On Saturday (May 20), the U.S. Red Bull Dance Your Style national finals went down at Chicago’s Salt Shed. The sold-out crowd was treated to a bracket-style exhibition, with Sean Lew emerging victorious as the 2023 DYS National Champion.
The international all-styles dance contest pitted the nation’s best dancers against each other in one-on-one showdowns. Contestants included fan favorites such as Beks, iLLmani, Luffy, Katana Pop, Queen Stylz, JDunn, and Frankie Freeman, representing various popular and overlooked dance styles.
“As one of the [Dance Your Style’s] consultants, getting in folks that deserve shine from these communities that maybe get overlooked a lot is the mission,” Future, Red Bull’s U.S. national DYS consultant and dancer who reps Assassins Crew in Washington, D.C, said. “So, we had tap [dancers] on stage, Detroit Jitting, and Chicago footwork repping locally. That stuff’s important to us to get those stories, styles, and cultures some visibility. That’s the number one thing that I love about this event. That and the format.”
The event incorporated a unique format, with the crowd serving as official judges. Red Bull kitted the audience with electronic bracelets, allowing them to vote for dancers based on originality, complexity, and entertainment value.
Dancers were also stripped of planned choreography in the chaotic environment and barred from using pre-selected music. Dance Your Style’s interesting stipulations created a test to see which contestants could master the art of freestyle dance the best.
And with the special format, the battles came down to the wire—most notably the final match-up between Daisy VMZ and Lew. Red Bull’s final match boasted a distinctive soundtrack, with both challengers dancing to Busta Rhymes’ “Break Ya Neck,” Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman,” and Baby Keem’s “Family Ties.”
D kicked things off in the championship round, but it was Lew who won over the Salt Shed’s heart. Daisy, the teen phenom who has danced for Drake, spoke about the fan-driven atmosphere and how she prepared herself for the intense finale.
“[The preparation] was honestly really stressful. I train daily with Chapkis Dance, and I’m a full-time competition dancer on the side,” she said. “Because I’m still 17, I can’t drive, so I would go to school, get home for an hour, change, eat, do my homework, then practice. After practice, I would dance in the small room until 11:00 and get home at [midnight]. Every day.”
However, the Dance Your Style runner-up asserted that her rigorous training had a deeper purpose. While she lost the championship to Lew, putting on for her family was second to none.
“[Competing] in DYS felt like everything my parents sacrificed for [me] was worth it. Seeing my mom in the audience crying, that was worth it. That was like, ‘Bro, I made it.’ That made me feel like I made it when I saw my mom. She came here and started a whole new life for us, making me feel like I did something worth it for her [sacrifices].”
Sean also talked to VIBE about his monumental win, showing a more reserved side to the dancer. He bashfully moved about the post-game presser, showing love to his family and tourney opponents.
“I am flooded with the amount of inspiration from my competitors tonight,” the Los Angeles native confessed. “Being the champion is the best feeling in the world because I get to honor my family. That’s all that’s going through my mind. There’s no object, there is no money, there is no title. Even getting to the finale, I’m like, I get to make my family proud, and I get to make my friends proud, and that’s cool.”
His journey to be champion began after he was inspired to get on the dance floor by his sisters, Sarah and Sirris. The celebrity choregrapher revealed he had been set on this “relationship” since he was four, entering the competitive scene in 2006. And much like his older siblings, his relationship with dance is based on family love.
“Dance is my family; it’s been by my side and has saved my life so many times. I have spent years listening to the music, immersing myself in it, and growing closer to it,” he continued. “That’s what Dance Your Style, this huge competition, is all about – listening to the music, what it is telling you, and allowing it to move you, and all the different ways dancers do that.
As the crowned champion of the national championship, Sean Lew punched a ticket to Frankfurt, Germany, for the Red Bull Dance Your Style world final. He will represent the United States on November 4, 2023, in the highly anticipated world final.
The Red Bull Dance Your Style national final was MC’d by the electric DancerBravemonk and Celtics Host Melisa Valdez.
In addition, Chicago’s very own NerotheProfessor was on the 1s and 2s with a slate of guest performers paying homage to Midwest dance culture.
Regional trailblazers that hit the stage included Detroit group Jit Happens, Creation Global and Goon Squad, REVEAL Chicago, Monyett Crump, and the Beyoncé-approved Syncopated Ladies.
Watch Sean Lew and Daisy VMZ’s final battle below.