Breaking Is Officially an Olympic Sport

Photo by Leo Vals

USA Today | December 7, 2020 – Breaking — which is the preferred term among its practitioners, rather than “breakdancing” — made its Olympic debut at the 2018 Summer Youth Games in Buenos Aires, and it was provisionally added last summer to the agenda for Paris 2024.

While much of the breaking community has embraced its inclusion at the Olympics, some have expressed concerns — that breaking’s culture is being co-opted, or that its authenticity will get twisted in the transition. There’s a fear that Olympic judges, for example, might come to value technical difficulty over other intangible qualities that make breaking unique, such as passion, and originality.https://a8e3c9b0e5acd606cacf1ac747992db2.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“There’s been quite some controversy inside the scene,” said Logan “Logistx” Edra, a 17-year-old B-girl from San Diego, California. “It’s basically making sure that we preserve the essence and the culture, and that it doesn’t get lost in the competitive grind as we continue to progress and make steps into the Olympics.”

Crazy Legs, now 54, is one of the pioneers of breaking and the president of Rock Steady Crew, one of its iconic groups. He believes it will be important for prominent breakers like himself to work with the IOC and the World DanceSport Federation to ensure the Olympic version of breaking stays true to its roots.

“(It goes) beyond just the moves,” Crazy Legs said. “The passion and the pain that goes with living through struggle — that is the essence of the dance. You want to make sure that the soul of it isn’t diluted.”

‘Painting on the dance floor’

Breaking is most easily categorized as a style of dance, but it more easily lends itself to the realm of sports than other styles because it is inherently competitive.

“Back in the Bronx, when it first started, it was always neighborhoods of kids just battling each other,” said 26-year-old Victor Montalvo, known professionally as B-boy Victor. “That’s how they did it back in the day. Now, it’s big-stage competitions and people flying all over the world, battling the best of the best.”

Though it will be new to the Olympics, breaking has been at the center of international events for more than a decade. Energy drink company Red Bull has hosted an annual breaking competition called Red Bull BC One since 2004; the 2020 iteration of the event took place in Austria late last month.

Breaking competitions typically consist of one-on-one battles, with three rounds apiece. Each battle features alternating bursts of flips, spins, kicks and freezes in which one competitor breaks for about 30 to 45 seconds, and the other responds. A group of three to five judges then pick a winner to advance to the next round.

Victor describes it as a “sport slash art,” combining the physical demands of high-intensity dancing and acrobatics with the creative demands of, say, painting. Some combinations of moves can be practiced, but much of a round is improvised.

“We’re like painting on the dance floor,” Victor said, “and making our own figures and shapes.”

While there is no real Olympic equivalent to breaking, Logistx said it does share some moves, like flares, with gymnastics. She spent several years as both an aspiring gymnast and breaker before deciding more than five years ago to focus on dancing.

“It’s, in my opinion, just as physically-demanding as gymnastics,” Logistx said.

Of course, there are massive differences, too. And that is part of the challenge, as breakers try to introduce their competition to Olympic audiences. Battles are not won by the person who spins on his head 100 times, but by transitions, and expression, and miniscule gestures and moves that the uninitiated might not notice.

“If I have to explain it to you, you’re never going to understand it,” Crazy Legs said, when asked about what distinguishes a top-level breaker. 

“There’s just so many things that make it up, and a lot of people may not get that.”What we learned this week about NFL contenders Scottie Pippen let Michael Jordan know he had issues with ‘The Last Dance’ Re-Rank: LSU continues historic slide down 1-127 ranking Not enough NFL head coaching candidates of color? Here are 20. Breaking heads to the Olympics: Dancers hope culture doesn’t change

‘A greater opportunity’

For young breakers like Logistx and Victor, the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics represents a new opportunity, and a new platform.

“I think it’s amazing, the transition that breaking is going into and how it’s evolving throughout the years,” said Jeremy “Icey Ives” Viray, an Alaska-based B-boy. “It means a greater opportunity to be showcased.”

The Olympics, of course, will bring more visibility to breaking — and bring its top athletes more opportunities. There might also be chances for breakers to earn scholarships, or sponsorships. (Icey Ives, Logistx and Victor are all sponsored by Red Bull.)

For all the concerns that the Olympics might co-opt breaking’s culture, there’s also a hope that it might prompt more people to engage with it, in an authentic way.

“People will get to see how serious breaking is,” said Victor. “Right now, not a lot of people know about breaking. They feel like it’s still stuck in the 70s. There’s some people that think breaking faded away, like it doesn’t exist anymore.”

While there has been backlash among some of the older breakers, who brought the dancing style to prominence in the 1970s and 80s, Crazy Legs views all of this as part of a natural evolution.

For a style of dance that was born out of struggle, his primary focus at this point is to ensure that breakers who come from less fortunate situations “have a lane or a path to be able to have the same opportunities, to put their skills on display at the Olympics.”

“It’s a positive, as long as we don’t forget where we come from and we don’t stop supporting those events that have been presented by us, for us,” Crazy Legs added.

“It’s better for us to be part of the process from the inside as opposed to complaining from the outside, and never having any kind of input or impact.”

When asked about the perception that breaking might not be a sport, Crazy Legs said he doesn’t feel the need to convince people. He doesn’t call it a sport himself. It means too much culturally, he said.

“I think as time goes by,” he continued, “and people get used to understanding what this dance is about, and not look at it as some sort of gymnastic discipline or anything like that, they’ll start to get it.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.