How Breakdancing Evolved Into an Olympic Sport

How Breakdancing Evolved Into an Olympic Sport

by Liam Mauger

With the Olympics debuting breakdancing at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, I decided to look into the competitive history of this popular dance form.

Breakdancing originated in the United States, sometime in the early 1970s. The culture behind breakdancing was pioneered by African American and Puerto Rican youth. Even during its inception, it was considered competitive- in fact, many of the moves being used had inspiration from martial arts and gymnastics.

Breakdancers, also known as b-boys and b-girls, considered their skills as a sport, rather than a dance. In fact, the practice was at first known as b-boying, or break boying, before it was popularized as breakdancing. The “break” aspect of the name was probably in reference to the music genre Break Beating, a genre based around the rapid “breaking” of the instrumental, which fit in with the style of dance. Breakdancing would normally be two people battling each other, with whoever had more skills judged as the victor.

It evolved quickly and was popular by the end of the 70s. Early competitive breakdancing groups rose, such as Salsoul, Zulu Kings, Crazy Commandos, and Star Child La Rock. These early groups, and others like them, often had street battles with each other. The culture, though normally informal, did have sets of rules around competitions. These rules could differ from performance to performance, and there were certainly no league or formal judges at this early stage. In the early 80s, breakdancing began to get more popular, being portrayed in media and the like and turning the street act into a phenomenon.

Fast forward 40 years and breakdancing is still around and stronger than ever. The announcement that it would be considered a sport at the 2024 Olympics may have come as surprising news for some, as it is generally still considered a dance by the average person. However, making the connection to its past makes it more clear how it earned this qualification. It was always competitive and sport-like, with its direct competition between participants, extensive physical and mental training, and rules, though varied, of the battle.

Today, professional breakdancing exists and it has more formal aspects. There are four defined moves that form breaking, which are “toprock”, “downrock”, “power moves”, and “freezes”. These may have existed in the past, but were not specifically named and categorized for competition like they are today.  Most of the aspects of modern-day professional breakdancing were passed down from their original, street variants. The rules are still varied, but there are now officially documented rulesets for different tournaments and professional judges.

Breakdancing is not the only new sport being added to the Olympics- skating, surfboarding, and climbing have all been confirmed for 2024. However, breakdancing probably stands out the most from all of these, being seemingly the least “sport-like”. The showing of breakdancing at the Olympics will most likely help to finally sell the concept of breakdancing being a sport, rather than a dance, as b-boys and girls always intended.

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