Breaking Ready To Rock Olympic Games Paris 2024 As Newest Sport
By Karen Rosen |
Dec. 16, 2020, 6:10 p.m. (ET)
Sergio Garcia competes in breaking.
And the beat goes on in the Olympic Movement. With the addition of breaking to the Olympic Games Paris 2024, organizers hope to appeal to youth and capitalize on the dance sport’s popular urban vibe.
Sergio Garcia, a 22-year-old b-boy who goes by the name “Zeku,” thinks the whole world will flip over breaking.
“Think about shaking a Coca-Cola bottle and keeping the cap on,” he said, “and when it finally opens, it just explodes. That’s exactly how breaking is going to hit the Olympic stage.”
Born in the Bronx in the 1970s as part of the hip hop culture, breaking – the preferred term over “breakdancing” – will land a coveted spot at the Place de la Concorde in downtown Paris.
“We’re a very tight culture and we roll big and it’s a lot of us,” Garcia said, noting that once more people are exposed to the sport through the Olympics, “everybody is going to realize we’re not just some dancing on a cardboard box. I like to call ourselves artistic athletes. We have to be very artistic, but we also have to be athletic.”
Organizing committees are now allowed to propose sports for their particular Games, with the International Olympic Committee having the final say. Tokyo 2020 chose surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate. Paris 2024 will retain the first three, but recommended breaking, which has quite a following in France, instead of karate.
The IOC also announced that the Paris Olympics will feature gender equality with the same number of male and female competitors for the first time at a Games. Meanwhile, the overall number of athletes will be reduced to 10,500 from the 11,092 slated to compete at Tokyo next summer, with the most drastic cuts in the sports of weightlifting and boxing.
In breaking, there will be two medal events with 16 b-boys and 16 b-girls competing in one-on-one battles with judges deciding the winners.
“I think people need to know that it’s different than any other sport in the Olympics,” said Logan Edra, 17, whose b-girl name is “Logistx.” “It’s not always just head spins and air flares and handstands. It’s a true art form that requires the music and the energy of the people around you to be able to execute and fulfill this dance.”
Some sports fight for years to get on the Olympic program. For example, softball, soccer and women’s weightlifting have been successful, while ballroom dancing has not. Yet it seemed like breaking just waltzed right into the Games.
The movement toward the Olympics started to gain traction when hip hop and breaking competitions appeared at the 2013 World DanceSport Games in Taipei. In 2018, the World Youth Breaking Championship took place in Japan, followed by the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, where about 30,000 people crowded into the venue each day to watch breaking.
More than 150 b-boys and b-girls from 66 countries competed in the 2019 WDSF World Breaking Championships in Nanjing, China.
It’s a true art form that requires the music and the energy of the people around you to be able to execute and fulfill this dance.
Logan Edra, Breaking
Since 2004, the Red Bull BC One competition has featured knockout tournaments for b-boys, with b-girls battling since 2018. The sport has become lucrative enough that after Garcia won the Battle in Shanghai, he was able to purchase a home for his mother.
"I come from a sports background," he said, "so when I started breaking 10 years ago, I saw the physical demands that it had, and I was like, 'I can’t believe this isn’t recognized as a sport.'"
Edra, a native of San Diego who now trains with Garcia in South Florida, started breaking at age 8. She took up gymnastics a couple of years later to strengthen her breaking and saw a path to the Olympics. At age 13, though, Edra was so busy she had to choose between the sports and gave up gymnastics.
“Once I found out the Olympics would be happening for breaking, that made me very excited and even more happy with my decision to pick breaking,” Edra said. “That news was everything to me.”
However, the breaking news also was greeted by some skepticism, particularly from people whose only familiarity with it is through movies like “Breakin’,” “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” and the “Step Up” and “Stomp the Yard” franchises.
“Of course some people are against it, (saying) ‘Oh, it’s not a sport,’” said Antonio Castillo, president of USA Breakin’ and a 39-year-old breaker.
He said people have said to him, “We thought breakdancing faded away in the 1980s.”
“They haven’t really kept up with it,” Castillo said. “For anyone who hasn’t seen it for a while, look it up. We’ve been growing consistently for over 40 years nonstop.”
Events have gotten bigger and schools have opened so breakers can learn from a coach instead of just from each other on the sidewalk.
“I think people will be surprised when they see the level of talent that’s out there,” Castillo said, “the way b-boys and b-girls are doing some of the most difficult things that humans can possibly do.
“We’re modernizing as a society. We want cool things. Breaking is like a futuristic style of art form, where it’s like the ultimate dance move. What else could you do to any song? This is the last thing you could ever think of -- people are standing on their heads, doing amazing moves.”
Castillo estimates that in the United States there are perhaps 10,000-15,000 b-boys and b-girls enrolled in schools, but that doesn’t include the breakers who perform just for fun. “I would say that number is much closer to maybe 30,000,” he said.
Gary Stroick, president of USA Dance, said he hopes breaking opens the door to other dance disciplines entering the Olympic Games.
“Look at the moves and the technique and the quality of the movement, said Stroick, who won 15 national championships as a ballroom dancer. "There’s a lot of physical training, mental training, and nutritional work that you need to become a top athlete.”
Each state has its own breaking scene with b-boys and b-girls often joining crews. Castillo said breaking is an outlet for kids who might not be into traditional sports. They often start at age 5 or 6, just like kids in gymnastics or martial arts, with the top competitors ranging in age from late teens to late 20s.
Breakers must learn power, the momentum-based moves which are the most difficult and include head spins. Top rock is the “up top” dancing that is the first thing people see when a presentation begins.
The other areas are footwork, freezes and transitions. “If you’re an experienced judge or an experienced breaker, you can tell someone’s weakness by the way they do footwork,” Castillo said. “Footwork is about finesse. It’s about making it look crisp and beautiful and elegant.”
The criteria can be head-spinningly complex, with athletes at the Youth Olympic Games judged on creativity, personality, technique, variety, performativity and musicality.
Breaking officials want to make sure judges are certified and the scoring system is clear to spectators.
“The audience has to not only be entertained by it, but be able to understand it,” Castillo said. “It’s something we’ve been working on over the years.”
Like the skateboarding community, breakers consider what they do a lifestyle and not all of them welcome the rules and regulations that come with being part of the Olympic Games.
“People are trying to make sure that regardless of this recognition and, of course, the upcoming Olympics, that the lifestyle/culture of the community is maintained,” said Stroick. “They’re going to be working towards making sure that both can work in harmony.”
USA Breakin’ may have to change its spelling to be in harmony with the IOC, which spells breaking with the final ‘g.’
Castillo said that his organization chose the apostrophe because online searches of breaking turned up “breaking news” or “the sport of competitive breaking where they break boards. When we started using competitive breaking without the ‘g,’ we realized it identifies with us and also it shows motion.’”
As the birthplace of breaking, the United States will be expected to contend for medals at the Paris Games.
“Every breaker that I know wants the first gold medal to be American,” said Ruth Long, the treasurer of USA Breakin’ who has been working behind the scenes for six years to get the sport into the Games. But they do know the competition is tough – from Korea, Japan, China, Russia and Germany. They’re starting to get more and more intense in their training and that’s going to continue because now it’s in the Olympics, there’s that goal to work for.”
Castillo, who is based in the Washington D.C., area, said that his students are suffering because of Covid-19, with no events or indoor classes in person. “We’re stuck on Zoom,” he said. “This has kind of brought the energy down a little bit in our world, but when the IOC announced that breaking was going to the Olympics, it reenergized us and gave us hope.
“There’s already a lot of positive impact from the Olympics.”