Breakdancer Sunny Choi portrait - Photo by Little Shao.

Lightning Round with….B-girl Sunny Choi

Release Date: May 8, 2024

At the end of our interviews, we like to put our guests through a “lightning round” (it’s never lightning) of questions. With breaking being the theme of the week, we’re sharing our lightning round with TKFLASTANI Sunny Choi, which we recorded in August 2023 This interview has been edited for clarity.

Jill: What is your first memory of the Olympics from when you were a kid?

Sunny Choi: I don’t remember it, but the ‘92 Olympics is why I saw the gymnastics. What I really remember was the ‘96 Olympics that women’s gymnastics team,  who I think a lot of us wanna remember, is like seared into my memory.

Alison: Did you wanna be Kim Zmeskal? Because lately we’ve had a lot of discussion of Kim Zmeskal when you’re talking about ‘92,

Sunny Choi: So ‘92 I was only three. And so I was too young. I don’t even remember who that was. Apparently, I like bugged my mom for a month nonstop ’cause I wanted to do gymnastics and win Olympic gold.

I was a very specific child. I wanted to win Olympic gold and so that’s why she put me in. But I don’t remember anything of that. I remember the ‘96 and the gymnast that was my favorite was Dominique Moceanu because she was the youngest on the team, and I was always the youngest in my group at the gym. And so, in a young girl’s head, like that’s enough to connect over.

Jill: Breakin or Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Sunny Choi: Wait, what? Oh. Oh.

Alison: See, now you’re showing your age, Jill!

Jill: I’m worried about this question, but even my husband’s like, you know what? You have to ask. I’m like, it’s in the lightning round. This is very much a question of our generation. My generation.

Sunny Choi: I don’t think I’ve seen Breakin’ 2. I’ve seen Breakin’. I’m a terrible human. Don’t tell anyone. [laughs]

Alison: Well, you have a lot of airplane rides in your future, Sunny. So I think that’ll be on your iPad.

Sunny Choi: Yeah, I’ll download it. Check for my next one.

Jill: Okay, well, well then, okay, so what’s it like breaking on like cardboard versus—

Sunny Choi: It’s terrible.

Jill: Is it?

Sunny Choi: Cardboard is awful. Well, because it like rips up too as you start dancing and it’s like, it just the way that it spins and it’s just, it’s awful to dance on. Plus it moves unless you have plenty of duct tape to keep it down.

Jill: Yeah. That’s good to know.

Sunny Choi: Yeah. Would never dance on it by choice. I would probably prefer concrete over cardboard.

Jill: Okay. What, what kind of floor did they have at World Games? ‘Cause I assume it would be similar. What kind do they have in competition?

Sunny Choi: Usually it’s like this kind of vinyl covering and there will be a big sticker in the middle of it. Sometimes it’s a sprung floor.

Most of the times it feels like there’s some give to it. Some of them a little bit more than others. I feel like they’re still figuring out what the vinyl flooring is gonna be, but it’s usually relatively consistent.

Jill: But that’s so interesting. Yeah. I mean, it’s so interesting to see the sport evolve.

Sunny Choi: Yeah. I would say like from what we normally dance on, what we’re dancing on now is much more uniform because like, we’ll show up to events and you just, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. And sometimes it’s like a wobbly stage. Sometimes it’s gonna be linoleum on top of concrete.

Sometimes it’s just like marble inside a building, which is like, honestly it’s smooth. So the texture is nice, but it’s hard. So if you mess up and you smack anything on that floor, you are gonna be in pain. So, I mean, we’re used to quite a wide variety. So this is actually like pretty nice to have a relatively consistent floor.

Jill: What is your favorite training exercise?

Sunny Choi: This is not a lightning round. I can’t answer that quickly. I have no idea.

Jill: That’s fine. Hey, this is why we, it’s not really a lightning round,

Sunny Choi: In breaking. I think one of my favorite things to train, like, like numbers wise is probably flares, which, you would know  what that is if you watch gymnastics. Men do that on the pommel horse, also sometimes on the floor.

