Home Arts & Culture U.S. Olympic break dancers ready to show off moves and sport’s culture in Paris

U.S. Olympic break dancers ready to show off moves and sport’s culture in Paris

by cashonbank.com
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To longtime break dancers, the sport is so much more than flips and tricks, and it’s that culture that aspiring U.S. Olympians are eager to take to Paris this summer.

While the dance-battle sport is most recognized for the twists and spins that breakers throw down to the beat of a DJ’s music, those close to the sport know it goes well beyond that.

“It’s all about peace, love, unity and having fun,” said Victor Montalvo (B-Boy Victor), who was introduced to the sport by his dad and uncle and has been breaking since the age of 6.

“Also it’s like one of the four elements of hip-hop,” he said, “so we’re trying bring that essence into the Olympics.”

Montalvo is one of four breakers — two men and two women — who will comprise the U.S. Olympic team. So far, only he and Sunny Choi (B-Girl Sunny) have qualified. The final spots will be filled after the Olympic Qualifier Series.

Jeffrey Louis (B-Boy Jeffro), an Olympic hopeful, found breaking through his brother, who learned it in school in place of physical education.

He said he thinks the crowds will feel what Montalvo described, because while there is obviously dancing involved, the DJ, the MC and the crowd are major components of the dance battles, too.

The DJs for the Paris Games have not yet been announced — and probably won’t be until July — but they, along with the MC, play a huge role in breaking, switching up tracks and interacting with crowds in real time to keep the party going.

Breaking is “something that everyone can get involved in, in sport,” said Whitney Carter, director of internally managed sports at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “The dancers feed off of you in the crowd. People can be a part of it. It’s good to hoot and holler and do all that stuff.”

What to know about breaking’s Olympic debut

  • In total, 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls will face off in solo dance battles, showing off their best moves for a shot at gold.
  • The dancers will compete on Aug. 9 and 10 at La Concorde, and the first-ever Olympic medals in breaking will be awarded after competition those days.
  • The sport first joined the Olympic system at the Youth Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2018. Its success there helped usher it onto the path to Paris.
  • Breaking is in part an attempt to reach younger audiences, as is the inclusion of surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing, which were added to the Olympic program for the first time at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

For Choi, bringing breaking to the Olympics is “about bringing all of our communities, all of our backgrounds, all of this history with us to the stage.”

It’s also about “celebrating individuality,” she said, adding that she just wants “to go out there and show the world who I am.”

“There’s something about breaking that you just connect,” Choi said, explaining the feeling of the sport. “You see someone, you’re like, ‘Oh, like, I feel this person.’ I can tell who you are just by watching.”

Choi, who grew up as a gymnast, didn’t jump into the world of breaking until she was in college, when she stumbled on a group of dancers on campus who invited her to join.

But it wasn’t until January 2023 that it became Olympic-serious for Choi. At that point, it was already announced that breaking would be included in the Paris Games, but she was working a corporate job and wasn’t sure if she wanted to fully dive in.

Eventually, she ditched her career to train for the Olympics full time.

“I was like, ‘Well, when does someone get the second chance to go fulfill their childhood dreams?’” she said.

Breaking after the Olympics

It’s an exciting moment for those enmeshed in breaking’s world and culture because of the opportunities that could come out of a successful showing on the world’s biggest stage.

The sport, which has roots in hip-hop culture, originated at block parties in New York City’s Bronx borough in the 1970s and made it to the mainstream by the 1980s.

Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, a longtime member and current president of the Rock Steady Crew, one of breaking’s original crews, got his start with breaking in the Bronx in 1977 and claims ownership of what are now known as “power moves.”

“The whole concept of what they call power moves started with me,” he said.

Colón believes breaking’s inclusion in the Olympics is “a great thing” and doesn’t want it to be a failure, he said, “because there are a lot of young people who are on that path, and if this gives them some inspiration to do something amazing with themselves and gain the possibility of having greater opportunities, more power to you.”

