A dancer from Minneapolis is now a national champion. David Stalter – nicknamed ‘The Crown’ – won the ‘Red Bull Dance Your Style’ street dancing competition in New Orleans last month. The competition features hip hop, house, locking, popping and more. Stalter joined host Cathy Wurzer to learn more about the competition.
Below is a transcript of their conversation. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Use the audio player above to listen to the entire conversation.
For people who don’t know at all. It’s improvisation, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s 100% freestyle.
So what’s in your head? You just let the music move you in a way really?
Yes, it’s a mix between muscle memory and a lot of letting the music move you for sure.
Tell us how you got there.
It was in high school, I was in the first year. I grew up with little dances, like party dances or whatever, or social dances. But I started watching YouTube videos of different and random things, then dancing that I stumbled upon, and started teaching myself in my little bedroom, I guess how to move and freestyle to music.
Once you got into it and became a self-taught dancer? Did you have any formal training after that?
Technically no. But I take classes here and there. I just feel like a dance lover. So for me, I’m very open, you know? I’ve taken lessons from Africa, I’ve taken different types of street style dances, I’ve taken a contemporary course before. I’m all over the place.
Talk a bit about how important it is for you as a person of color to get involved in dance.
For me, that’s it. I feel like it’s very spiritual. And also, you know, me being half African. I am half Liberian. So my mother is very, very cultural in African roots. Growing up with that, I feel like essence is so important. And I think it’s important to keep that as we get older. Because I think the world sometimes tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. But I feel like dance is one of the purest forms, especially for black culture.
How do you feel in your body while you dance?
My main goal is to do my best to really embody the song. Whatever the song, I do my best to match not only the instruments of the music, but also the mood of the music. So very heavy on the musicality aspect.
It seems that you are also very keen on connecting with the public. Is this the key to good performance?
Certainly. I feel like something I’m trying to live, because I think people can really read energy, so I try not to force it. I try to see it as if I’m feeling right now, I feel like other people are going to feel me.
Tell us the story of your nickname.
Yes, “The Crown”. So basically there was one performance that meant a lot to me, it was a solo piece that I did myself. It was dedicated to my father. And basically, I was really nervous about going out. It was one of the first times I performed in front of a crowd, especially a piece that meant a lot to me.
So I was nervous backstage and the emcee came up to me and he was like, “Are you okay?” And I was like, “Honestly, no. No, totally disagree.
He was telling me, just giving me a pep talk and he was saying something that stuck with me. He was like, “You have to own your royalty. You know? You have to own your heritage, your culture, your blood, you know, you are already everything, and you are going to go there, and you are going to be amazing.
And before I came out, he was on the mic, he said, “Okay, everybody give up for The Crown.” And then since then, everyone calls me “The Crown”, and it has remained that way.
So what do your parents think of all this?
My dad definitely supports him. My mother also supports him. At first it was a bit rocky. I feel like a lot of parents, especially foreign parents, want you to be like a doctor or a lawyer or whatever. But I think now she’s really starting to see the full vision, and really starting to understand, and that’s why I really appreciate her for being open-minded.
What is the complete vision?
The full vision for me is, I think, it’s very important for kids to follow their dreams. Whether it’s dancing, a YouTuber, something that’s just not, I guess a corporate type job. I think it’s very important to let your children have the freedom to do their best, pick themselves up and support them along the way. So for me, it’s the full vision and dance is definitely something I’m passionate about. And I honestly want to see where the journey takes me.
The journey will take you to South Africa in December for the World Finals. What will you do until then to prepare?
Lots of care of my body. I actually have a slight ankle sprain right now. So that’s the thing I focus on the most, it’s just healing that. And then after that, I think I’m just going to do my regular training and conditioning and also take more classes. I really like to learn new things. So there’s a mix of a lot of that.
I can imagine that (the dance genre) probably takes a lot to stay in shape.
Yeah absolutely. My normal routine is, I wake up and then I do conditioning. So it’s like light weights and lots of cardio. And try to do a lot of physical therapy to work those little muscles. So I hurt myself less often. And I hardly hurt myself anymore. You know, when I started, I hurt myself a lot because I wasn’t very aware.
Do you have a dance idol that you look up to and wanted to shape after yourself?
I think when I started, I definitely looked up to my older sister, because she used to dance. And a lot of my family from my African side, you know, we would go to these African nights and everybody was dancing.
So I would say I definitely started with them, you know, just inspired by their movement and expression. It was mostly about the way they expressed themselves. Whether it’s a simple two-step or something more dynamic.
And then as I got more familiar with dance, I realized that nowadays I feel like I’m inspired by everything. As I am inspired by nature, animals, I am inspired by my nephews, I am inspired by my friends. My family, of course, cartoons, movies, like a lot of things really, I want to get involved in the world that I create what I do.
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