Breakdance emerged as an art form in the 1970s in the deprived areas of New York. Now breaking – as the dancers themselves call it – is a sport that will make its Olympic debut next year. And that creates a split.
The specially built stadium in the ice-cold Central Market Hall was still virtually empty at the end of the afternoon on Saturday. A few hours before the finals of the Amsterdam Breaking Championships, the official NK breakdance, almost everyone is on or around the three square dance floors just in front of the arena.
These so-called cyphers form the basis of breaking, the dance style that was born fifty years ago in American hip-hip culture. A cypher was disorganized, spontaneous, free, and could take place anywhere. Dancers took turns showing off their best steps to the rhythm of hip-hop beats.
“Breaking comes from pure creativity,” says Dutch national coach Tyrone van der Meer. “That makes it very accessible. You don’t have to know a set of rules to participate. And you can immediately add a lot as an individual, because there are no fixed moves. You can do something new every time and you determine the competition format. yourself.”
That freedom seems difficult to reconcile with an Olympic sport. Yet breaking is on the program at the Paris Games next year. To achieve this, quite a few rules had to be laid down, such as a thorough jury system and fixed competition formats. And that didn’t go down well with all the breakers.
“Not everyone is excited,” Van der Meer acknowledges. “There is fear that the spontaneity will disappear from breaking. That is the split we are in as a sport. Perhaps we became Olympic ten years too early. At the same time, I have noticed in the past year and a half how much more attention there is for breaking due to the Games And that is of course very positive.”
One of the ‘cyphers’ at the National Championship breaking. Photo: NU.nl/Daan de Ridder
Jurors no longer vote with signs or their hands
During the final rounds of the National Championships, seven jury members sit on a stage in front of the DJ. After each one-on-one duel – called a ‘battle’ by breakers – they declare their winner. The results then appear on the two large TV screens in the stadium in the Central Market Hall.
That doesn’t seem crazy, but it is very progressive for breaking. “Three years ago, no one wanted an electronic jury system,” says Van der Meer with a smile. “Judging was always done via boards or simply with hands and feet.”
A well-founded jury system is mandatory at the Games, so breaking had to move with the times. It is not the only change that Olympic status has brought about. “After a battle, I have to pee in a cup under the eyes of someone from doping control,” says Menno van Gorp. “And I now wear a bright orange suit at events.”
The 34-year-old Rotterdam resident is happy to do so. He is the record holder with three world titles (2014, 2017 and 2019) and hopes to be able to write a golden final chapter of his career in Paris next year. “I am very happy that I can still experience this Olympic adventure at the end of my career.”
Van Gorp is aware of the negative voices from his sport about the Games. “But you will always have people who are against it. That is certainly not a majority. As far as I am concerned, the Games are a nice addition to what we already have. In addition, Olympic status also opens doors for new sponsorship deals, which is very advantageous for us You can already see that more breakers see the opportunity to, like me, pursue this sport full-time until the age of 34 or 35.”
India Sardjoe (left) is already certain of the Games. Menno van Gorp (middle) also hopes to go to Paris. Photo: ANP
Breaking will no longer be an Olympic event in 2028
That bright future perspective suffered a serious blow two months ago. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced at a conference in India that breaking will disappear from the Olympic program in 2028 at the Los Angeles Games. Cricket, baseball/softball, flag football, lacrosse and squash were favored by the American organizing committee.
“I think it’s a shame that they didn’t even give us the chance to show how breaking is at the Games,” says Van Gorp. “I believe it is also a very fun discipline for outsiders to watch. There is a real competitive element to breaking, which makes it very compelling. But unfortunately we have been pushed aside for the dollars of baseball, football and lacrosse. “
Van der Meer calls the cancellation of breaking for LA 2028 “a lack of vision on the part of the Americans”. At the same time, the national coach also knows that his sport can simply return again in 2032 (Brisbane) due to the new IOC rules.
“I have no doubt that the IOC will continue to look for ways to keep the Games interesting for a young audience,” says Van der Meer. “We are grateful that we can show ourselves in Paris next year, that is a great opportunity.”
What is breakdancing?
Breakdance is a dance style from New York. The dance is known for different types of movements called moves. The movements are divided into top rock (dancing while standing), power moves (dancing from a crouched position) and freezes (poses). Breakdancers, who are called b-girls or b-boys, all have their own style, originality and expression. Breakers participate in battles, where two dancers compete against each other. A jury decides who the winner is. You are not allowed to repeat moves in battles. The breakdancers have no choreography, but respond emotionally to the music.