How Breaking Became An Olympic Sport
Breakdancing has been announced as a new Olympic sport for the 2024 Paris Games.
The inclusion is huge news for BBoys and BGirls around the world but some people, including other professional athletes, aren’t totally convinced on the legitimacy of the sport.
I want to explore how breaking has evolved from a movement to the competitive sport it is today, and what becoming Olympic level really means for the community behind it.
Quick History Of Breakdancing
Breakdancing – or breaking in its correct name – is a sub-culture of hip-hop dancing that emerged in the early 1970s from African American and Puerto Rican neighbourhoods in the Bronx in New York.
It came to life on the streets when hip-hop DJs used to throw block parties and street battles, and it was really a way for disadvantaged kids to be recognised for their skills and break away from gang violence.
From there it was arguably the Rock Steady Crew – easily the most famous crew in the world – who brought breaking to Hollywood, by featuring their moves in movies and even releasing music.
How Breaking Went Pro
But how exactly did breaking become a global competitive sport?
Rachael Gunn: “It exploded in the 1980s and you’ve got all this media attention, that was a key factor in it … instigating all these scenes around the world. Another factor was you know, people travelling and taking these moves and taking this cultural knowledge with them.”
That’s Dr Rachael Gunn or BGirl Raygun, a university lecturer but also Australia’s number one ranked female break dancer.
Some say it was the competitive nature of the dance style, the acrobatics and strength that appealed to athletes.
And once the pioneers started teaching and judging competitions, everything just sort of blew up.
RG: “Organised competitions, particularly internationally, have actually been a really significant part of breaking culture. It’s not like suddenly ‘omg we’re going to have these formalised competitions’ … it’s like, you know we’ve actually already had these for a long time.”
In Australia we have around 400 break dancers with pretty big scenes in Sydney and Melbourne.
The most prestigious breaking competition is the Red Bull Global, which pulled in an audience of more than 17 million people just last year.
But even though breaking is now an Olympic sport, most professional breakers like Rachel still work full-time jobs and have to limit their training to evenings and weekends. At the moment, only top level breakers secure sponsorships that make breaking a viable full-time career.
Even though breaking competitions have been around for decades, there’s actually a huge amount of criteria every sport has to go through before it becomes Olympic official.
Stuff like history, financial status, gender equity, and whether a sport will draw media sponsorship has to be submitted by each national organising committee to the International Olympic Committee. And even if a sport is selected for one Games, there’s no guarantee it will get a permanent spot in the Olympics.
In the last few years, there’s been a real push to include sports that attract younger audiences.
France has more than one million break dancers and surfing, climbing and skateboarding are also widely popular, which kind of explains why they were all pushed to be included in the Paris 2024 program.
What This Means For The Breaking Community
One thing Rachael doesn’t want this new Olympic status to change, is the real sense of community within breaking culture.
RG: “Community is a really important part of breaking culture – that connection to culture, that connection to our pioneers, and to the people who have really nurtured and supported this culture. So we really want to know that that is looked after and respected throughout this process.”
She hopes that any decisions made at international Olympic levels will still involve pioneer and community members so that the cultural movement that started this whole phenomenon isn’t totally lost.
For a lot of breakers, the inclusion of their sport in the Olympics is a chance to gain legitimate support from outside the breaking world and to be recognised as professional athletes at the highest level.
There just needs to be a lot of care taken in championing and protecting breaking’s rich history and cultural roots.