Olympic Breakdancing: Honoring Its Cultural Origins
Break dancing hit the Olympic scene at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018. Now, it has a spot in the sports lineup for the Paris 2024 Olympics. It will join surfing, skateboarding, and sport climbing, according to the official Olympics website.
Break dancing is a style of dance believed to have its origins in the United States during the 1970s. It’s thought to have emerged from vibrant block parties in the Bronx, New York. Its acrobatic movements and stylized footwork characterize it. Breakdancing has had a significant impact as an integral part of hip-hop culture. For instance, in France, more than one million people actively participate in breakdancing. There are approximately 11 international breakdancing events and 560 national breakdancing competitions held each year in the country. In China, breakdancing is considered a form of street dance. In 2013, the China Hip Hop Union Committee (CHUC) was established by the Chinese Dancers Association. This contributed to the recognition of breakdancing within the professional dance community and receiving support from the government.
How Will Break Dancing in the Olympics Work?
To qualify for the 2024 Olympics, dancers must perform well or win events sanctioned by the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF). They do this by accumulating the necessary points for eligibility in the Paris Games. The upcoming World Breaking Championship is scheduled for this weekend in Leuven, Belgium, located just outside Brussels. The top-performing b-boy and b-girl from this championship will automatically earn spots in the Olympics. Following the event in Belgium, Olympic-qualifying competitions are slated in China and Chile, running through mid-December. Further Olympic trials are planned in the early months of the following year, continuing until June 2024. Sixteen b-boys and 16 b-girls will be selected to compete over two days at the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
According to The Associated Press, previous judging in hip-hop-breaking competitions has been perceived as subjective. However, for the Paris Olympics, officials will employ a newly developed system to determine the winner in one-on-one battles. The Trivium judging system, as described by the WDSF, is a digital scoring platform that allows judges to evaluate breakers in real-time. They consider the dancer’s physical abilities, artistic expression, and interpretive skills. A panel of five judges will assess each breaker based on creativity, personality, technique, variety, performance, and musicality criteria.
Additionally, scores may be adjusted during the battle, depending on how breakers respond to their opponents. Scores may be penalized if a breaker copies moves from their opponent, a practice known as “biting.” Misconduct, such as intentional physical contact or unsportsmanlike behavior, can also result in score deductions.
The Potential Impact on the Breaking Culture.
Three years ago, when it was announced that breaking would be an official Olympic sport, it evoked mixed reactions. Some people were enthusiastic about the dance form gaining exposure to a wider audience. There were others who expressed concerns about preserving its authenticity. In an interview with NPR, Raphael Xavier, a professor specializing in hip-hop dance history at Princeton and a professional breakdancer, expressed reservations. He discussed the possibility that the origins of breaking, rooted in the contributions of Black and Latino communities, might undergo a transformation. He said that the Olympics could potentially transform it into a more exclusive or “highbrow” thing.
During the Paris 2024 Games, the breaking competition will feature two distinct events, one for men and another for women. In these events, 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls will engage in solo battles. Athletes will demonstrate their abilities by performing various power moves, including windmills, the 6-step, and freezes. They will adapt their moves and improvise to the DJ’s music to secure the judges’ votes.