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B-Girl Jo and B-Boy Wildchild win Cypher India 2021

B-Girl Jo performs in the final. Red Bull India

B-Boy Wildchild (Eshwar Tiwari, Mumbai) and B-Girl Jo (Johanna Rodrigues, Bengaluru), won the Red Bull BC One Cypher India 2021, the premier annual competition for India's male and female breakers.

This was the first Cypher India finals to be held since breaking, more widely and informally known as breakdancing, received Olympic status in December last year, with the dance-sport set to make its debut at Paris 2024.

In a first-ever behind-closed-doors national finals, held on Saturday at the Famous Studios in Mumbai, Wildchild, 23, defeated top B-Boys including three-time champion Flying Machine (Arif Chaudhary, Mumbai) to claim his first Cypher India title.

"I have been chasing this dream since 2015, when I first competed in Red Bull BC One Cypher India, and after making the final of the event in 2018 and 2019 and not winning it and then going over two years without competing in a major competition because of the pandemic and personal tragedy, I was quite frustrated with myself," Wildchild told ESPN. "I've become third-time lucky, yes, and I dedicate this win to my dad, who passed away in July last year after prolonged illness. He wanted to see me win and I know he's watching me from up above."

In the women's event, Jo, 25, became the first Indian B-Girl to successfully defend her Cypher India crown.

"There was a bit of pressure and expectations - from myself and not from other people - being the defending champion, so I am really proud of myself to have performed under that pressure," Jo said. "Because I've won the title twice, I feel surer of myself, in that, I do really belong at the top. In a way, I'm still an underdog, as far as the international scene is concerned, so I get to work towards that goal now, which I am really excited to do."

Wildchild and Jo will travel to Gdansk, Poland, where they will compete in the Last Chance Cypher, which will have breakers from more than 33 countries competing in each of the two gender categories. The participants will vie for a spot in the top 16 of the B-Boys and B-Girls' competitions at the 18th edition of the Red Bull BC One World Final 2021. The two events are scheduled for November 5 and 6.

For both winners, their journey to the 2021 title has predominantly been one of self-discovery.

"My dad's passing taught me a lot about life," said Wildchild, who took up breaking in 2012 after watching fellow Mumbaikar B-Boy Ninja do a backflip on the city's iconic Juhu beach. He dropped out of school subsequently, after flunking his exams in the ninth standard, joined the Beastmode crew, and has competed in breaking battles in Taiwan and South Korea since. "After a slew of failures at the final hurdle in the previous Cyphers and the economic and emotional stress my family and I went through after losing my dad, it was easier to give up than continue, but I kept working hard and held my faith in myself and Lord Jesus, whom I believe in a lot."

Failures of the past have fuelled dreams for the future for Jo, too.

"When I won BC One Cypher India for first time, I was 22, and the victory this time surely feels different," said Jo. "One of the reasons is I learnt a lot since that championship because I had a really big fall when I went to compete in Japan. I couldn't perform there the way I wanted to because I had a lot of self-doubts back then and there were some logistics issues which caused a delay in my arrival, and I was just coming back from an injury and performed while I was on my periods. I had blanked out on stage and crashed one of my moves and I really felt bad."

"After that loss, I realised that I am supported by people who want me to do the best I can, so for this Cypher, I went in with a mature mindset."

A yoga instructor, Jo is part of the Black Ice crew and hopes winning this year's championship would help her land sponsorships for nutrition and financial assistance as she gears up to make her first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic.

"I would look to stay on in the competition for longer and pick up more experience...I want to keep preparing myself so I can be at the top so that when [the national qualifying competitions for Paris 2024] are organised, it's very clear who they [the Indian bodies] choose," she said.

The qualifiers for Cypher India 2021, the sixth edition of the championship, were held entirely online for the first time and involved 520 B-Boys and 28 B-Girls. They featured only one round and the top 16 B-Boys and top four B-Girls were selected for Saturday's final.