“Nothing is impossible”Heads are still shaking in wonder at the 18-year-old B-Boy’s meteoric rise from obscurity on the Cape Flats to the final of the Red Bull BC One Middle East Africa Cypher in Algeria
Toufeeq Baatjies first left Mitchells Plain when he was 13, far earlier than the kids he grew up with. It was dancing that punched the initial hole in his imagined boundaries. Six years and innumerable hours of breaking later, Toufeeq won the Red Bull BC One South Africa Cypher, securing a place in the Middle East Africa Cypher in Algiers, a city the French writer Albert Camus once described as being dominated by dance halls and “creatures bursting with violent energy from the sky where their desires whirl”.
Burst skywards is exactly what Toufeeq did, all the way to a finals battle with another Capetonian, the more experienced B-Boy Benny. Although Benny took the night, folks were left wondering whether Toufeeq’s extraordinary campaign was a once-off, or the first assault of an irrepressible force.
THE RED BULLETIN : Your right arm looks bigger than your left.
TOUFEEQ BAATJIES: [Laughs.] It is! I’m all about power moves, and my right arm is where the power comes from. I don’t do weights or anything like that, just breaking, which is probably why it happened. Another interesting thing about breaking is how it keeps your body small. I have a younger brother who’s much taller than me. B-Boys are all small, and I think it’s because we spend so much time upside down, which sends a confusing message to our spines. I’ve never been injured, though, at least not through B-Boying.
You describe your mentor as ‘the man on the field’. How mysterious.
Angelo van Wyk from the Black Noise hip-hop crew is the man on the field. When I was 13 I saw him teaching breaking to some kids on a field in my neighbourhood. I asked him if he could teach me and he told me to come down to the community centre every evening, which I did. Before that my mentor was my dad, Fakir, who was a B-Boy back in the days when there were no competitions, no sponsorships and so on. He’d get a lift to Westridge in Mitchells and challenge someone to a battle. My dad taught me how to do a backflip, but I wasn’t actually that interested in breaking at that time. My thing was popping, and freestyle, which is this special Vlaktes [Cape Flats] dance. That changed when I met Angelo, and later I was helped by B-Boy Renegade, who taught me how to use my feet.
Do you think working on your footwork made a difference in 2014?
For sure. I’ve always had power moves, so combined with much better footwork it made a big difference.
What did you learn in Johannesburg and Algiers?
Winning in Johannesburg and making it so far in the Middle East Africa Cypher was a great experience, mainly because I realised it isn’t enough to have all the moves. You need to put them together in this special way that people can see from a kilometre away and still know it’s you. I started thinking about how to develop an African style, inspired by tribal dance movements. This isn’t something I have been researching on YouTube or anything like that. I’ve just been letting it come to me.
How do you practise your moves?
I don’t approach it with a system: all I need is enough space to do my thing, even if it’s just the driveway. That’s actually cool because neighbourhood kids come out and form a circle, and it keeps me pushing to make the impossible become possible. I’d say that if breaking is everything you do and think about the whole time you’re awake, then you will be noticed.
Kids clearly look up to you.
Before I started breaking, I was hanging out with some bad company, smoking weed and about to get into gangsterism. Breaking saved my life, because I made new friends and we have been devoted to dance ever since. We’re now helping some laaities to learn the basics, paying for them to travel to watch competitions and that sort of thing, but Mitchells laaities are wild and they need to first learn respect. This inspires me to work harder and make it to the Red Bull BC One World Final next year, because then the kids don’t have to believe my words, they can just see what I’ve achieved and know that it is possible.