B-boy El Niño (Alex Diaz) is a world champion breaker (that’s a breakdancer to those not in the know). El Niño’s been breaking since he was 6 years old—25 years and counting—and if you’ve seen the recent In the Heights or 2010’s Step Up 3D, you’ve seen him. He’s performed with Missy Elliot, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, and Busta Rhymes. He also happens to be a long-time Bostonian.
This weekend marks a huge double event for the local breaking community: the Red Bull BC One Boston Cypher (a.k.a. RB1, the largest breakdancing competitions in the U.S.) and the 40th anniversary for Floor Lords, an iconic Boston breaking crew. For El Niño, a Dorchester and Roxbury native, it’s a full-circle moment: when he was 11, he won the second-ever Red Bull breakdancing competition “Lords of the Floor” in 2002. His uncle, Lino Delgado, was Floor Lords’ cofounder and taught him how to break. Now, El Niño’s the president of Floor Lords and organizer of the event.
Usually between 350 to 500 people attend RB1; El Niño is expecting attendance to be on the lower side this year, given the recent limitations of the pandemic. In addition to the formal competition, participants ranging from 5 to 60 years old can take part in cyphers (forming a circle and coming into the middle one at a time to dance and “exchange energy,” as he puts it). Invited dancers have been tested for COVID-19, and attendees are asked to wear masks. Most dancers come from the Northeast, but it’s international—a few breakers are coming from Ukraine and one each from Brazil and Belarus.
El Niño’s seen an increased interest in breaking in recent years: dance movies have engendered interest and social media has democratized talent so that kids as young as 14 can gain international fame and compete. The breaking community here in Boston is small, but strong. “We have something we want to prove,” he explains. Competitions in the ’90s and ’00s would take place in New York; he and his fellow Boston breakers would wear Red Sox “Boston” jerseys to proclaim their loyalty. El Niño started traveling internationally when he was 16, but he never had any intention of leaving his home. Now he has his crew and family, and he’s embedded in the community.
In addition to continuing to win competitions in his own right, El Niño’s also a teacher at community centers and, starting during COVID-19, on Zoom. Like his uncle who taught him, he’s hoping to give back. He’s been teaching at Boston Public Schools since 2020 and takes particular pride in helping young kids with confidence and community, especially those who come from underrepresented groups. He says that kids benefit from starting as early as possible—so if you have a kid who’s interested, don’t delay in signing them up, in other words. He also hopes to reestablish a relationship with local footwear brand Saucony as well as Boston’s City Hall, which used to put on a competition and hip hop concert.
He’s also working to open a Floor Lords school in the fall: teaching hip hop, DJ, choreography, and breaking classes in Harvard Square. As usual, he’s got big dreams. That includes coaching kids all the way to Olympic gold, since breaking has been added as a sport to the 2024 Games, and he has a few students who are national champions already.
With all this momentum, 2021’s RB1 is particularly special for the community. El Niño explains that “the dancers are very itchy” to get back to doing what they love. “Not all of us have rooms in our houses to practice. During quarantine, a lot of dance halls closed down nationwide and it left dancers looking for places where they could practice and express themselves.”
“We tried—we did some battles online—but it’s just not the same. People are excited to be among the community.”