At 34, Randi “Rascal” Freitas is now having the kind of dance career most only dream of. The breaker pursued an unconventional route to dance that has paid off: from joining predominantly male breaking crews as often the only queer B-girl to getting smaller gigs that led to bigger ones (such as the Grammys and the Billboard Music Awards, or performing onstage alongside the likes of Justin Timberlake). But Freitas, a Bay Area native, navigated years of self-doubt and trial and error before finding her passion in movement.
“I never considered dance a career...until later in life,” she says over the phone, admitting that the art form was at first an escape from a difficult childhood. “I went through a period of not knowing how to express or share what I was going through.”
Starting out closeted and making her way as a genderfluid woman through a male-dominated scene proved challenging. But Freitas says that coming out and embracing her queerness made her art more seamless. And as a result, she is paving the way for other aspiring queer-identifying, genderfluid breakers everywhere. Today, Freitas sits on an Olympic committee for USA Breaking, where she actively works to create safer, more ethical environments for dancers like her. She is also appearing in a soon-to-be-announced major motion picture.
Freitas is proof that being true to herself and living what she calls a “louder existence” has opened doors to her success.
Below, she opens up about her start as a dancer, her winding, magical path, and giving back to the LGBTQ+ community.
I read that you came from a tough childhood, and that dance was an escape for you. Tell me how you got your start breakdancing in the Bay Area.
I was dancing around the house, and with friends, before I considered myself a dancer. My first escape was music. As you read, it was a tumultuous house and I shut myself in and got lost in the music... It was something about how singers can translate pain into something poetic. At a young age, because I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, my way to do that was dance, and not in a studio. I was really into sports and before soccer games we’d dance together as a team. I never considered dance a career or something to train in until later in life. At first it was just an escape—I went through a period of not knowing how to express or share what I was going through.
When did you realize you could pursue [dance] professionally? When did you start running with a crew?
In college I went to a Roots concert. I saw B-boys in the corner and it was the first time I really saw breaking live. I fell in love with that dance form then, but I started training when I was 24 and thought I could pursue it more formally. As I trained, I booked little gigs here and there and then, when I was 26, I made the jump to move to LA, and that’s when I made the decision to speak into existence that I was pursuing dance. I was trying to appease people for a really long time, and lying to myself. I was training on the side but thought I’d go back to school and find another career. Deep down I knew I didn’t want that, but I thought that’s what family and friends wanted to hear. It took a while to acknowledge that I was an artist.
As a queer, genderfluid woman, I can imagine there aren’t many people like you on the scene. With that in mind, what has it been like for you? How did you forge a community?
At first, even when I was out with my friends, I wasn’t really out and stepping into my queerness in the breaking world. It’s already hard to be a female in that world. Often times, you feel like men’s interest in you is in a sexual way. I often felt like if I came out, the support from B-boys would drop off because the only reason I felt they were supporting was the off-chance of a hook-up down the line. It’s the frustrating truth. Just the way that there is unspoken homophobia in the breaking scene, it wasn’t a comfortable place for me [to be myself]. I would live this out life when I was with my other friends, and it wasn’t that I was lying about it, I just wasn’t living my fullest truth. It took some years and finally just deciding that if I wanted to dance like me and be a full artist, then I really had to own each part of me. Everyone has a different way of living a queer life, but now, mine is naturally a little bit louder. It felt best for me when I really stepped into it and owned it, made jokes about it, brought my girlfriend to shows, and that was a slow process in breaking. In wacking, that world is more accepting—as well as house. In breaking, I had to be so proud of myself to the core that no matter what I was met with, it wouldn’t matter.
Sometimes creating the change you want to see is just about being in the room.
Absolutely! Sometimes B-girls are given this rep for being “overly masculine,” or people assume that they are lesbian. I wanted to step up and say “I’m not B-girling because I’m queer. I’m a B-girl and I am queer.” I’m not trying to say that B-girls are all this way. I was just trying to represent myself as a B-girl and that a huge part of myself is my queerness.
What do you channel when you’re battling? Is there a persona you morph into? What’s the Rascal persona like?
Definitely, I morph into Rascal. That persona is playful, but not too nice, I step into that. It’s a balance of masculine and feminine energy. Battling can be this push for the masculine side, but I think there is such strength in being soft and leaning into your femininity, no matter what form that comes in. We get told as a society that femininity is one thing, but it can be so much more. When I feel most in my femininity and masculinity, I can balance the two.
