What began as a bicoastal movement comprised of mostly Black and Latino dancers is now the inspiration behind a massive competition that aims to spotlight the best up-and-coming talent in international dancing scenes.

Every year, Red Bull tours around the world, inviting dancers from all walks of life to compete in the Dance Your Style competition. At the Tampa Qualifiers, many dancers were honoring the origins of popping, locking, and breaking.

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Puerto Rican dancers Rios and Starfyyre Ninja were among those present at the Tampa, Florida qualifying match on April 8. mitú spoke with them about how their heritage and upbringing have influenced the dancers they are today.

Rios takes inspiration from classic pop and lock dance

While Starfyyre Ninja attended the competition as a contestant hoping to make her way to the Tampa Qualifier finals, Rios returned to conduct a dance workshop for this year’s attendees after previously competing as a contestant in 2019, 2021, and 2022.

Rios is an accomplished dancer and visual artist who made his Dance Your Style debut under the name NRGI. However, long before that, he was popping and locking his way through daycare after watching Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” on repeat every single day.

The “Smooth Criminal” video was the one that really inspired him to become a professional dancer, he said. “Once I gravitated to the style of breaking,” he explained, “I started understanding what street styles were and what the community was.”

After years of dancing in school and with friends, he “got to really understand that this is an art form.”

“Being Puerto Rican has influenced me greatly, especially in the hip-hop space and in breaking,” Rios said. “Our culture, especially a lot of Nuyo-Ricans, we’re a big influence when it comes to toprocks and a lot of the early sounds, especially bringing them into the breaking communities.”

With a heavy influence from old-school breakers like Pop N Taco, Rios takes inspiration from his Puerto Rican heritage and the dancers he loved growing up as a person and an artist. “When I realized the importance of the culture within breaking and within hip-hop in general, it made me more proud to be a part of the culture,” he said. 

“Even when I go to Puerto Rico,” he added, “that connection of, like, Puerto Rican hip-hop, it’s so strong. It just makes it more meant to be that the lifestyle I’m living is for a purpose.”

Starfyyre Ninja, however, focuses more on the vogue style

Starfyyre Ninja, who is also Puerto Rican, feels similarly, although she traces her influences back to the vogue style popularized in the 1980s. Like most Latinos, though, Starfyyre’s love for dance started at home. 

“I think every Hispanic family, we’re cleaning on Saturday morning, Sunday morning,” she said, noting that she got started as a dancer with “simple hip movements.”

However, Starfyyre is also interested in blending different styles of dance that go back to her culture and her own influences as a performer. “I feel like it intertwines with each other because we hold a lot of the same roots,” she said. 

“A lot of the bottom hip movements and leg movements help with the vogue style,” she added. “I’ve definitely seen a lot of people mix salsa with vogue or a little two-step with vogue. So you can mix anything with that style.”

In her 9-to-5 life, Starfyyre is a behavior technician and a tutor. “I work with children on the spectrum,” she said. “It can be stressful, but it’s definitely worth it.”

According to her, she learns a lot from her students. “I notice a lot of people learn through dance and see through movement,” she explained, noting that her non-verbal students rely on movement to communicate with her.

Starfyyre knows that it could be an uphill battle to get people to come around to her unique style.  However, the dancer is deeply passionate about what she does and works closely with younger dancers, specifically those from the LGBTQ+ community, all while studying to get her Master’s degree.

“It’s something we cherish and a lot of people take [it] for granted and make fun of it,” she said. “So I kind of just want to bring awareness, like, this is a style. We are here. We may be small, but we’re out here, we’re outside representing.”

*These interviews have been edited for clarity*