Side by side, Marisol and Omar look mismatched — they’re the same height, but she’s wearing a pair of sexy stilettos that make her nearly a head taller. Marisol’s cobalt-blue backless shirt, eyelashes for days, and sleek black hair give her a glamorous sheen. Omar exudes a more casual vibe in sneakers, baggy jeans, and snapback.
It would never be obvious to an onlooker, but Omar is the star. Last November in Moscow, Russia, he won the title of World Champion at the Red Bull BC One competition, known as the Super Bowl of breakdancing. It was his third attempt; at 29, he’s the oldest winner to date.
Everything you learn about breakdancing tonight, you’ll learn from Marisol. Omar is almost painfully low-key. His motto, as stated on his website, is “Skills talk, no hype needed.”
Marisol laughs to hear the word “casual” in reference to Omar’s clothing choices. Although it’s not formal attire, he’s serious about what he wears. It’s the same, she says, for all these B-boys.
“They’re definitely into fashion and sneakers,” she says. “It’s ridiculous how many sneakers Omar has. Every time we go out, he stops into stores and looks at shoes. To me, they all look the same. But he’s, like, ‘No, they’re not.’ They all have their purpose, too. Some are for breaking, some for hanging out.”
Within ten minutes of your arrival, the place has filled up. A circle forms on the dance floor. You and Marisol sit at the one tall bar table set against the wall, where you are outside the circle but can still see into its center. A guy in a red hat starts doing his toprock, a sort of pre-dance that serves as both a warmup and a display of personal style. Marisol says he’s from the Rock So Fresh crew. Also here tonight are members of Bang Uh Rang, from South San Diego; Epic Styles, a crew out of Mira Mesa; and Omar’s crew, Renegades. Omar sways at the edge of the circle, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, watching the red-hat guy’s feet as he transitions into more acrobatic moves.
“Most places downtown, everything is so cookie-cutter!” Marisol shouts. “But here, there’s a variety of music and culture and… ” — she pauses for a second — “and brown people!”
She laughs, and you realize she’s right. Aside from a young bald guy with a belly-length beard and trendy sneakers, none of the other breakdancers is white. They’re black, Filipino, and Mexican. And male. There is one brown-skinned girl named Sam who stands at the edge of the circle, bouncing a bit to De La Soul’s “Saturday.” It’s not quite a scene from Beat Street, but it’s closer than anything you’ve ever seen in San Diego.
“All kinds of dancers come here,” Marisol says. “B-boys, hip-hoppers, poppers.”
When the guy with the red hat is done, no one claps or says anything to him. He just rejoins the swaying mass of people that form the circle’s edge. You ask Marisol if they hated him, or what.
“No one really gives each other props,” she says. “When they’re done, someone might pat them on the back.”
A gaggle of girls comes down the steps. They look like they might be Filipino. All are casually dressed in sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts. One says, “Damn, everybody’s here!” She hugs half the people in the circle.
Marisol tells you that the ratio of boys to girls is always unbalanced. “Most of the girls here are someone’s girlfriend.”
A peppy, eager guy who goes by the handle KidRiz starts chatting you up, naming the songs (Boobie Knight’s “Loveomaniacs Sex” and Erik B. & Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique”), and the dancers (Sumo, Optic, Flash). While the other B-boys do their thing, Omar’s low-key vibe shifts. He becomes sort of jumpy.
Now it’s his turn.
Suddenly, the soft-spoken Omar becomes Roxrite, world-champion B-boy, right here in a tiny underground lounge with a low black ceiling and dirt spots on the linoleum floor. He makes his way into the circle, starts with his toprock, then lets loose down on the floor.
Roxrite describes his style as “complex, intricate, and technical.” The thing everybody says about him is that he’s got amazing “stick-freeze” skills. You watch as he dances. His body creates all kinds of freakish, contortionist shapes, and then, mid-move, he freezes briefly. Again and again. You’ve seen videos of him dancing on his website, but this is different. In person, the effect is like a series of photographic stills, set to the tune of Bo Diddley’s “Bite Me.”
When Roxrite returns to the edge of the circle, KidRiz nods at him. Roxrite nods back. He turns to watch the guy everyone calls Brooklyn out on the floor. When you suggest to KidRiz that maybe he should take a turn, he says, “I don’t dance anymore. I’m a DJ now.” When you ask why, he laughs. “I don’t have health insurance.”
La Jolla: “I feel like I’m in a catalogue.”
When you arrive at the 6000-square-foot house in La Jolla, an usher hands you your name tag and suggests that you join the other guests out by the infinity pool. There you find the homeowners and a handful of people holding wine glasses and looking up at a palm tree: Suzan Shaanan regales the group with the story of how she needed the largest crane in the city to lower this 12,000-pound palm onto the property. A cater-waiter walks through the group with a tray: smoked salmon on potato pancake with capers and sour cream.
You’re relieved to see that most people are wearing business-casual attire, khakis and such, rather than the diamonds and furs of your imagination. You’re also relieved to see that Stacy’s here, too, this evening in a black lace top, black pants, and heels. She’s on the job, hired by the Museum of Photographic Arts, which organized this event, and she sneaks around with her camera, taking shots of the guests and the house.