“Nobody Makes It Out Of Kansas City:” Angyil Mcneal On Breaking Barriers While Breakdancing All Over The Globe
If you saw her on the street or heard her soothing voice in passing, you’d never imagine Angyil Mcneal has the ability to pop and lock all over your grave after putting you in it on the dance floor. It would be too limiting to say it’s Angyil’s unassuming demeanor that sends audiences over the edge when they watch the 26-year-old dominate breakdancing battles. The truth is she’s just that good. And she’s always ready to get it popping.
“I don’t believe in coming to an event and not cyphering when there’s dope music playing,” the Kansas City native told me when we met at the Red Bull BC Camp finals in Houston last month. Immediately, I saw what she meant by that sentiment firsthand.
The energy inside Warehouse Live was so dynamic the weekend of May 17, even I wanted to bust through the crowd and hit a move in the middle of the floor. Unfortunately, unlike Angyil I didn’t start ballet at the age of 10 and develop the discipline required to hit a handstand on beat. Nor have I been breakdancing seriously for more than eight years like she has. Hence; I stood on the sidelines like a good spectator should and awaited my turn to pick the talented dancer’s brain. Here’s what we she told me about breaking barriers, bravado, and breakdancing for the love of it.
MadameNoire (MN): Initially, you began dancing ballet. Why did breakdancing stick?
Angyl Mcneal (AM:) I went to a performing arts school which is why I did ballet, but honestly my life and what I’ve been through has been really rough and a lot of time it wasn’t pretty and elegant the way that ballet would be so I felt like I needed something to express my raw emotions and I felt like the best style I could do that with was hip-hop and popping and other urban styles and street styles. I loved ballet. I loved the discipline and the structure and the hard work so it definitely allowed me to transfer that over into training when it comes to street style, but I just needed something to authentically express myself in a real, honest way and I didn’t want that to always be in a pretty and elegant way. I just let like I was lying to myself and lying to other people.
MN: What was your experience like growing up in Kansas City?
AM: Kansas City is an interesting place. I love my family because I was born there and we created a beautiful zone of our own, but I definitely noticed I was Black in Kansas City. It was definitely one of those situations where everything was good in the house but as soon as you left the house you knew you were Black. I went to a foreign exchange school when I was in elementary school so I grew up speaking french, but there weren’t a lot of Black people at the school so I would go to school every day being reminded. I would wear big puff balls at school and people would call me Mickey Mouse and they would throw trash in my hair. I’m strong, but those are the kind of things that you had to deal with — ‘Oh let’s see if her hair can catch this,’ that kind of stuff, and it just reminds you that you’re different; your hair is different.
I feel like it definitely messed with my self-esteem at some point so I just had to cut off all that and just be like, I’m just ready to soar. There’s no way that I feel the way that I feel and I am the way that I am and I am who I am and I am all of this that they say I am. It’s impossible. I can’t be. God is too mighty.
Source: Vladimir Lorinc / Red Bull Content Pool
MN: We don’t see many Black women in ballet, or breakdancing for that matter. Who were your inspirations?
AM: Misty Copeland is one of the amazing ballet dancers and she’s from Kansas City too so that gave me some inspiration because nobody, honestly, makes it out of Kansas City. They get stuck in this traditional life, get married, have children, live your life in your picket fence, that’s it, that’s all they do. So to see her doing that really inspired me on the ballet side.
I love Busta Rhymes so I can say listening to his music helped me be able to express myself. I would dance to his music because I felt like that was the closest thing to what I felt. Scarface and all of the old school passionate rap artists, I feel like they definitely pulled things out that were already inside but I had covered up for so long because I tried to fit inside this image that wasn’t me.
MN: What I love about what I’ve seen of breakdancing culture is that women can have as much bravado as men and talk trash. In other competitive activities, that’s often frowned upon.
AM: Sometimes men might team up and create crews and come against you which can be intimidating, but at the end of the day I don’t even think about a gender when I get on the floor. Obviously, I know that I’m a woman, but when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong and when it comes to dancing, I’m like, I’m not a woman I’m just dancing and I’m here for this. If you trash talk me, I don’t look at you as a man, I don’t look at you as a woman, I just look at you as a trash talker so I’m going to trash talk back.
MN: What goes through your mind when you’re battling and people are talking stuff?
AM: I personally believe that when a dance battle is a dance battle, you just dance. Sometimes when people talk it makes me frustrated ‘cuz it’s like, this is not a debate team at this point. Either you want to talk or you want to dance, and I came here to dance. I didn’t come here to debate. Personally, that stuff fuels me, it makes me even more excited to get crazy so it doesn’t work with me. It doesn’t get in my head but it depends on the person you’re debating how tactics and things change.
MN: What does preparing for a competition like Red Bull’s BC Camp look like?
AM: I’m always training. I’m always working out. I’m always thinking of different things outside of dance so I think that your mind has a lot to do with it. Mentally, if your mind is working and thinking of different things it’s going to translate through your dance.
I’m always on a plane. Literally every three days I’m taking 14- and 16-hour flights so I’ve created a way that I can still train so I’ll go by the bathroom, which is the biggest portion of the plane, and I’ll just do sets of 10 push-ups, squats, lunges and sit-ups and I’ll keep doing that four times and then sit back down, chill, relax, watch a movie, write something that’s going through my mind, look out the window, find some inspiration in the clouds or something, then I’ll repeat it. When I land, a lot of times I have to get straight to it so I have to be warm; I have to be ready. I honestly don’t understand how I’m not burned out. I should be. I feel like it’s normal to be worn out, but I’m not.
MN: Did you ever imagine that you would be doing what you’re doing now?
AM: No. Never. I never even thought I was going to make it out of my hood. If somebody told me that I was going to be doing what I’m doing now, I would get mad because I would feel like they were teasing me. I would feel like it was impossible for me to be having these experiences, especially with my background. I grew up in a house full of drugs and the environment was super violent, I grew up in a really rough neighborhood and the crime rate was super high so I saw a lot of stuff and definitely never imagined myself being where I am now, but I just wanted to get away from that mentally, even if I couldn’t get away from that physically. I felt like if I could just get away from it mentally then I would be okay until I was old enough to make a difference in my life.
MN: Now that you have gotten away, what are your new goals?
AM: My goal now is to bring awareness to the pollution that’s going on globally but to make it fun to clean up. Also, I love languages so I want to learn a couple more and I want to get into acting, but I will always be a battler. I love battling so I’m definitely going to be battling forever; I’m going to be 86 still battling. I don’t care. I’m going to be with my cane and the tennis balls on the ends of the walker, I don’t care. It gives my soul a good feeling…so no matter where I go or what success, I’m still going to battle. Always.