When a leg of one the biggest breakdancing competitions in the world stops in Philadelphia Saturday, Tarrell Edwards will be there to show off his footwork — and his power moves.
Edwards, 26, of Philadelphia, has been training nearly five years for the chance to enter Red Bull BC One, an international contest in search of the greatest breakers in the world. Bragging rights, potential sponsorships, and the chance to leave a mark on the breaking scene are on the line.
Edwards participated in Red Bull BC One once before, but he said he wasn’t ready for it.
“It isn’t easy at all. It’s like a climb to the top to get to that last chance,” Edwards said during a recent training session in a Temple University common room where he gathers regularly with other b-boys and b-girls.
Edwards practiced his footwork, shifting his body weight from left to right arm as he quickly crossed his legs — one over the other — to trace a circle around himself. Then, came the power move. He spun on his back like a human top, then popped into a headstand where he held a dramatic pose before snapping back to an upright position.
These moves have taken Edwards — who goes by the b-boy name “Philly Breeze” — to competitions across the globe.
“I just got back from Singapore, believe it or not, from another competition that was out there,” Edwards said during a break.
That’s a far cry from New York City’s South Bronx where the dance was born in the 1970s.
“It grew off of kids living in impoverished neighborhoods and seeing a lot of crime in their neighborhoods and saying, ‘No we don’t want to be a part of that, we want to better ourselves and we also want to have fun doing it,’” he said.
Edwards first learned to breakdance after he saw someone do it in his high school cafeteria in the ninth grade, but it was the famous Swedish b-boy Ata who inspired him to use this style of dance as a tool to explore other cultures.
“He believed … being able to go to other cities … seeing new sights and smelling new things, motivates and inspires your dance a-hundred fold,” said Edwards, who has now been breaking for more than a decade, and is one of an estimated 300 breakers in the South Jersey and Philadelphia region.
Breaking has such a global reach, there’s talk about bringing the sport to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
But first — there’s Red Bull BC One, a competition many local breakers have compared to the Olympics, now in its 16th year.
Saturday will be the third time the contest has come to NOTO Philadelphia, a nightclub on Vine Street. The competition is free for the public to attend with tickets.
The competition is open to the first 50 people to show up on Saturday, regardless of skill level. Only 16 in the group will advance to the second round after a mass dance-off where judges will pick their favorites.
The final four b-girls and two b-boys to go to Houston will be the ones who win one-on-one dance battles between the remaining 16 contestants.
Houston winners will head to Mumbai, India in November where they’ll face off with the finalists from other countries.
Physical strength, precision, and originality
Breakers say it’s one of the most difficult competitions out there — so hard, Philly breaker Tyrell White said he won’t be competing this year, despite his decade of experience.
“I just know mentally and physically, I’m not prepared for it,” he said.
White says the improvisational dance is more than spins and flips that require bursts of shear strength. Breakdancing also requires precision.
“I don’t care if you go to the gym, you work out, you want to be the top physical fit guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” White said. “I know he can’t do this and a lot of people can’t do this and they can’t see themselves do this.”
Judges like Philadelphia’s Antonio Chanza, also known as b-boy “Knuckles,” are also looking for the “X factor.”
“There’s some people that have everything and those people are great and usually win Red Bull because they’re able to do the power, they’re able to do the footwork, add an original style,” he said. “And they’re able to do it when they’re tired — you know, under any circumstance.”
Chanza won the first Red Bull BC One competition held in Philadelphia back in 2013.
Though his peers still see him as one of the best breakers in the region, Chanza’s considering retirement after almost 13 years on the scene. He’s 33 now and says that’s getting old for breaking.
“These guys are very young. They have a lot of talent. It’s a lot easier for them to do some of these moves,” he said. “I feel like I have to work a lot harder, you know, stretching and maintaining my body.”
Chanza wants the younger breakers to take over and push the boundaries of the dance.
“You’re looking for something to stand out and … usually for me, it’s somebody’s original style,” he said. “Did anyone take the basic movements and add anything to it?”
Building a name
The winner of the world finals in Mumbai gets a cash prize, although dancers say just making it to Houston could build their personal brand and attract sponsors to help pay for other competition expenses.
Competition hopefuls like Luis Carrera, 26, of Bensalem said cash prizes and financial support are welcome, but his ambitions don’t have a dollar value.
“It’s more about the competition, to compete against people who are really good in other countries and build your name so people know what your style is, know what you have to offer,” said Carrera, who also goes by b-boy “Dosu.”
Carrera also wants to send a message to people in his native Lima, Peru: breaking can open doors.
Carrera — who won Peru’s national Red Bull BC One competition in 2011 — said the best way to do that is to become a world champion. Now, his first step is making it through Saturday’s competition.