis: Stay true to who you are and always stay humble. Count your blessings. Seek knowledge and growth. Know that hard work pays off. There’s no shortcuts in life. Take care of your mental health and take the time for self-care. Do the things you love and lead with love. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.
Michiko: I’ll draw from my favorite Disney quote: “Life is not a spectator sport. If all you’re going to do is watch, you’re going to watch your life go by without you.” If you have something you want to try, go for it. It’s okay if you suck at first; everyone does. Don’t let insecurity steal your life from you. You’re incredible and deserve to let the world see it!