Meet the Dancer Who Went From The Ailey School to Winning Hip-Hop Championships
Angyil’s list of battle wins is so long, you’d be forgiven for assuming she’s been a hip hopper her whole life. But back when she was a tiny dancer, Angyil actually started out with ballet classes in Kansas City, Missouri. Read on to find out how she transformed into a three-time world champion freestyler and “World of Dance” alumna—and catch her in Washington, DC, October 22, where she’ll be competing in the Red Bull Dance Your Style National Pre-Finals, and, if she wins, in the Finals on October 23.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Dance Spirit: How did you come to dance?
Angyil: I originally was in a bunch of different after-school activities: the robotics team, the debate team, all of these teams. And then dance became an activity at my school. I fell in love, and went on to a performing arts school where I studied ballet, jazz, Graham modern, tap.
DS: Was hip hop on your radar at all at that time? Or were you really focused on concert dance?
Angyil: I would only do hip hop as a cultural thing with my family, at backyard barbecues.
DS: How did you end up at The Ailey School?
Angyil: A lot of the Ailey teachers would come to Kansas City every summer. At the end of the intensive, they picked students who they thought had a promising future. I was one of the students picked to fly to New York and train there.
DS: What happened next?
Angyil: I was tired of putting my hair in a bun. I know that sounds crazy. I appreciated the discipline of concert dance, but felt like I couldn’t be free—like I couldn’t allow my body to move however my muscles wanted to move. Music also played a big role. I wanted to hear music that resonated with my soul, with my mood and personality. Ballet definitely taught me a lot when it comes to discipline and training. But I decided to just go with hip hop, which felt the closest to my authentic self.
DS: What was hardest about transitioning from concert dance to street dance?
Angyil: The people that I trained with were like, ‘Your posture is way too proper. You need to break your posture.’ I didn’t know what that meant or what I was supposed to do. That, and my feet were always turned out.
DS: What do the two worlds of dance—concert and street—have in common?
Angyil: Performance. It’s still about performance at the end of the day, regardless of whether it’s on the street or another everyday place, or in a theater. You’re still responsible for turning it on and performing your best.
DS: What do you wish classically trained dancers knew about hip hop?
Angyil: I don’t think ballet dancers realize how structured and serious hip hop can be. The focus is a bit different, but it’s to the same level. Just like there’s vocabulary in the ballet world, there are names for everything in hip hop as well. There’s freedom in the display, but structure behind it. Just because you’re smiling and look like you’re enjoying yourself doesn’t mean you’re not working extremely hard at a move.
DS: What advice do you have for young dancers looking to have a multifaceted career like yours?
Angyil: Don’t allow someone to put you in a box and tell you that you should only do this or that. If you love dance, research and study as many genres of dance as possible. Read books. Go to the places where these dances and styles were created. Get a mentor and spend time with them. And once you’ve learned a lot, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Photo courtesy of Red Bull