A new competition aims to find the world's best breakdancer, with heats in 52 different countries including the UAE.
Red Bull breakdancing heat coming to Dubai
More than three decades since breakdancing emerged from the street dance scene in New York, adherents all over the world are practising its ferocious spins and expansive jumps.
Proof of its global reach can be seen with the Red Bull BC One Cypher competition, which aims to find the world's best breakdancer with heats in 52 different countries.
Since last year, the UAE has been one of these nations, and the event returns on July 5. Entrants will take part in dance-offs, hoping to win a spot at the regional finals in Morocco in August and possibly the world finals in Seoul, South Korea, in November.
Hamza El Bellaj of Dubai was runner-up in last year's UAE heat. But when the winner couldn't make it to the regional finals, El Bellaj substituted for him. This year, he's hoping to get there through outright victory.
Meanwhile, Lamine, the founder of France's Vagabonds Crew, will be on the judging panel.
We spoke to both of them about the breathlessly energetic dance form.
Breaking new ground
El Bellaj, 21, says that while breakdancing - or B-boying or breaking, as its devotees call it - is still an underground scene in the UAE, its popularity is on the rise.
"Back in the day, when we used to practise our moves, people were looking at us if we were some kind of gangsters," says the Moroccan, who starting dancing when he was 10.
"Now I think now people realise it's a sport. It's not just about showing off. It takes practice and discipline to master it."
It's also about the musical accompaniment.
"As long as people like hip-hop and R&B, I think people will be breaking," he adds.
Lamine believes competitiveness maintains breakdancing's appeal. "I guess people like the battle aspect, which is the essence of this dance. For example, we have five to six battles every weekend in France.
"Likewise, B-boying has evolved a lot in the past last decade. It's so much more dynamic and athletic."
The moves can be as dangerous as they look, and El Bellaj advises caution to anyone attempting them.
"I've broken my wrist twice while trying to do flips," he says. "Then I broke my ankle once as well. So, yes, it does have its dangers.
"The thing is, once you've learnt the moves, it becomes a lot less dangerous."
The key to this is practice.
"You just have to keep doing the moves again and again. I'm always watching YouTube clips to learn new stuff. Then it takes me about two months to learn it and about six months to get it right before I'm confident to try it in battles."
Breaking the mould
As a judge, Lamine says he bases his decisions on certain factors. "I look for musicality, originality and character," he says.
"A good B-boy has to be complete. They must know the moves, like freezes, top rocks, go downs and power moves, and be able to pull them off all to the music."
But most important is the ability to adapt your dance to outdo your opponent while paying heed to the soundtrack.
"You must be able to answer any situation during the battle," Lamine says. "A bad B-boy is one that doesn't listen to the music."
El Bellaj agrees."With B-boys at our level, there's not a lot of difference in our skills. What the judges are really looking for is character and originality. That's how you win the battles."
The Red Bull BC One UAE Cipher is at the Royal Ascot Hotel in Dubai on July 5 at 7.30pm. Visit www.redbullbcone.com
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