Can we please take a brief moment to acknowledge one of the most impressive examples of athletic expression; breakdancing. Modern day b-girls and b-boys (female and male breakdancers, respectively) have been rocking backspins and windmills on cardboard and linoleum for small crowds for decades, and now have provisionally been given the world stage to show off their moves at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
Breakdancing forms one of the four ‘elements’ of hip hop, along with emceeing, DJing, and graffiti writing. It’s come a long way from the days of Beat Street (a classic hip-hop themed movie from 1984, featuring some of the best breakers at that time). Today’s top b-boys and b-girls exhibit a collection of strength, explosiveness, range of motion, and even impressive cardiovascular conditioning, not seen in any other domain. I can’t think think of another athletic endeavor that demands so much of the human body in all these different realms.
I love breakdancing, so I geeked out a bit when I heard the news about its potential inclusion in the Olympics. I used to ‘break’ in high school. Actually I still attempt to from time-to-time, but the breaking I’m attempting at the odd wedding looks nothing like what the top dancers are pulling off these days. And slowly, but surely, my six-step (one of the more fundamental step patterns a breaker learns early on) has been slowing down every year, making my floor game increasingly painful to watch for the wedding guests. Luckily, I usually don’t hit the floor until late in the evening, sufficiently lubricated with alcohol.
Of course some hip hop purists will tell you modern-day breakdancing isn’t true to its roots, and scoff at the idea of including the dance on the Olympic stage. The reason leveled is that today’s breaking often resembles something closer to a gymnast’s floor routine. Actual dancing, to the breakbeat of a track, often plays second fiddle to power moves (referring to the more explosive, gymnastic-like moves). It’s a generalization, for sure. Yes, you see more and more gymnastic-type movements, but when a dancer does in fact combine those particular skills with ‘traditional’ breaking, you get something truly special. That’s peak breaking in my opinion, and still makes my jaw drop when executed by some dancers.
If you’re curious, I recommend you check out the video below for a taste of what modern day b-boying looks like. If you’re familiar with Red Bull, you know they are among the leaders in producing extreme sport content these days. Unsurprisingly, Red Bull now appears to be heavily involved in the b-boying scene, and puts on some of the larger competitions, like this BC One World Final from last year.
I’m excited to see how breakdancing will be treated at the Olympics. Like many other sports, there is a large subjective component to judging. And to be honest, it doesn’t feel like a sport that really belongs on the boring Olympic stage, but that’s likely the reason it’s now being included (along with other sports that happen to be more popular among younger demographics, like skateboarding).
At the very least, I’m hoping there will be a large segment of Olympic games viewers that will be in awe when they are first exposed to this incredible dance. If we’re lucky, the Olympics won’t suck the cool-factor out of breakdancing, but instead inspire a new generation of b-girls and b-boys to hit the cardboard.