On an unusually hot October afternoon in New York City, Lee-Lou Demierre is gearing up to compete in this year’s Red Bull BC One, an annual international breakdancing competition where the world’s best B‑Boys and B‑Girls battle it out. As our interview takes place on the busy fifth floor of a Chinatown hotel, the adrenaline is flowing, with less than 24 hours before the main event.
“New York is very special and it’s also the birthplace of breaking, so I feel like I have a good connection with it already,” the 21-year-old says, having flown over from his hometown Amsterdam for the occasion. Although it’s Demierre’s first time in the city, it’s his second time competing at Red Bull BC One. In 2021, the championship took place in Gdańsk, Poland, where he qualified as a Wild Card in the Last Chance Cypher, which sees competitors freestyle against one another for a chance to compete on the big stage.
Don’t be discouraged by the jargon. Breakdancing is best understood when you watch it in action – it has its own language of stylised footwork, rhythm, gymnastics and athleticism. Just as breaking first emerged in the ’70s as an off-shoot of the Bronx’s explosive hip-hop movement, Demierre’s own personal history is closely intertwined with the sport.
“My mum was a B‑Girl and I started breaking when I was two-years-old,” he explains. “I started mimicking her when she’d do stuff in the living room and since then she’s always brought me with her to international events. I grew up in that environment and learned the culture at a very young age.”
It was at the Dutch B‑Boy championships in 2009 that Demierre had his first encounter with The Ruggeds, a prestigious breaking crew based in Eindhoven. He was only nine, but Demierre was captivated by their camaraderie. Plus, it was getting kind of lonely rehearsing alone. As the rest of the guys on the team in their late teens and early twenties, it was a long shot to sign up, but he took a gamble anyway.
“I made a little drawing like, ‘Can I please join your crew?’ and gave it to them,” Demierre says, laughing. “They couldn’t resist!”
Growing up with The Ruggeds gave Demierre a sense of community. Together, the 11-man crew motivate and inspire each other daily to be better breakers. Now, he describes his own style as “instinctive”, more influenced by what moves he feels drawn to on any given day rather than set routines. “Flows, slides and keeping calm,” as he puts it. “There’s just some sort of special sauce.”
Over the pandemic, after Demierre got his high school diploma (“you know, in case I get injured”), breaking battles were all but cancelled, giving him time to practise full-time, sharpen up his skills for this year’s Red Bull BC One competition and blow up on TikTok.
With over 600k followers and 18.2 million likes under his belt, Demierre found a content sweet spot, posting videos that combined viral dances and super-skilled headspins. “I was like: how can I do something that’s impressive and funny at the same time, without being cringe? Then I found a formula that really worked. Now, though, my focus isn’t really there.”
With the Red Bull championship just around the corner and news that breaking will feature in the Olympics for the first time in Paris’ 2024 games, Demierre has his eye on world domination. “I would love to win gold at the Olympics and get a Red Bull BC One belt,” he says. “It’s nice to see that the spectrum of breaking is so wide, but one thing that’s really important is that people don’t see it as a sport only. Breaking is a dance and an art form, too.”
The night following our interview, at the big event, Demierre came close to completing one of his goals, narrowly losing out against defending champion, Victor Montalvo from Florida, in the final hair-raising battle of the night. There’s always next year, though, right?
“The most important thing breaking has given me is an understanding of freedom,” Demierre says. “There are no limits, no boundaries, and everyone is connected. But my main dream is to inspire and motivate people around the world. I want to teach the kids what I got.”