Colón hopes the Olympics will usher in “those bigger opportunities, those bigger endorsements” the community needs, and “that it eventually supports the culture in a long-term way.”

But Colón expressed concern that that won’t be the case, especially because breaking will not be included in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Right now, it’s only in Paris; and as for Brisbane in 2032? It’s “TBD,” but “probably not,” Carter said.

“This is gonna be pretty much its only shot that we know thus far, as far as the Olympics go,” Carter said.

That’s because L.A. denied the World DanceSport Federation’s bid for breaking to come back to the Games in 2028, which Carter thinks happened because other noncore sports, like flag football and cricket, have stronger bids.

“But there’s still that opportunity and openness” for breaking to appear in a future Olympics, even potentially Brisbane, Carter said, because no final decisions have been made.

Breaking was first proposed to join the Olympics in the early 2000s, but Paris helped it cross the finish line to its first appearance. As the local organizing committee for 2024, Paris bid for breaking specifically because of the city’s huge art and culture scene and the sport’s prominence in the French capital, Carter said. The process started in 2019 with the initial bid, but it wasn’t named an Olympic sport until December 2020.

As for the breakers who could be showing up for their singular chance at Olympic gold, Colón wondered about what awaits them after the Games.

“How do we level them up after, and how do we level up the people who are on the journey and maybe didn’t make it to the Games?” he said. “How do we continue to create situations that maintain their relevance and income?”

His concern about the outcome of the Olympics comes from personal experience. At 58, Colón is no longer break dancing, but he’s had to work hard to find a way to pivot his physical skills into a lasting career.

For Colón, it’s about sustainability — not just preserving the culture and roots of the sport but ensuring the next generation can come up through the community and still be successful when their bodies can no longer support the physicality of break dancing.

Carter said both sides of the conversation are valid.

But “it’s all about how you leverage the platform” of the Olympics, she said, adding that she thinks a new audience for breaking will arise from its exposure at the Games, so new fans can watch breakers on platforms that already exist.

“I think it’s all about what you do with the platform and how you move it forward,” Carter said.

It’s also up to people “to focus on those athletes’ storylines” and “cross-promote coming out of this, like, ‘Hey, they’ve been doing this since even before the Olympics started. Here’s how to continue to follow and watch it,’” she said.

Ultimately, “I think there’s a lot of lessons that breaking can learn from the Olympic space, and I think there’s a lot of spaces the Olympic platform can learn from from breaking,” Carter said.

A major opportunity

To Louis, breaking’s Olympic debut is an “opportunity” especially for awareness of the sport. He said he hopes its showing in Paris opens doors for breakers and that they “can create our own paths.”

Choi echoed Louis, calling this moment a “beautiful opportunity to share with the world this community, this culture,” because “I feel like a lot of people know about [breaking] but don’t really understand and haven’t really seen it.”

“And so to be able to take it to such a big stage and elevate that message” is great, she added.

Choi acknowledged that a lot of breakers come from communities “that haven’t had a lot,” so she’s also hoping this Olympic showing brings opportunities back to those communities, whether that means parents putting their kids into breaking classes or investors and corporate sponsorships coming in to support the sport in some way.

Carter is most excited for people to see breaking for more than just its “entertainment value,” but also “from a sport aspect,” because it’s “one of the most physically and psychologically” challenging sports she’s seen.

“It’s very demanding, but also … it’s super engaging and fun, and I think if presented the right way, everyone’s going to really fall in love with it.”

And spectators are as eager for breaking in the Olympics as the athletes are. Tickets to the event sold out in 24 hours, Carter said, and on the resale market it’s “the hottest ticket.” It was the same for the Olympic Qualifier Series, which features breaking, according to Carter.

No matter what comes of breaking’s Olympic debut, the athletes are eager to show off what the sport is all about, even beyond the dancing, at their first shot on the largest international stage.

As Louis said, “It’s a whole party, and I feel like that’s what breaking is gonna bring to the Olympics.”

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