“That was just one of the best weekends I’ve ever had in my life.”
I’m sitting on the steps of Main Street Station with Elijah “X-Glide” Fulgham, a 22-year-old up-and-comer in the East Coast street dance scene. He’s telling me about his experience at the Red Bull “Dance Your Style” event on April 21, an invitation-only qualifier for the national competition that takes place May 20.
“Dance Your Style” is an all-styles 1 vs 1 format, meaning any type of dance is welcome, as long as you’re ready to battle. Going into any cypher can be intimidating, but especially on a big stage like Red Bull, X had to psych himself up.
“I remember as I got closer, and the day I was there, I kept telling myself – ‘you’re here for a reason. You got picked for a reason, your dance has got you here for a reason, so believe in yourself and trust everything that you’ve done and use that going forward, and you can’t be wrong.’” X said. “And it worked.”
X got his start in performance-based dance, but there’s something about battling, confronting the unknown, that has had him hooked for the past few years. Dancing in a show can be nerve-wracking in its own way, with the spotlight on you and knowing people are watching, but you can also rehearse for it and memorize your routine. The chaos of a street dance battle does not afford such predictability.
“It keeps you on your toes. That’s why I like it too, because it’s the thrill of – okay, what’s gonna happen? I don’t know what’s gonna happen today, but all I know is it’s gonna be crazy,” he said.
The first time I saw X-Glide battle live was at the “Study Your Arts” dance event on April 29 as part of the “Something in the Water” festival in Virginia Beach, which he ended up winning, bringing home $1,000 in prize money. In the final battle against Bassboy, X-Glide stole his opponent’s hat, got in his face, and even danced with him – sort of.
I’ve seen real fights break out that started as dance battles. These altercations can often pop off when one dancer physically touches the other, and for that reason making contact with the dancer you’re facing off with is looked down on in some scenes. But at “Study Your Arts”, X-Glide and Bassboy entangled each other’s arms and bodies; it almost looked like a wrestling match.
“We don’t let it get too far, right?” X said. “I need to work on my battle etiquette, because I don’t want to make that a thing where people associate it with me. My last couple battles have been kind of intense. But I love that, because it’s just that competitiveness – you really get to see the drive that both competitors have whenever you see something like that. I like shit like that because I grew up watching WWE and stuff like that as long as things don’t get too out of control.”
That intensity was magnified at “Dance Your Style”, where X-Glide and other dancers from VA like Lynx and Draggun crossed paths with dancers from all over the region. The hype was unbelievable for X, who had been wanting to compete there since he first attended the event in 2019. It was only a few months after he had started taking battling seriously, and he promised himself, “I’m gonna be on this one day.”
X and his fellow VA dancers got VIP treatment from the Red Bull team (shoutout to Megan and Ben), and from start to finish it was one unforgettable memory after another. He didn’t make it to the finals, but there were so many wins that weekend he couldn’t feel too bad about the loss.
“Everybody was fire. I made it all the way to the top four, I’m really grateful for that,” X said. “Things didn’t go the way I would have hoped, but at the end of the day, I was just happy. I was grateful to have that experience.”
Even though he got knocked out in the “Dance Your Style” semi-finals, that high ranking is an achievement not just for X-Glide, but for the Virginia street dance scene in general, a diverse community with many styles and loads of talent.
“I really hope after this, they start looking towards VA more,” X said. “We got a lot of dancers out here who deserve to have that opportunity.”
X-Glide hails from Dinwiddie, about 20 minutes outside Petersburg. Like many 21st century dancers, his first lessons came from watching videos on YouTube. The technique of dancers like Marquese “NonStop” Scott and crews like Dragon House inspired him to try his own moves, annoying “the mess” out of his mom. Still, it was his family’s support that got him through the awkward beginner stages.
“They madly supported me, they really pushed me mentally,” X-Glide said. “They taught me early how to keep myself grounded. That’s why a lot of things that would usually come in and sway somebody, wouldn’t necessarily sway me.”
Eventually he moved out and made his way to Richmond, where he interacted with other street dancers more frequently, engaging with different styles. For X, the diversity of expression is what makes Richmond special.
“We’ve got flexing, we’ve got Krump, we have hip hop, we have trend dancing as well,” he said.
For X, seeing French dance duo Les Twins drew him into the world of hip hop dance, and he’s never looked back. Larry and Laurent, or “Ca Blaze” and “Lil Beast”, have achieved worldwide fame for their appearances as back up dancers for acts like Beyoncé and Missy Elliot. For dancers of the current generation like X-Glide, Les Twins represented the top tier of technical level.
Unlike many dancers, X had the opportunity in 2018 to do a tribute performance with his friend AeroDaAvatar for Les Twins in Baltimore, one attended by Les Twins themselves. He made enough of an impression on the two that afterwards he was able to build a solid connection with them.
“They were giving me advice, they were talking to me. They taught me, you know, musicality, taught me how to utilize my body, and even the mindset I should have going forward,” X said.
The most important bit of wisdom X said he received was from Laurent: “Don’t dance for dancers.”
“Now that I’m starting to progress I’m starting to understand why he was telling me that. Because it’s like dancers are gonna always look at you competitively, you know what I’m saying? Dancers are gonna always try to find a way to judge you. Let’s just be honest, even your friends – y’all are friends, but at the end of the day, it’s still a competition,” X said.
“But the people who don’t dance,” he continued, “the people who just love to watch you for you, the other ones who are going to support you and love you no matter what – those are the people that you really need to focus on.”
For X, applying that knowledge means giving back to the dance scene in Richmond and those across VA. Back in 2016 when he entered his first battle, he could count the number of good dancers on his hands. Now there’s more, but the community has struggled to expand beyond its core members.
“Richmond is Richmond,” X said. “There’s not a lot here, let’s just be real. There’s not a lot here compared to other cities, not a lot of opportunities for dancers here compared to other cities.”
Now, street dancers can go demonstrate their skill at a new series of events by Subjective Dance Club every Saturday night at Therapy RVA near Shockoe Bottom. The organization, led by Coach Gregg, has been putting on dance events since 2016, but this is the first time they’ve been located in a bar setting. The hope is to bring in people from outside the scene and revitalize a dance club culture.
X-Glide wants to do his part to make these events shine and grow the Richmond dance battle scene that has meant so much to him. He belongs to a few different crews, but when he throws up a hand sign during battles, it’s a “V” and an “A” for Virginia.
“We have to represent where we come from, because we don’t have a lot of representation,” he said. “I feel like my job now is to represent and push us as much as we can.”
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