San Francisco Ballet Dancer Beats Down Mugger in BART Brawl

That's not stage makeup on Ben 'Pupi' Stewart's face...
Mugger wants ballet dancer's iPhone. Gets bloody face instead.

Ben 'Pupi' Stewart, a 5-foot-7, 140-pound dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, was about to become the next victim of an iPhone theft on BART. Instead, Pupi gave the dude a balletic beatdown, grabbed back his phone, and received a round of applause from other passengers on the BART car.

Pupi may be wee, folks, but he is mighty.

While we'll just have to take his word for this anecdote -- which won the ever-energetic dancer $25 at a recent storytelling contest at Cafe Royale in the TL  -- judging from the photo Stewart sent us, it wasn't pretty.

Here's his retelling:  

Before and after the BART rumble

Sometime last year, Stewart went out to Kyoto Sushi on Van Ness with other San Francisco Ballet dancers Diego Cruz and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, and had a couple of beers. Afterwards, Stewart headed back to the Civic Center BART station to take the train home to Oakland. "I remember [Diego] telling me 'Be safe,'" Stewart says. Those words would foreshadow the events to come. 

Stewart left his friends and sat down on the crowded train around 8:30 p.m., holding his iPhone out on the hand-rest while downloading a BART app and listening to music in his headphones. He says he'd just been thinking he was in a vulnerable position: "Someone could easily take this out of my hand." That's exactly what happened: "Four huge guys" strode by, one seized his phone, but the headphones pulled the agile Pupi up, too. 

"I kind of chuckled, like c'mon, give it back. He said, "What!? It's my iPhone, bitch!' If I didn't have alcohol in me I would have probably cringed and cried from how mean he looked at me. I thought, 'If he gets through those double doors, it's gone.'"

But Stewart did have alcohol in him. And he'd been rehearsing West Side Story with the ballet, "so I was in the mode of rumbling on stage." Plus, two of his friends had recently gotten their phones stolen and he wasn't about to be the next.

So Pupi grabbed the mugger's shoulder as the guy spun around to leave.

"He hit me as hard as he could four times, and I just stood there, like dazed. I was like, you just got four free shots and you didn't take me down. And then in a split second I decided I'm going to kill him. He unleashed the beast. I am basically 98-percent muscle, I'm a professional athlete, and all my muscle was on him. I pounced on him like a tiger."

Pupi says the dude was a whole head taller than him. But Stewart had a strategic advantage: He had the guy up against the door to the next car, sealed off from his three friends who'd already passed on to the next train. Stewart attacked -- and not in the balletic West Side Story way. "I couldn't find his body because he had so much clothing on" like a black puffy jacket. "I was trying to gouge his eyes out with my thumb. I hit him really hard in the face and that fazed him and he dropped the phone. He was breathing so hard and looking at me like I was insane. I'm some skinny 5-7 white boy with a dance T-shirt on.

"I didn't feel any pain, my adrenaline was so hopped up, it was pure animal instinct. I was just like, who does he think he is, he has no right to take my iPhone....[Other people on the car] started chanting 'Rocky! Rocky!' and some black guy said 'That was pretty good for a white boy; I thought you were dead meat.'"

The culprit then got away. Stewart sat down with his phone like he was just going home, until someone told him his face looked like hell and he should talk to the police.

When he did, Stewart learned he wasn't the only victim. "The police said they had already taken another girl's iPhone and were just going train to train to train stealing iPhones."

"When I got in the ambulance, I told the EMT I'm in the San Francisco Ballet, and the ambulance driver was like, 'A ballet dancer just kicked that guy's ass?' And he gave me a high five."

Pupi says a BART police detective called him six months later to ID the mugger, who'd been picked up on another charge. But he says since Pupi was really the only witness that could be reached, they didn't charge the guy.

Yes, his body was damaged and he had to take off a week from dancing. "My right calf was completely pulled because I was propping my weight all against him on that one calf. I was limping after that because my body was just so wrecked."

But the best part was that Stewart went down in ballet infamy. "The next day I went in to men's class and everyone stared at me and was like, 'What happened?' I re-enacted it, it was fun. They all think I'm a character anyways so they couldn't believe it was me."

About the Pupi nickname, Stewart says another ballet dancer just started calling him that and it stuck. But after the fight, he says some dancers gave him a new nickname: Super Pupi.
Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly  

My Voice Nation Help

Now Trending

From the Vault


©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.