By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
They gather by the stage. Ramirez denies being nervous, but her eyes are bugging out. Saltzman gnaws on her fingernails. Their trepidation is electric.
"Up front I need B.A.B.," the announcer finally says.
The Sisterz form a line on one side of the stage. The other team, Buggin' Out from Chicago, lines up against the opposite side. Like two crews that had performed earlier in the day, Buggin' Out has a token b-girl, a freakishly skinny woman who oozes overconfidence.
"Oooh, catfight," a male audience member jokes.
The DJ starts up the music: beat-laden, old-school jams that get the teams moving.
Rowlan, wearing a black Air Jordan shoe on her left foot and a white Air Jordan on her right, steps out first. She uprocks and rolls into some fancier footwork, her head held high, in proper position. She swivels into a headstand and does a few slow spins, freezes, and promptly jumps out of the circle.
A guy with a black hat from Buggin' Out takes Rowlan's place in the center, undulating his body into the "snake," and then using the momentum to land in a headstand.
Saltzman is next and ends in a freeze, her legs straight up in the air, her body supported by her arms and the side of her head.
After a guy with a striped shirt, it's Rabiano's turn. She does some characteristically bouncy and rhythmic uprocks before launching into some rapid footwork. She eventually ends in a one-armed handstand, legs skewed to the side.
One of the judges applauds.
The Chicago team's female member gets her turn, and she does some scuttling, crablike footwork and a series of backspins. In the middle of her set, the Sisterz start chanting, "B.A., B.A., nothing to fuck with." The Chicago team members shake their heads.
After an awkward entry, the Sisterz's just-recruited dancer, Mary, does a "circle of bridges," or a series of body rolls. She jumps up and dives into a failed handstand freeze before starting to boogie aimlessly onstage for a few minutes.
"Next time you go out there, make it short and sweet," a frustrated Rabiano tells her when she returns to the sidelines.
After the final Chicago dancer, Ramirez enters with some uprocks and footwork before moving into a series of handstand freezes. In one, she does an "inverted freeze," where she arches her back and looks like she's going to pull her arms out of their sockets.
"OK, one last time from each crew," the announcer says.
Each team puts its best dancer out for one final showing, and Rowlan steps into the circle, determination on her face. She uprocks, and does what Saltzman later dubs "fuck you all" footwork. She bounces into a twisting handstand and falls into a set of backspins. Then she launches into a back handspring, then into a "dolphin dive," and finally ends in a one-armed handstand, grabbing her crotch with her free hand.
There is light applause.
The Chicago team's female dancer will not be outdone, and she responds by doing a few slow flares, ending in a "windmill," rolling her upper body in a circular motion while her legs whip around behind her. The crowd tends to favor power moves -- especially when girls do them -- and cheers heartily. She ends her set by waving her middle finger at Ramirez.
"No uprocks or anything, but everyone loves it," Rowlan says. "Fuck power, it's all about foundation, baby."
After the battle, Anna Klafter, a respected veteran San Francisco DJ, is waiting for the Sisterz at the base of the stage to photograph them for XLR8R, a hip hop magazine.
"It takes a lot of balls to get up there and do your thing, whether you're a guy or a girl," Klafter says. "But it's fierce competition, so I have a lot of respect for them. For a group of girls to come out here, who are not in this scene, and they come and did this thing. It was fresh."
A b-boy from Chicago rushes up to them to say, "I was amazed. You don't understand. I was totally amazed."
But the adrenaline subsides quickly.
"I hated how I performed," Ramirez says.
"It doesn't matter," Saltzman adds. "We're not out for fame. We're out for freedom, we're out for fun, for the future, and we're out for females."
When the names of the teams advancing to the second round are announced, the Sisterz are not included.
Ramirez and Rowlan head off to the smaller break dancing circles away from the stage. They look more comfortable and confident now that the pressure is off them. They stand back as more guys crowd around, challenging each other to increasingly outrageous power moves.
"It's very male-dominated," Rowlan says, stating the obvious. "The testosterone burns your eyes."
After their battle, back at a friend's hotel, the Sisterz fling themselves at different angles onto the bed.
"I am so tired," Ramirez says. "But I'm so glad we did it."
"We represented for females and the bay," Rowlan adds proudly.
One of their friends videotaped their performance. She plugs her video camera into the TV and the Sisterz watch footage of the battle, adding impromptu commentary.