The future is female. Just ask Jackie Agudo, aka JK47, a Canada-born b-girl and member of Diamonds Crew who took top prize at Red Bull’s BC One Camp USA B-Girl Cypher in Houston this month. The world-class breaking competition for women put the country’s best b-girls head-to-head in epic dance battles that make even Step Up look like a step down. And out of 16 dope-ass women breakers, JK47 emerged victorious, handpicked by three expert judges to join the world’s best b-boys and b-girls in Zurich, Switzerland for 2018’s Red Bull BC One World Final in September.
But the challenges for women in breaking not only happen inside the cypher (a circular area of the dance floor that is open to those who wish to dance in it). They happen outside the cypher, too. Inside and out, b-girls must fight for visibility in the male-dominated art form. And with few widely publicized live performance opportunities available for women on the scene, it seems like some can only hope a video highlighting their unique skills will catch on (a la Beyoncé’s Coachella dance girl) to receive the props they deserve.
For JK47, though, the props are pouring in.
We sat down with JK47 post-battle win to talk about women’s unique contributions to the art form, the importance of cultivating individuality, and her artistic — and activist — inspirations. (Spoiler alert: They’re one and the same!)
HelloGiggles: What inspired you to start breaking?
JK47: Actually, my older sister, she used to be a b-girl, so I grew up with a hip-hop head. I was watching Battle of the Year on VHS and seeing all the old-school ’90s music videos, and when I was 8 years old, my sister [started] teaching me some of my basics. But it wasn’t until 10 or 11 that I actually started to get more into it. And then, when I reached high school, that’s where I saw some breakers in the cafeteria and that’s when I [realized] I need to do this.
I would go on YouTube and just try to find some of those ’90s videos. I was watching “It’s Like That” by Run DMC and that’s where I saw my first powerhead b-girl, and that was Asia One. (She was actually at this year’s BC One Camp.) And when I saw her do the power moves, I was so blown away. I was, like, “What! A girl can do this?” And so when I saw that, I’m like, “I want to do this, too.” And ever since then I’ve just been just pushing hard and trying to get it.
HG: It seems like there are far fewer women than men in breaking. What do you think keeps women from breaking into the scene?
JK47: When people think of breaking, the first thing they think about is headspins. Or the power moves. And for a lot of people, they really shut their minds off to the idea of even trying to participate in it because already they think it’s impossible. The thing with breaking that people need to open their minds up to is that it’s like anything. It’s like any other art form. It’s like any other kind of discipline. You need to put in work into it. And I think people, they just shut their minds off to it.
For example, when I was teaching a lot in Vancouver, I would teach a lot of ballet dancers because they would need to take my class to get extra credits or something like that and they’d be like, “This is so hard.” But, like, the first thing I’m going to teach you is not going to be a headspin. It’s going to be how to dance. I’ll show you basic moving and how to rock, you know. How to do some pop lock. How to do some movements on the floor, like, do floor patterns. And when you go slow with people, then they’re, like, “Oh my gosh, I can totally do this!” That’s what I know, from the way I’ve taught people. It’s really opened their minds up to breaking, and a lot of my friends who are amazing teachers have helped open minds [like that] as well.
[But] it’s freakin’ hard. [And] it is pretty demanding on your body. A lot of the different moves we do… it’s a lot of impact on our joints, on our muscles. And you get injured, that is for sure. But like I said, breaking’s like any art form. It’s like any other discipline. Especially like any other sport. You’re going to hurt yourself. But it’s how you train yourself and how you fix your mind, you know what I mean? You need to take care of yourself, you need to eat right. If you train properly, if you condition well, if you’re just focused, nothing’s impossible. And especially if you fix your mentality [to believe] that anything I put my heart and mind to is achievable. But that’s the thing. Everyone is different, you know what I mean?
HG: But what about for women, in particular?
JK47: I was talking with a previous interviewer about, like, the support with b-boys and stuff, and you know, sometimes it’s kind of like… It can be very intimidating. That’s another struggle. All these guys, they’re so dope. And they’re very powerful. [But] a lot of times, b-boys don’t care [if] there’s a girl who’s just doing some stuff. They really don’t care. Unless you’re really dope and you’re smoking the b-boys, then you’ll probably get the props that you deserve. But when you’re in those cyphers with these b-boys with such crazy strength and movements, [sometimes] you don’t want to step into the cypher.
But depending on the person, eventually, you conquer your fears and you just say, “F it” [because] you just want to do you in the cypher. It’s a process. It’s a freakin’ process. And it’s a journey to be in the b-boy break world. But it’s such an awesome process because you just become stronger as a person. You just build your character and you start to find who you are as a person and you find your style [and] you find your identity.
