A Minneapolis dancer is now a national champion. David Stalter — nicknamed “The Crown” — won the “Red Bull Dance Your Style” street dance competition in New Orleans last month. The competition showcases hip hop, house, locking, popping and more. Stalter joined host Cathy Wurzer to talk more about the competition.
Below is a transcript of their conversation. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
For folks who are not familiar at all. This is all improv right?
Yes, it is — 100 percent freestyle.
So what's in your head? You just Let the music move you in a sense truly?
Yes, it's a mix between muscle memory and a lot of letting the music move you for sure.
Tell us about how you got into this.
It was in high school, I was a freshman. I grew up with like little dances, like party dances or whatever, or social dances. But I started looking at YouTube videos of just different, random things and then dance I stumbled upon, and I started to teach myself in my little room, I guess how to move and freestyle to music.
Once you got into this and you became a self-taught dancer? Did you have any formal training at all after that?
Technically no. But I do take classes here and there. I just I feel like I'm a lover of dance. So for me, I'm very open, you know? I've taken some African classes, I've taken different types of forms of street style dances, I've taken a contemporary class before. I'm kind of all over.
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Talk a little bit about how important it is for you as a person of color to be involved in dance.
To me, it's everything. I feel like it's it's very spiritual. And also, you know, me being half African. I'm half Liberian. So my mom is very, very cultural in the African roots. Growing up with that, I feel like it just feels very like the essence is so important. And I feel like it's important to keep that as we grow older. Because I think the world sometimes tells us what's right and wrong. But I feel like dance is one of the purest forms, especially for black culture.
What do you what are you feeling in your body as you're dancing?
My main thing is I try my best to really embody the song. Whatever song is I try my best to match not just the instruments of the music, but the vibe of the music as well. So very heavy on the musicality aspect.
It looks like you're also very heavy on connecting with the audience. Is it key to a good performance?
Most definitely. I feel like something that I try to live by, because I think people can really read energy, so I try not to force it. I try to look at it as like, if I feel myself in this moment, I feel like other people are going to feel me.
Tell us the story of your nickname.
Yes, “The Crown.” So basically, there was a performance that meant a lot to me, it was a solo piece that I made by myself. It was dedicated to my dad. And basically, I was really nervous to go out. It was one of the first times I've ever performed in front of a crowd, especially a piece that meant a lot to me.
So I was nervous backstage and the emcee came up to me and he was like, “are you okay?” And I was like, “honestly, no. No, not okay at all.”
He was telling me, just giving me a pep talk and he was saying something that stuck with me. He was like, “You need to own your royalty. You know? You need to own your heritage, your culture, your blood, you know, you are already everything, and you're gonna go out there, and you're gonna be amazing.”
And before I went out, he was on the microphone, he said, “alright everybody give it up for The Crown.” And then ever since then, everybody's been calling me “The Crown,” and it kind of just stuck.
So what do your parents think of all this?
My dad definitely supports it. My mom also supports it. At first it was a little rocky. I feel like with a lot of parents, especially foreign parents, they want you to be like a doctor or lawyer, or whatever. But I think now she's starting to really see the full vision, and really starting to understand and that's why I really appreciate her for just being open minded.
What is the full vision?
The full vision to me is, I feel like, it's very important for kids specifically to follow their dreams. Whether it be dance, a YouTuber, something that just isn't, I guess a corporate type of job. I think it's very important to let your kids have the freedom to try their best and pick themselves up and support them along the way. So to me, that's the full vision and dance is definitely something I'm very passionate about. And I want to honestly just see this where the journey takes me.
The journey is going to take you to South Africa in December for the World Finals. What will you be doing between now and then to prepare?
A lot of taking care of my body. I actually have a slight sprained ankle right now. So that's the thing I'm focusing on the most is just healing that up. And then after that, I think I'm going to just be doing my regular training and conditioning and also taking more classes as well. I really like learning new things. So there's a mix of a lot of that.
I can imagine that (kind of dancing) probably takes a lot to keep in shape.
Yeah, definitely. My normal routine is, I wake up and then I do some conditioning. So it's like lightweights and a lot of cardio. And try to work out a lot of physical therapy to work out those little muscles. So I don't get injured as often. And I barely get injured anymore. You know, when I first started, I used to get injured a lot because I wasn't very aware.
Do you have an idol in dance that you look up to that you that you wanted to kind of mold yourself after?
I think when I first started, I definitely looked up to my older sister, because she used to dance. And a lot of my family members on my African side, you know, we go to these African parties and everybody would be dancing.
So I would say definitely started with them, you know, just being inspired by their movement and their expression. It was mostly about how they were expressing themselves. Whether it be a simple two step or something more dynamic.
And then as I got more versed in dance, I realized, nowadays, I feel like I get inspired by everything. Like I get inspired by nature, animals, I get inspired by my nephews, I get inspired by my friends. My family, of course, cartoons, movies, like a lot of things really, I feel like mix into the world that I create what I do.