Breaking athlete Sunny Choi mid-breaking move - kind of a side plank with the top leg cocked back and one arm overhead. Photo: Anthony Geathers.

Breakdancing and the Olympics

Release Date: May 7, 2024

Category: Blog | Breaking

Breakdancing, or breaking as it is officially called in Olympic parlance, is making its Olympic debut in Paris next summer and so far we have been pretty confused when we have watched competitions. Commentators have not been great and we have no background in the sport. Don’t worry; we spoke with American 2024 breakdancing Olympian Sunny Choi and breakdancing judge for the Paris 2024 preliminary rounds Ivan ‘Flipz’ Velez to get the lowdown, and toprock, on how to watch.

 

Breakdancing was born on the streets of The Bronx, New York in the 1970s. It is named after breaks in popular music, the instrumental sections of songs that DJs would sample and loop giving dancers a chance to showcase their moves. Breakdancing is often linked with hip-hop music, and the two art forms developed and grew up together. Dance battles were part of the breaking scene from the start, so competitive breakdancing is a natural development.

 

Breakdancing, however, was not the obvious choice of dance discipline to make it to the Olympics. International DanceSport Federation (now called World DanceSport Federation or WDSF) was recognized by the IOC in 1997. It lobbied for ballroom dance to be included in the Summer Games, but Olympic officials at the time were in no mood to add a sport with old-world manners and questionable judging. About 15 years later, WDSF was ready to make another push for inclusion, riding the wave of ballroom popularity spurred by TV shows like Strictly Ballroom and Dancing with the Stars.

 

The IOC had also changed but not in a way helpful to ballroom. Under Thomas Bach, the IOC has focused on urban and youth sports. They are interested in events with low cost of entry, easy access for urban populations, and wide appeal for younger audiences. Ballroom dancing has none of these; breaking has all of them. Add to that the need for no special venue and a low athlete quota and breaking fit all the criteria of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020+5.

 

Breaking debuted at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires to “great success” (at least according to the IOC). The competition included three events: women’s, men’s, and mixed. Dancers from 18 countries qualified for the competitions. Notably, no American dancers made the cut. Oceania declined its continental quota spot in any division. Unlike any other event at the Youth Olympics, the mixed competitions paired dancers from different countries together. Ramu Kawai, known as b-girl Ram, represented Japan and captured the women’s and mixed titles.

 

Paris organizers added to the Olympic program. Breaking will be competed at the Place de Concorde open air sport park, alongside 3×3 basketball, BMX freestyle, and skateboarding.

 

Dancesport has been featured in the World Games since 1997. The World Games is recognized by the IOC and has served in recent years as a launching pad for new sports to reach the Olympic program. At the most recent Summer World Games in Birmingham, AL in 2022, Dancesport hosted competitions in Standard and Latin ballroom dancing, Rock ‘n’ Roll (similiar in style to swing), and Breaking. Americans and Japanese dancers swept the medals in breaking, including Sunny Choi who won silver. Back in 2013, the crowds in Cali, Colombia set a world record for spectators at a DanceSport event when 17,000 flocked to the Cali bullfighting ring on each of the two nights of competition.

 

Given its distinctly American roots, it was surprising that Los Angeles 2028 did not include breaking on its sport program. The organizers for LA28 went it a different direction, choosing all team sports without subjective judging: squash, lacrosse, cricket, flag football and softball/baseball. It seems the Olympic story of breakdancing may be over before it has barely started.

–Alison Brown

Photo credit: Anthony Geathers, courtesy of Sunny Choi