But, I know. It’s been an ongoing thing of why there isn’t a lot of b-girls. But slowly, I know that there will be a lot more b-girls, for sure. There are more b-girls that are coming up right now. It’s just time. And what’s really dope about Red Bull BC One Camp is that it’s a huge platform to bring more awareness to the b-girls who are out here making noise. And to be on that platform, for it to be live-streamed and just be all over social media and everything, it’s going to open more eyes. And it’s going to inspire more people. So the more opportunities we get to do these big, high-caliber jams like Red Bull, without a doubt, it’s going to inspire nations, it’s going to inspire the masses, and I know more b-girls are going to rise up, for sure.
HG: And as we saw at Red Bull BC One Camp, women bring a lot to breaking.
JK47: We bring a lot of flavor, I’m gonna tell that right now. We bring a lot of style, flavor, musicality. You got a lot of girls out there right now who are bringing the strong power moves, the strong movements. But we bring that style, flavor, and flow, that is for sure.
HG: And a lot of activism, too. Especially around increasing representation of women in breaking.
JK47: Oh, definitely. Like a lot of my good friends. For example, Baby Girl (aka Ericka DeLeon Martinez), she was one of the judges [at BC One Camp], she organizes Bgirl City in Houston, and she’s been doing that every year trying to build up the b-girl scene. And also, Jeskilz (aka Zahra Hamani). She is an OG and she [created] Cypher Adikts. But she’s also been pushing for the b-girls, too, in all these high-caliber events like Freestyle Session Undisputed. And also for Red Bull.
And same for Asia One. She’s been a huge, a huge person for making movement for women in hip hop. And like myself, too, back in Vancouver I was organizing free workshops for the girls. I was organizing free jams. And at the same time, too, my huge event that I threw before I left for the States was called Shine and there were two-on-two b-girl battles and the winners got flown out to Bgirl City jam in Houston.
And my homies, like Queenz of Hip-Hop’s Cindy Cervantes from Colorado. She’s [organizing] Queenz of Hip-Hop and trying to encourage the b-girls out there, too. Like, there’s a lot of people that are trying to make a difference and make movement for women, for sure.
HG: What makes a b-girl shine?
JK47: Individuality. For example, with me, when I’m dancing, I can’t help but be in a state of joy. Because I love this art and I put years and time into what I’ve been doing. Everyone’s different and I just love to see their individuality. I love to see the time and the patience and the work that was put into their craft. Breaking is an art. It’s a craft. And I love seeing the details.
My friends always laugh at me because I always [talk about] details, but it’s because details are the creative part in the dance. Someone said this and I can’t remember who it was, but it has stuck with me for years. Basically, it was, “Creativity is the highest manifestation of a person’s individuality.” And when people take the time to [develop their individuality], they shine more than ever. And I feel like, in this day and age, everyone wants instant success. And a lot of people [end up] looking the same, because they’re constantly watching the same things on YouTube and studying the same breakers.
For me, I don’t watch YouTube. Because I don’t want my individuality, my style, to be influenced. You can get inspired, of course. You can get inspiration. But if you’re constantly on YouTube all the time, you’re going to lose yourself, you know what I mean?
But for me, when I’m judging events or I’m watching other battles, I enjoy watching people having fun. Why wouldn’t you have fun? I believe breaking is such a gift. It’s such a gift that has been given to us for us to exercise, for us to use, for us to live in freedom. And I know everyone comes from different backgrounds or whatever, you know, and you do you, but for me personally, I enjoy watching someone having fun. Breaking should bring that out of you. Like anything else in the world that you’re very passionate about, it should bring joy. It should bring life out of you. So, when I see joy and life, I’m so captivated, I’m so, like, “Yes! I love watching you right now!”
HG: Do you have any advice for aspiring b-girls?
JK47: My biggest thing is know your motives. Like, why are you getting into breaking? Are you doing it because you genuinely love it? Or are you doing it to please others? Whatever your motives are, just make sure you know what it is and that you stick to it. Because your motives are going to be your strength to push through every single day, every single moment of this freakin’ ongoing journey of breaking.
When you do have that understanding of why you’re doing it, then go all in. Go 100% in. You can’t hold back. And you got to put in work. Breaking is work. Like for me, I have to train as much as I can. It’s a lot of blood, sweat, work, and tears, you know? But at the same time, too, it is still a lot of fun. You got to have fun with it. Train hard and have fun.