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Winner Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India

Ujan Rai has gone by multiple names through his dance career.

Initially going by Tom, then Tom Rai, evolving into T.Rai, and now finally as T, he has honed his craft over nine years across various parts of India.

Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Champion T

Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Champion T

© Ali Bharmal | Focus Sports

It was in his current avatar as T that he won the title of Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Champion.

The dancer from Darjeeling – who has Nepali heritage, and is the son of an Indian army personnel – discusses what dance means to him and how much he is looking forward to competing at the Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 World Finals considering it is happening in Mumbai, the city that he currently resides.

I started dancing in 2015. I’m from Darjeeling, and we have a few good breaking crews there. So I started watching them to learn breaking. At that time I didn’t know anything about the fundamentals of breaking; I just tried to copy what I saw. When I discovered the fundamentals of breaking, I realised I had a lot to learn, that’s when I started attending classes. I also discovered hip-hop dance and other styles at that time. So I started attending classes in multiple dance styles. Later I got in contact with European hip-hop dancers and started taking classes online, especially from dancers from Paris. I learnt from them, practiced, and then created my own flavour. I took moves from different dance styles, added my Indian flavour, and created my own style.

My dance journey has brought me to Mumbai. I’ve been living in the city for a few years now, mostly working on film productions. I teach hip-hop at Big Dance Centre and work for an agency through which I choreograph for reality TV shows.

T battles Mekhola at Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Finals

© Vaqaas Mansuri | Focus Sports

How many dance styles do you practice? You seem to have animation and waving ingrained in your hip-hop dance.

I’ve actually never counted all the dance styles I know. But I know at least five distinct styles in terms of footwork. I know funk, techno, Chicago footwork, boogaloo, and toprock. The important thing for me is not about identifying the exact styles but knowing how to tackle or dodge styles when needed. For example, if I’m battling a classical dancer, and they throwdown some classical moves, I won’t try to tackle that because I have not studied Indian classical dance styles. So in that case I want to be able to identify dance styles so I can choose to tackle them and answer their move with my own, if I know the style. Or I will dodge if it is not part of my style.

You’ve spoken about creating your own unique style with Indian flavour. Could you elaborate?

Yeah, I mix things into my hip-hop dance. I take my own approach. I’ve added bhangra steps to my dance on occasion, and I’ve also borrowed from our Nepali cultural dance, Maruni.

Two-time Red Bull Dance Your Style India Champion Nepo also comes from Nepali heritage. Do you know him well?

I’ve known Nepo for a very long time. Yes, we both have families that moved from Nepal many decades ago and settled in the mountains in India. I’ve met Nepo at many hip-hop jams across India. In fact, I know most of the people in India’s hip-hop dance community; all of us meet often at different jams around the country.

You’ve changed your dancer name a few times. Why is that?

We are all evolving, right? As people we are constantly evolving and as a dancer I am evolving as well. I’ve always had this concept in mind that I have to evolve as I grow. In 2024, I wear something different from what I wore in 2019, and something different from what I wore in 2017 or 2015. Basically everything must keep changing, and so I changed my name also. What I am now, is just the letter ‘T’. As a concept, it is about minimalism. It is about not saying too much and letting my dance speak for me. It is also about being mysterious so people don’t know anything about me before I step on the stage or dancefloor. Right now, ‘T’ is enough as an introduction.

Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Champion T

© Ali Bharmal | Focus Sports

Most dancers represent a crew or their city. What about you?

I am representing my mom and dad. That is the most important thing to me. In all walks of life I am representing them first. Just before they announced me as the winner of Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Finals, I had put my head down and quietly said, “Thank you, mom and dad. And thank you god for this opportunity, no matter the result.” So that is who I represent first.

You compete in dance, teach, and do choreography. What other aspects of dance are you involved in?

I just try to go with the flow honestly. Dance is a lifestyle for me, so I just try to live in dance as much as possible. I’d like to start my own clothing label in future, because that is an extension of dance culture. For now, I just want to be a mover and float with the rhythm of life.

You said you like to be a mover. What other movements or activities do you practice apart from dance?

I’m a football player and a mixed martial artist – I have a black belt in MMA. In fact, I have a prominent scare near my left eye which is from MMA – I had been punched during a bout and was in a coma for three days. My father was in the Indian army, and so he values discipline a lot. Initially he was against me dancing, but when I was injured from MMA, he said he would rather I take up dancing and leave MMA so I don’t get hurt anymore.

T battles Sameer at Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Finals

© Ali Bharmal | Focus Sports

What does it mean to you to be Red Bull Dance Your Style India Champion?

It means the world to me. I didn’t register for the first few minutes that I had actually won. It is only now, after talking to people about it, that it has settled in. I want to celebrate this! I might be celebrating for a whole week. I honestly put so much preparation into this; I really feel like I deserved to win. I had been training hardcore for 15 days leading up to Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Finals. In fact, I didn’t take up any work for two weeks (most of my work is freelance). No competitions, no gigs, no earnings for two weeks. I practiced for 16 hours a day for 15 days leading up to the competition. Just dance-and-sleep, dance-and-sleep – all day for 15 days.

What are the next steps for you after this victory?

How do you feel about representing India at the Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 World Finals?

It is incredible. I love that it is happening in India. I’ve won the competition and get to represent on my home turf. And that too, the city that I now call home, where I moved to pursue a full-time dance career. I need to make the most of this opportunity and do my best.

Red Bull Dance Your Style 2024 India Champion T

© Vaqaas Mansuri | Focus Sports

What are your goals for your career?

I have two main goals: 1) Win Summer Dance Forever, 2) Get signed as a Red Bull Dancer, like Stalamuerte and Diablo. I also want to contribute to the dance community in Darjeeling by organising a jam sometime this year. I want to do it in December 2024 because winters in the mountains are amazing.


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