The energy and excitement accompanying the resurgence of Boston nightlife is apparent, and nowhere is it better captured than the spirit of an outdoor improvisational dance competition — especially when that competition pits some of the country’s most gifted freestylers against each other in one-on-one battles. As the sun set over the city harbor on Friday, Sep. 10, the pier outside The Tall Ship Boston came alive with music, food, and an energy-infused performance for Red Bull’s “Dance Your Style” event.
“Dance Your Style” — a competitive freestyle dance circuit premiering in dozens of cities across the globe — gives participating dancers the opportunity to impress audiences with their “rhythm, movement, creativity, and charisma.” The Boston installation of the series, sponsored by Red Bull, featured sixteen performers hailing from places across the country including New York, Philadelphia, and even Houston.
Matchups in the tournament-style contest brought two competitors to the floor together at a time, where each was tasked with choreographing a performance on the spot. After sharing the stage for two DJ-curated songs — selections from a diverse playlist featuring hip-hop and disco, among other genres — audience members voted for the winner by raising light-up wristbands corresponding to the color of their preferred dancer’s side of the stage.
Competitors brought unique flair to each of their performances, occasionally incorporating props and even the other dancers into their routines.
“Freestyling is basically taking all the dances and putting them into one — all styles,” remarked dancer Virgil Gadson, who audiences recognize as “Lil O.” “You have to be very versatile to be a freestyler.”
Other dancers also spoke to the challenges of improvisation. “It sharpens your cleverness, it sharpens your mentality,” commented Boston native Jennifer E. Viaud, who danced under the name “Lady Beast.” “Freestyle is a way to get more in touch with your spirituality…it’s very hard to do because you have to work with nerves, you have to work with doubt.”
Yet despite the intensity of the matchups, the evening was characterized by smiles, hugs, and supportive interactions between dancers. The program also included performances from Lil Phunk — the junior team affiliate of the social organization Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex, which aims to reach Boston’s youth through hip hop and urban dance — as well as a cameo from previous “Dance Your Style” contestants.
“I think it’s amazing,” added Viaud. “It’s fun and it’s healthy and it’s positive and this is something I think everyone needs, especially with what everybody’s going through with the pandemic.”
The entertainment took place outside the scenic Tall Ship Boston restaurant — an oyster bar atop a nearly 250-foot-long sailboat stationed in East Boston. Couches, umbrellas, and picnic tables on the pier adjacent to the ship flanked a small stage equipped with myriad lights and a DJ station. Much of the audience gathered on turf right at the edge of the dance floor, while others watched from a small raised platform.
Several members of the crowd commented on the quality of the venue, which was draped with market lights and encircled by a ring of food trucks, selling everything from tacos to lobster rolls. Audience member Zoe A. Karelas, having previously visited The Tall Ship, described the pier as “the perfect spot.”
Hannah E. McDuffie, another audience member, echoed this sentiment: “Just being outdoors with the city view, right on the water — it was such a cool vibe.”
The distinctly intimate, inviting, and lively atmosphere was the perfect complement to the dancers themselves. McDuffie continued: “All the different styles and people from different backgrounds and different cities — and the camaraderie among the dancers, too — was fun to watch.”
While the event took place outdoors, the reality of the pandemic was not easily forgotten — masks still dotted the audience and obscured staff members’ faces. Participants still expressed deep gratitude for the in-person experience.
“This past year has been nuts,” said Chimel N. Idiokitas, who emceed the event as “Real P.” “But the crowd — they gave their energy, they gave the dancers their energy. That’s all we can ask for.”
“Dance Your Style” didn’t just showcase phenomenal talent — the event succeeded in raising spirits, bringing together dancers from far and wide, and fostering a sense of community.
“It’s a blessing,” said Viaud. “That connection with humans — with humanity — is extremely important, so to be here with everybody — we are very, very lucky.”
—Staff writer Charles W. McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.