Leo has been breakdancing or B-boying, to the insiders for six years. But he can't seem to prove his credibility to Kansas City's established B-boy crews. The crews dominate hip-hop gatherings and B-boy battles. They roll their eyes when outsiders like Leo take the floor, and they shut them out of B-boy practices. A day earlier, a writer under the moniker 50Calibur bad-mouthed Leo on a B-boy Internet forum the place dancers air their beefs, writing, You the ONLY black dude in this town that ain't got rhythm!
Leo knows the author. Adonus Ray is across the room, laughing loudly with another dancer, the way mean schoolgirls snicker when they want to make a classmate feel left out. Adonus can't be missed in his bright-red Converse, dark jeans and a puffy red vest.
I wanna cut him off while he's dancing, Leo says in a low voice. That's what I'm waiting on.
The Earth, Wind and Fire song Flashlight blares as Adonus takes the floor. He circles his territory with a bouncy uprock, the cocky, floor-skipping part of the dance before the B-boy hits the floor. The others admire Adonus for his rhythm and his style. Though he's lanky, Adonus can jump up from a crouch so fast, it makes onlookers' knees ache.
Just as Adonus really gets in a groove, Leo tears into the middle of the floor. Interrupting Adonus is equivalent to a graffiti writer crossing out another artist's work. It's the ultimate disrespect.
This is the moment Leo has been waiting for. Rejected by the established B-boy crews, 26-year-old Leo practices with the outcasts. He looks shabbier than the other B-boys, in torn jeans, a black tank top, a black hat and a black wristband. He's extra cut, thanks to a job lifting heavy boxes by day at FedEx, and his muscles are tense under his clothes.
Adonus throws a finger in Leo's face. Leo grabs Adonus' arm like a monkey and ducks over it, under it, drops to the floor and springs back up. As Leo mounts his challenge, a fire is suddenly lit under Adonus' crew. No one takes their eyes off the green-and-red-checkered linoleum. Adonus is over 6 feet tall and built like a basketball player, but he dances with quick footwork, his long limbs perfectly in control. More importantly, he dances with personality, the emotion of the music etched on his face, the beat reverberating through his midlength dreadlocks as he moves.
Adonus cocks an imaginary shotgun in his hands and blows Leo's head off. In time with the music, he mimes digging Leo's grave and scraping Leo's head across his shoe. Leo and Adonus are both charismatic, crowd-pleasing dancers. But Leo lacks something that Adonus has: patience. His dances are rushed and frantic. Adonus' are clean, making his message clear: I dominate you.
Leo strides off the floor, winded and sweating. Had it been a real battle, in front of a judge, he knows Adonus would have won. But winning wasn't Leo's goal. He wants respect. "I came out here to make a statement, that I'm not playin'," Leo says, once he's caught his breath.
Later in the night, Adonus approaches Leo, holding out his hand to bang fists. "It's all good, it's some B-boy ish," Adonus nods, appreciatively. For standing up and facing Adonus, Leo earned some props.
Breakdancing in Kansas City attracts crowds of onlookers at downtown bars, First Friday art shows and DJ exhibitions. It's a mainstay at the Peanut on Ninth and Broadway on Sunday nights, when local heads crowd the neighborhood bar for their weekly fix of the showcase called Hip-Hop and Hot Wings. Lately, you'd have to be in a nursing home to avoid it. But few in the crowd understand how devoted B-boys are to their art or how heated their disagreements can be.