Lily Frias. Photo by Jordon Nicholson, courtesy Red Bull

How Pros Prep for a Competition Where the Usual Rules Don't Apply

Picture this: You're onstage about to perform, but you don't have any choreography prepared, and you have no idea what the music will be. For most dancers, this is their literal worst nightmare.

But for the 16 dancers at the Red Bull Dance Your Style U.S. finals in Las Vegas, NV, last weekend, that's exactly what happened.

Representing various street styles from popping to waacking, the series of one-on-one battles found competitors facing off against different disciplines to music that was chosen at random by DJ Mike Murdah. Adding even more unpredictability was the fact that the winners were determined by the audience, rather than the usual set of expertly trained judges.

Only one dancer will move on to the world finals in Paris later this month: B-boy Neguin. But all the competitors put in serious work training for their battles. Three shared how they prepped for the unexpected.

Lily Frias, Waacking/Popping

"There's so much importance on the entertainment aspect because we are being judged by the crowd," says Lily Frias, who was chosen by Red Bull as a wildcard competitor. "I've been battling for quite a while with the traditional way of having a few judges voting, but I really like this. The competition is serious, but you get to have fun and be an entertainer. It's really exciting when you don't know the song and you have to play with it and be in the moment—that adrenaline is the cool thing about being freestyle."

Part of feeling that freedom on the floor comes from putting in the work, which Frias is diligent about. "A day of training for me is working out, stretching and working on certain styles. If I want to focus on a certain concept, I'll only work on that, or musicality, or stamina. I'll take class if I feel like I need to change my energy, but I train by myself, too."

Even as she walks on to the floor, Frias is still prepping for her two-minute battle. "I try to make eye contact with the people watching. You're the show, so you have to break that wall and be like, 'I'm here with you, let's have fun together.' "

Virgil "Lil O" Gadson, Hip hop/All style

Having appeared on TV competition shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew," Virgil 'Lil O' Gadson is a seasoned pro when it comes to battling. "I check out the competitors on YouTube and Instagram because you get inspired—you get to see what they can do that you can't and it helps you see where you can get an edge in the competition," he says, adding, "Plus, we all become friends and travel together, so it's good to know who your opponent is."

Gadson, who focuses on hip hop but is trained in modern, jazz, ballet and tap, puts in some serious studio time. "For this, I would have my friend time me for two minutes dancing to random music, just like how the competition is set up, and I would just keep doing that to work on my stamina and see what moves I can do while getting a feel for timing."

Gadson also lets the music influence which technique to break out. "Being a versatile dancer allows me to adjust my movement to the music. Whether it's jazz or classical, to hip-hop, I've learned those techniques so that I can switch up my style."

"Spider" Alexander, Memphis Jookin

Jordan Nicholson, Courtesy Red Bull

"I like to be surprised by my competitors because I feel like that brings the best out of me," says 'Spider' Alexander, who won his spot in the Vegas finals after his very first competition with Red Bull in New Orleans this summer.

For him, musicality plays as big a part of his training as prepping physically and mentally. "If they start playing classical music or '80s rock, you have to be prepared for it and keep up a good rhythm while entertaining the crowd," he explains.

He trains with several different types of music so he can give it his all no matter what genre the DJ plays. "Practicing with blues, classical and vaporwave in particular have really helped me a lot with different rhythms and to be able to hit the bass drum or the snare drum, or even one of the melodies of the song," he says. "I'm used to going into competitions and either winning or losing. But for me, it's about continuing to push your talent."

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.


Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

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