There have been times when professional breakdancer Ryan Nebreja thought he would literally break. Known professionally as Rion, Nebreja has had to balance a lot more than his body weight while trying to pull off a head spin on a piece of cardboard. School, work, sleep and a strict diet are all trappings of being a 25-year-old athlete. But when you add pressure from family to find a "real" career, plus a sprained ankle here and a strained oblique there, things can quickly get a little more complicated.
"I wouldn't consider [the stress] a burden," Nebreja says. He pauses to smirk, then corrects himself: "Yeah, I guess it's a burden."
Recently, the Orange resident won Red Bull's West Coast Regional finals in Seattle, which advanced him to the Red Bull BC One breakdancing championship in Las Vegas this weekend. A win at this North American competition would mean the chance for the Cal State Fullerton graduate to compete in the world finals in Paris this fall.
When Nebreja started on the breakdancing scene, he never made it past the prelims in smaller, local competitions. But by changing up his technique and injecting more outgoing showmanship over strict technical prowess, he quickly caught the attention of plenty of veterans on the B-boy circuit. Studying his peers has been the most valuable aspect of his refinement as one of OC's best, he says. He looks to the other seasoned all-stars to see what they're doing to be noticed.
"People know your signature moves," he says. "I have bad eyesight, but I know when a guy does his signature move when I'm watching from way up [in the stands]."
Not only did Nebreja study the moves of his breakdancing older brother, but he also absorbed plenty of skills from the dance crews he has been affiliated with since moving to OC from San Diego. It was here that he was introduced to house music, and he began taking dance workshops to broaden his style. He enrolled in formal dance classes that introduced him to ballet, jazz and tap–art forms that he has incorporated into his repertoire. He cites influences such as Fred Astaire, putting a twist on the legendary boogie man's moves when stepping on the hardwood.
Aside from breaking, Nebreja has decided to break away from his current background in advertising and marketing by pursuing a career in engineering. Of course, he'd rather make a life of flipping, spinning and flying through the air.
As he dreams of snagging his next big title, all the aches, pains and pressures he's gone through still seem worth it. "I've lost a lot of sleep," he says, "but it's just what I know to do."