Forget ice skating. Breakdancing is the coolest new Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee in Dec 2020 officially announced it will add breakdancing to the Games under the name breaking. Breaking, of course, is a style of hip-hop dance that includes footwork and athletic moves like back or head spins. The dancers, often called b-boys or b-girls, will be able to compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. And here to talk about it is professional hip-hop dancer and breaker Raphael Xavier. Welcome to the program.
The story of breaking’s meteoric rise to the Olympic stage — involved an unlikely and reluctant partnership between street-savvy breakers and traditional ballroom dancers, an evolution of an urban art form into a competitive endeavor and a lightning-fast education campaign to sell Olympic officials and a curious sporting public that breakers are very much athletes.
“Most of us knew that this could be big one day. We just didn’t really know how it would happen,” said veteran b-boy Moises Rivas, who dances under the name “Moy.” “But it has always had a path. We just had to deal with the misconceptions, negative connotations and people who didn’t always want to give it the credibility it deserves.”
Born in the South Bronx nearly 50 years ago, breaking long ago had spread across the world and become far more nuanced than what was commercialized by 1980s pop culture and mass media. By 2010, there were independent competitions around the world and veteran instructors operating in most major cities. Breaking was still an activity that could be done by tossing a piece of cardboard on a sidewalk and letting the music take hold, but for many, it had graduated from the sidewalks to dance studios.
In other large cities, from Los Angeles to Miami, there were parallel efforts to grow the sport but little coordination. Steve Graham had dabbled in breaking in college in the early 1980s. He worked on Wall Street and then established a successful private equity firm in Philadelphia. He gravitated back to breaking in his 50s, dancing alongside his children. He saw the potential for growth. The dance wasn’t just a form of expression; competition was baked into it with fierce dance battles between b-boys and b-girls.
He ran a popular competition in Philadelphia and established a Pro Breaking Tour and a nonprofit membership organization called Urban Dance & Educational Foundation with a vision of drawing together the fragmented breaking world. Many of the competitions were spectacles, drawing large crowds with elaborate lights and window-rattling beats, but the sport was driven by independent event promoters without any movement trained on the Olympics.
During the Paris 2024 Olympics, there will be separate competitions for men and women, where the best 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls of the world will face off in solo battles.
And undoubtedly, we will get to see the new generation of Olympic stars arise in Paris from a movement that started half a century ago in New York.
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