While most of us spent this past weekend either picking out our Halloween costumes or catching up with friends, dancer Angela “Angyil” McNeal spent hers laying waste to any and all dancers in her way during the Red Bull “Dance Your Style” National Finals USA. In front of an electrifying crowd at Washington, D.C.’s famed Howard Theatre over the course of two nights, the popping extraordinaire took on a daunting 16-person bracket from throughout the country that included the likes of Oakland’s Know the God, dapper footwork master Lil O, and the self-proclaimed “Queen of Waacking,” Princess Lockeroo.
After emerging victorious, Angyil will now move on to the Red Bull Dance Your Style World Finals, which will kick off on Dec. 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa. But before she puts on for the U.S. and Black excellence on Red Bull’s global stage, the Kansas City, Mo., native chopped it up with The Root to discuss the importance of having a Black woman win the competition, how the pandemic impacted the dance community, and her journey from ballet to street dance.
“It felt so good to come out during this pandemic and see everybody,” she began. “We haven’t been dancing or battling together for years, so it felt good to just see everybody again. It was a little emotional. Every one of the competitors are super talented. It felt good to be able to share the floor and share space with dancers again.”
Prior to participating in Dance Your Style this year, the prolific popper had already established herself as a force of nature within the dance industry. With appearances on World of Dance, the prestigious Notorious IBE competition, and Radikal Force Jam under her belt, as well as a string of wins that would make even Tom Brady gawk in astonishment, the three-time world champion freestyler is no joke on the dance floor. But like many of us, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic brought her ascending career to a screeching halt, which provided her with the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed rest and prioritize her mental health.
“Before the pandemic, I didn’t have any days off. So I feel like it allowed me to rest,” she said. “It helped with my mental stability. I’m a workaholic, so it’s hard for me to say ‘no’. It definitely helped me recharge. The physical part [of dance] is a large portion, but a lot of it is mental as well. So I was able to get the rest that I needed.”
Considering Angyil has been putting on for the dance community for so long, her exhaustion is completely understood. As a child, ballet was not only her first love, but it provided refuge from the chaos that engulfed her neighborhood. However, as she grew older and relocated to the Bronx in order to attend the historic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on a ballet internship, she realized hip-hop was her true calling. In incorporating an amalgamation of styles and influences, it’s given her a distinct advantage over her competitors that has helped elevate her into a world-class dancer who can bust a move to anything—from Big Daddy Kane to Beethoven.
“My ears might be different,” she said. “I’m used to listening to different music, but it has nothing to do with my ability to do different styles, I feel like it has to do with my ability to listen to different sounds. That kind of helps me out because I hear parts of the music that maybe people don’t. I can play off certain things.”
Angyil also explained how she was able to dominate two straight days of battling some of the best hip-hop dancers on the planet at the Dance Your Style national final and why succumbing to the looming threat of fatigue was never an option.
“I had to tap in and remember why I started [doing this],” she said. “I started to think about people who inspired me. I started to think about what I’ve been through. I started to think about my family, my nieces, and nephews and everything they’ve done to get me [to this point]. I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m tired, but I’ll be fine.’ I had to dig deeper.”
Prior to Red Bull Dance Your Style National Finals USA, The Root spoke to fellow hip-hop dancer Outrage, who stressed the importance of maintaining the art form’s authenticity—despite its ever-increasing popularity—and ensuring that hip-hop’s roots as a Black and Brown creation are acknowledged.
“Some people fail to realize, or have a hard time understanding, that most of dance is from Black culture,” he told The Root. “We have a lot of people out here who are doing these styles and don’t understand that. [There are also] a lot of companies that don’t want to [acknowledge] that’s really what it is and there’s no way around it.”
In keeping that same energy, Angyil echoed Outrage’s sentiments and stressed the importance of Black and brown representation at competitions of this magnitude.
“It’s very important,” she began. “If we’re not careful, it will be misconstrued and miscommunicated. It’s probably the most important thing in my eyes. There’s been oppression in so many other areas of life, as well as oppression in spaces where we should feel the most comfortable. So that’s something I definitely advocate for in being a Black woman because at the end of the day, this is ours.”
She continued, “I always feel like there’s this narrative towards us that when we claim something that’s true, it’s a problem. There’s this sort of aggression. But I feel like the more of us that are bold and unapologetic about it—you don’t have to cause a war about this. At the end of the day, these are facts. This is our culture.”
To that end, Angyil also knows how significant it is to have a Black woman be crowned the victor at a national competition that honors hip-hop culture.
“I saw a YouTube video of some twerkers. They were Russian,” she began. “As Black women, we always get demonized for doing [these types of] things. If we put color in our hair, it’s ‘ghetto’. If we shake our butt, it’s ‘dirty’. Any type of expression that we express ourselves in, it’s looked down upon. And the moment they do it, it’s praised. This is [reflective of] a deeper problem that’s rooted in racism. These things are ‘dirty’ or ‘ghetto’ when we do it, but it’s something completely different when it’s copied. [...] So [this win is] really important. And even if you take me out of the equation, I could care less as long as [the winner is] someone from our culture. That means more to me than anything.”
For those interested in keeping an eye on Angyil as she moves on to the Red Bull Dance Your Style World Finals, which will begin in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 4, slide over to Caffeine.tv to livestream the festivities.