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Explained: How breakdancing broke onto the Olympic stage for Paris 2024

Breakdancing at the Olympics: While the old school hasn't stopped rolling its eyes, the regulars on the breaking circuit vouch for this new Olympic discipline's faster, higher and stronger fundamentals.

Written by Shivani Naik , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: December 15, 2020 3:18:30 pm
breakdancing, breakdancing at the olympics, breakdancing olympics, breakdancing paris olympics, 2024 olympics, Indian ExpressCarlos Cruz, a breakdancer, practices at a kiosk in Alameda park, in Mexico City. (AP Photo: Fernando Llano, File)

This was an unprecedented week for the Olympics, with breakdancing included as a medal event for the 2024 Paris Games. As expected, the prospect of seeing B Girls and B Boys — that’s what breakdancers are called — in the company of elite athletes triggered mixed reactions. While the old school hasn’t stopped rolling its eyes, the regulars on the breaking circuit vouch for this new Olympic discipline’s faster, higher and stronger fundamentals.

How did Breaking burst on the Olympic scene?

Around 2016, the idea that Breaking could neatly fit into the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) was floated by the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF). Sensing how dynamic, creative and urban it inherently was, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) drafted it into the YOG to be held at Buenos Aires in 2018, where the first of the ‘Battles’ took place in front of a massively smitten audience. Huge vocal crowds at the venue, and encouraging figures backing the sport from the broadcasting Olympic Channel and social media, helped Breaking leapfrog over several other sports. In December 2018, organisers of the 2024 Paris Games told WDSF they were very receptive in including Breaking provisionally in the Paris Games programme and a full inclusion was announced this December.

What will Breaking roughly look like at Paris?

The likely format at Paris will see 32 breakers (16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls) compete over two days of 1vs1 competitive duels in hip-hop freestyle called ‘Battles’. Preliminaries on Day 1 and Finals on Day 2, similar to the World Urban Games last year, will be judged under the ‘Trivium Value System’.

Six criteria are considered: technique, variety, performativity, musicality, creativity and personality. In duels, two breakers face-off and are judged directly against each other. Dancers typically do not choose their music and are expected to react and adapt to bears in real-time. DJs, an emcee, well-respected judges, and members of the local Breaking community stand encircling the dancefloor as the Battlers go three rounds back and forth between them to the same music.

How does Breaking qualify as a sport, though critics downplay it as a mere ‘cultural artform’?

“There are those who have trouble associating it with a sports competition,” says Jean-Laurent Bourquin, senior advisor World Dance Sport Federation, who helped steer Breaking’s charge for Olympic inclusion. “But in any Breaking performance, there is always an athletic dimension. Breaking features different types of movements, including foot movements performed from a standing position, floor-based moves performed with the body supported on the hands and feet, holding positions and acrobatic performances, all of which require great coordination, strength and endurance. It is definitely a combination of both sport and art,” he said.

BBoys and BGirls who compete professionally are known to lead extremely healthy lifestyles, eat the right foods, undertake extensive workouts for strength training, perfect techniques and put hours into repetitions — never mind the casual, baggy tracks, baseball caps and a chill vibe.

“For me, the most satisfying part of this Olympic journey was seeing some of the doubters do a 180 in Buenos Aires. They went from being sceptical to becoming some of the loudest proponents of Olympic Breaking. That was a pivotal moment,” Borquin said.

Is Breaking similar to gymnastics and figure skating in how it’s judged?

No. In Breaking, nothing is codified and breakers do not receive a number of points for performing a certain move like you have in figure skating, for example. “In a battle, we compare two performances, one of which may be better in terms of pure technique but not in terms of musicality, interpretation, or physical explosiveness. This is why we created the Trivium judging system: it is holistic in that it ensures that physicality (body), artistic ability (mind) and interpretative quality (soul) are all considered in real time by the judges,” explained Borquin. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What is the existing nature of the competitive circuit for Breaking, and what’s the scope of its reach?

The WDSF conducts its own official events though Breaking has a wider reach with cult competitions like Red Bull BC One, Outbreak Europe and the Silverback Open. What started out in the Bronx in the 1970s is now popular worldwide with South Korea, Russia, France and Japan, showing exponential growth in its BBoying and BGirling numbers.

The 32 breakers who qualified for the World Urban Games last September, came from 21 different countries, including Venezuela, Egypt and Bulgaria. The 24 dancers at the Youth Olympic Games represented 18 countries (with nine different countries from three continents winning medals), while 66 countries took part in the 2019 WDSF World Breaking Championship in Nanjing including dancers from Bhutan, Cameroon, El Salvador, India, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Laos and Rwanda.

Why is Breaking’s reach its strongest suit?

In an Olympic first, the WDSF held online video qualifying for the Youth Olympic Games that was open to any breaker around the globe between the ages of 15 and 18 — a requirement to compete in Argentina. Close to 1,000 people submitted one-minute videos of themselves in action, and the best were selected by a panel of judges.

“It was at this stage that we realised how popular Breaking was around the world, with entries coming in from all continents, and a number of countries we perhaps weren’t really expecting, like Nepal, for example. The biggest surprise was the actual skill levels of the young dancers. We realised that Breaking is being practiced in all four corners of the world to a very high standard,” Borquin said.

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