I don’t really know in terms of like working out what my favorite workout is. I mean, I like to just like, I like things that I feel like I’m dying when I’m doing, [laughs] so there’s a lot.

Jill: Is breaking a sport where you can push yourself so much that you throw up?

Sunny Choi: Oh yeah. A hundred percent. It happens a lot. Because it’s a mixture of like physical high intensity and then also it’s like you’re sprinting. I mean, that’s kind of the way that we train is we train like somebody who’s gonna be doing short sprints or like a fighter, because it’s so much intensity for a short period of time, you get a very, very short break and then you have to do it again.

And so if you choose to go a little bit longer because the competitor does kind of a long round or does something very difficult, you definitely run the risk of just like fatiguing yourself. I wasn’t there, but my brother was watching a battle. He had come to support and the guy finished the final battle and then ran straight to go throw up in the trash can right after.

Alison: What are you thinking if you’re spinning that fast?

Sunny Choi: Well, the spinning, there’s not that many movements where you’re spinning so much where you end up being dizzy out of it. ’cause a few rotations, you know, we’re used to it and we don’t get dizzy. But it’s really actually the physical exertion which can cause, cause that.

Jill: if you could be an Olympian in any sport besides any of the gymnastics…

Sunny Choi: Oh, no. What would it be besides gymnastics and breaking?

Jill: Besides gymnastics? Besides breaking, Well, we’re taking trampoline off, I’m taking rhythmic out.

Sunny Choi: Either figure skating or diving.

Alison: I see a genre forming.

Sunny Choi: Yeah, I mean they all kind of have some things that are similar for sure. When I was little, actually, I really liked figure skating. So one of my pictures that my mom has saved, I had the Olympic rings and then, surprisingly, I’m not a gymnast, but I’m a figure skater in the picture. I went through like a Michelle Kwan phase where I was like super fun.

Jill: Oh, as you would.

Jill: What’s your favorite souvenir from the World Games besides your medal?

Sunny Choi: I dunno that I walked away with too many souvenirs from the World Games, although it’s not a souvenir. But I actually made like a very personal social post around the time of the World Games where I kind of like basically publicly announced that I was gonna go for the Olympics. Where up to that point I had been very wishy-washy.

So sometimes I actually look back at that and it’s like brings me back memories of being at the World Games. Looking at my phone crying as I’m posting this thing. But yeah, that was actually really meaningful to me because I had for so long rolled over the idea of going to the Olympics. But again, me being so good at getting in my way, I was like, but there’s so many reasons why I don’t wanna do this.

And then I finally kind of decided like, all right, this is what I’ve always dreamed of. Why am I getting in my way? And so I publicly posted, this is what I’m gonna do, and I’m not turning back.

Jill: How did that feel after hitting post?

Sunny Choi: I think I was crying as I was writing it, and then I cried a little bit after I posted it.

But honestly, it was crying ’cause I finally was allowing myself to do something that I truly wanted and was finally allowing myself to do it. I think there was a bit of kind of relief and a lot of unknown and fear, but it felt a hundred percent right. Like I knew this is what I was meant to do.

I was just delaying that decision for a really long time, but it just felt so right at the time. And I mean, it still does, but yeah, it just took me a long time to get there.

Jill: A year later. How have you evolved since then?

Sunny Choi: I feel like I’ve grown personally so much over the last year, so much more than I have in any given year of my life.

It’s really interesting. I’m in a very different place today than I was then, and I’m much happier. I’m not super stressed out at work every single day anymore, and I’m doing something that I love to do and I have hopes of opening up like a community center dance studio, you know, some sort of center for youth after the Olympics, and that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

So it just feels really good to finally be doing things that I am really passionate about.

Jill: How has that manifested itself in your dancing?

Sunny Choi: I want to say that I, you know what? No, I do feel much lighter when I’m breaking. Yeah. I feel lighter just every day as I’m moving through my life, which is less stress, less in my head.

I actually have space for my friends. I have more space for my family. I have more space for the things that I love in life. And so that’s kind of just, it all feeds into itself, right? And so I just feel lighter, less burdened, much happier today.