Sonlam, winner of Oakland’s inaugural Red Bull Dance Your Style, gears up to represent Bay Area at national finals

A dancer born in Vietnam and a student in the state of San Francisco, SonLam believes in cycles and the power of attraction. It was 2008 when the first season of the reality TV show “America’s Best Dance Crew” premiered and introduced Lam to the Jabbawockeez, a now world-famous dance crew known for their anonymous white masks. and his meticulous popping style. For Lam, who had studied contemporary dance styles, it was something like an epiphany.

“I was hooked. I was basically imitating them, like, ‘How can I be so raw and yet so gentlemanly and classy and so delusional?'” Lam said. He had dabbled in jazz, modern and ballroom before, but “popping is my first choice. First it was the urge to learn the cool moves and be like them, but then I started digging deeper into the story. San Francisco and the Bay Area is the birthplace of the style I’ve been pursuing.”

He quickly devoted himself to studying the moves of hip-hop dancers from YouTube tutorials for hours a day after school in his native Vietnam. On May 6, he won Red Bull’s Dance Your Style regional qualifying competition in Oakland with a fusion of moves that would make the Jabbawockeez, who themselves credit their unique aesthetic and style to the bay, very proud. Although he may not know it at the time, Lam was imitating moves first innovated by Bay Area Boogaloo-Roboting-Strutting dance teams in San Francisco and Oakland in the 1960s and 1970s. .

Paying homage to the bay helped Lam win the third season of “So You Think You Can Dance: Vietnam” in 2014 at just 19, and he moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to elevate his career and pursue a bachelor’s degree in dance. . But to be closer to those early heroes, he transferred from his community college to San Francisco State University for his senior year; his graduation will take place on May 27, just days after the next round of Red Bull qualifying in New Orleans from Friday to Sunday. If he wins, he will represent the entire United States at the Dance Your Style World Finals in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 10.

It’s not the first year for Red Bull Dance Your Style, which has held dance battle competitions across the United States and the world since 2018, but 2022 marks the first time a qualifier has been held in Oakland. , itself a cultural and dance core. Like other regional Red Bull competitions held this year in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and Tampa, the event featured 16 one-on-one dance battles, held at downtown Frank H. Ogawa Plaza , with the crowd serving as judges.

Over the past half-century, Oakland communities have led the Bay Area’s artistic innovations, from mid-century Boogaloo and hyphy-era turf to TikTok’s famous Smeeze, invented by an Oakland native and member of the Turf Feinz team, Chonkie. Lam says the dance community he has found here is second to none.


“I have so many friends who are ready to defend me, to protect me if something happens; it is this energy that allows you to express something pure, something that is inside of you” , said Lam. The Baydestrians aren’t bad losers either, so when Lam receives his win, he says: “They came to me [and said], ‘Welcome to the Bay Area; you are part of the Bay Area. So it’s an honor to dance here, just to exist.”

Local turf dance leader and TURFinc founder Johnny Lopez, better known as Johnny5, co-hosted the May 6 event with actor, dancer and choreographer Comfort Fedoke, who appeared in the fourth season of the American show “So You Think You Can Dance”.

Lopez had worked with Red Bull on previous events and even played a part in Oakland being approved as a qualifying venue for the Dance Your Style, but hadn’t heard from Lam before his victory. He agrees that Lam deserved to win. He is also thrilled with his fellow dancers who competed and what this exposure means for a local style poised to spread around the world.

“It’s time to put the culture on,” he says. “It’s definitely made a splash in the dance world, and we just have to keep the momentum going.”

Lopez was born in Oakland in 1989 and raised by parents from Mexico. her father picked grapes in Fresno before moving to the Bay Area and meeting her mother. He discovered turf at age 13, as many Bay kids do, by going to side shows. This quickly led to a place on the Turf Feinz team, but he has since branched out to create his own team and later founded the TURFinc organization in 2012. As well as honing their craft, TURFinc members organize also events, play and offer lessons to children around the bay who might need an outlet.

“I think everything I saw growing up as a youngster shouldn’t see everything we see in Oakland,” Lopez said. “Dancing changed my world. It definitely saved me from being on the streets.”

July 9 will mark TURFinc’s 10th anniversary, and Lopez plans to go all out with an open “King of TURFinc” contest. It also aims beyond the bay.

“I want to start bringing turf dancing and other bay styles with me and start going to these different countries and cities and sharing our culture and educating, like, new generations,” he says. “I think I’m going to enter the nonprofit world. I think I’m ready for that.”

For Lam, he remains busy training and preparing for the mental game of the upcoming national competition in New Orleans this weekend. Winning would be nice, but that’s not why he started scouring the internet for hip-hop videos or why he crossed the planet.

“I’m going to dance exactly the way I dance,” Lam says. “And if I touch someone, that’s beautiful, and if they vote for me, that’s great. Otherwise, I’ll make sure I have a good time. I see the world through the movements and the art is my role in the world, and I’m cool with it.”

After graduation, Lam will teach intensive popping dance in Los Angeles and return to Vietnam, where he hopes to eventually open a studio for next-generation dancers. It hasn’t been easy and probably never will be, but Lam trusts the process.

“In your leveling journey as a human or with your craft, it can feel like a lonely journey. As long as you have your circle and you have the right people, you balance it all out. It pays off to the end .” After all, he says, “in art, there really is no winner.

SonLam from the Bay Area will be participating in Red Bull Dance Your Style Weekender USA taking place Friday through Sunday at Generations Hall, 310 Andrew Higgins Blvd., New Orleans, Louisiana. For more information, visit https://www.redbull.com/us-en/events/dance-your-style-usa-finals.

“King of TURFinc,” TURFinc’s 10th Anniversary Dance Battle takes place from 1-7 p.m. July 9 at the Westfield San Francisco Center, 865 Market St., San Francisco. For more information, visit https://www.theturfinc.com/events.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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