Was Rascal a name you gave yourself?
My very first crew gave me that name. My very first breaking name was “Subtle.” As my style evolved and I was battling more, people were like, “Ooh, you’re not subtle at all.” She did not fit. [laughs]
Since starting your career, you’ve performed at awards shows like the Grammys and alongside artists like Justin Timberlake—what’s the coolest experiences you’ve had? When did you know you “made it”?
I think I’m currently working on my coolest job. I am on a movie [set] at the moment—that I can’t say much about. But it’s shooting for six months in Boston. It’s been an amazing experience, and it’s my first time on the big screen in that way. Growing up, I was watching movies like “Save the Last Dance” and “You Got Served.”... I got emotional the other night because I was watching “The Greatest Showman” and I was like, “I’m going to be one of those dancers.” I’m currently working on this thing that is going to be something I’ve been inspired by all these years. Not just that, but the work environment itself is incredible—being led by three beautiful, powerful, all-star female choreographers. All three are wonderful Black women. It’s kind of unheard of for all the choreography on a major film to be that makeup. But I’m learning so much and it’s teaching me how I hope to step into that role at some point.
“I’m not B-girling because I’m queer. I’m a B-girl and I am queer.”
Speaking of giving back, I know you teach choreography—what do you love most about teaching?
What’s amazing right now is that I started an online Zoom program. We’re in our twelfth month. This came out of the pandemic and I was teaching some free Instagram Live classes. I asked if anyone wanted a teaching program and I got a great response. Everyone signed up for a month at a time, several classes a week, and I have lots of guest teachers who are female or non-binary. Some of my students have been with me for a year and to see the growth has been incredible—people who didn’t even want to make a submission video or were so nervous to do floorwork are now doing headstands and freezes.
It’s so empowering to watch people notice growth for themselves. And it helps me identify ways that I might be selling myself short, even when I tell my students they can do anything. Giving myself the same grace I give my students who are trusting me so much with their time, their bodies, and their money, is teaching me to live my life as that kind of student. It’s super humbling. It’s been a consistent group that holds me accountable. I didn’t know how to run a program, but it’s this ongoing thing and now I feel like I want to run a studio. It’s grown because of the students in it, not because of just me.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve heard about breakdancing? Perhaps you can speak to this as a B-girl.
I think a huge misconception is that B-girls have been written out of the history. There are steps in breaking that were created by us. Sometimes history will have you think that there have only been men present. Even someone like DJ Kool Herc, he threw a party for his sister, and she was there collecting money at the door! Being a B-girl is not a new thing, they’ve been present since day one. Another misconception is the world in general thinks breaking is tricks and flips but there is so much style, dance, and flavor and more subtleties that go over people’s heads outside of the scene.
In terms of queer visibility across the arts, what is one of the biggest changes you’ve seen take place from when you were growing up to now?
There are people I grew up around who now identify as queer for one thing. In the North Bay where I grew up, nobody was out, nobody talked about it. Now it’s so much freer and open. Even musical artists I love [are] coming out, like Kehlani, who has songs where she’s addressing partners by their feminine pronouns or singing about the experience of queerness, it really speaks to me. Ariana Grande having gender fluid dancers on her tour. It seems so small, but these sorts of things have never been publicized to the mainstream. Madonna’s been making paths for queer people in her own way for a long time. So that much change is huge. I have so much hope for the younger artists coming up now, who can sing, paint, dance or do whatever they want. Soon, it won’t be that queer people have to create a path, it’ll just exist naturally. Soon, others who add to queer culture will also be more aware and respectful of those who came before them. It’s cute to use these words like “tea” and “honey,” but where did that come from?
Looking back, what lessons would you teach your younger self that you wish you knew then?
I think I’d tell myself to be more gentle with myself in the learning process. I moved to LA and didn’t know about headshots and makeup and what to wear to auditions. I got really frustrated with myself very quickly and missed out on a lot of joy. I would tell myself to be gentle as I learned and figure out who I wanted to be in the industry instead of getting caught up with what a girl is supposed to be. I moved to LA late… 26 is late for a dancer. I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself because of that. There’s still so much room for me to work. If I had moved younger and not out yet, I would’ve been a mess, I would’ve been lost. I have watched the crash and burn of those younger than me. I came into the game a lot wiser and stronger in who I am, and I’m grateful for that.