Utah’s hip-hop dance talent shines at Red Bull audition

Out of 50 auditioning, two advance to Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ regionals in Denver.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lil Ezekiel (Seth Gonzales) from Ogden is loudly cheered as he incorporates a tossed hat from the crowd into his dance performance while competing in the finals for the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ competition at Trolley Square on Saturday, March 25, 2023. Gonzales was one of two who moved on to the next round in Denver for the regional qualifier.

For the first time, Utah played host to an audition for one of the world’s largest all-styles street dance competitions.

But the surprise may be that it didn’t happen in Utah sooner.

“Utah has a really rich hip-hop community in general, between all aspects of the culture: Whether you’re a writer, dancer, DJ or emcee,” said Joshua Perkins, aka Bboy Text, who emceed the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ audition Saturday in Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square.

More than 100 people — 50 dancers plus spectators — gathered for the event Saturday, held at Millennium Dance Complex, the Salt Lake City franchise of the L.A.-based company. The dancers showcased their best moves in the all-style show, featuring everything from hip-hop to krump, to qualify for the regional competition next month in Denver.

(The one style not featured was breakdancing, because Red Bull has a separate competition for that genre. Last year’s Red Bull Bc One USA champion, Utah dancer Ali Acuna Flores, known as Bboy Ali, attended Saturday’s event but didn’t compete.)

Koni Wray — who opened Millennium Dance’s Salt Lake City location in 2015, one of the company’s first franchises — said it was huge for her to host the audition, because she has a lot of pride in Utah’s dance community. “The majority of the signups are [people from Utah],” she said, “because we have so many talented dancers.”

The showcase of talent at Saturday’s event, Wray said, could prompt Red Bull to stage a major competition in Utah. Another drawing card for the state, she said, is that so many successful dancers from Utah have gone on to national platforms, such as Cirque du Soleil or the reality competition “So You Think You Can Dance.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ultra (Dante Stewart) takes a turn at the center hip-hop dancing as the DJ beat goes on during a brief break in competition at Trolley Square for the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ audition on Saturday, March 25, 2023.

Over four hours, the judges — Jo’Artis (Mijo) Ratti, one of the co-creators behind krump dancing, Natalie Keys and Jesse Sykes — had the difficult task of narrowing down 50 competitors, ranging in age from 16 to mid-30s, to just two to go to Denver.

The first performances went for 45 seconds, with dancers competing in pairs. From that group, eight semifinalists competed, in pairs for two rounds of a minute each. The four finalists were then paired off to get to the two winners.

Dancers were graded on their skills, and their ability to take the music — produced by Utah’s DJ Nosy-T — and make it their own.

“The best way to think about it is: It’s an argument, a discussion between the dancers,” Perkins said. “The idea is that the dancers are making two connections always: With the music first, and the person across from you second.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bad Newz (Greg Aldana) from Los Angeles competes in the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ audition at Trolley Square on Saturday, March 25, 2023, becoming one of two finalists to move on to the regional qualifier in Denver.

It’s up to the dancer, Perkins said, to take the DJ’s music, connect with it, and then have an argument through “movement, creativity, style, persona and presentation.”

“This idea of confrontation through creativity and artistic expression is very core to hip-hop culture — its heritage, birth and the environment it came out of in the early 1970s in the Bronx,” Perkins said.

In the judges’ view, the two dancers who made the best arguments on Saturday were: Seth Gonzales, aka Lil Ezekiel, from Ogden; and Greg Aldana, aka Bad Newz, from Los Angeles.

They will compete April 22 in Denver, where the crowd will be the judges. The winners of the regional competitions will face off in nationals in Chicago on May 20; the world final is scheduled for Nov. 4 in Frankfurt, Germany.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Micah Clark puts on a highly athletic performance before the judges, spectators and fellow dancers during the Red Bull ‘Dance Your Style’ audition at Trolley Square on Saturday, March 25, 2023.