Paris Olympics stamp gets India’s breaking fraternity to shake a leg
Arif Chaudhary was surfing the internet before going to bed on Monday night when an Instagram post on breakdancing clearing the final hurdle for the 2024 Olympics popped up. “I felt, ‘Bhai, jo hone ka tha woh ho gaya (it has finally happened)’,” Chaudhary, aka b-boy Flying Machine, said (dancers are called b-boys or b-girls and always have a stage name).
Breaking—as it will be called at the Paris Games—is the newest sport added to the Olympics roster, and will become the first dance-sport form in it.
With an aim make the Paris Games more urbane and youthful, breaking was drafted as a provisional sport and also featured at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
In the last two years, the dance form that originated in the 1970s in New York and which now enjoys a rich, cult-like cultural following, has taken steps towards streamlining some aspects of it into a sport.
How have Indian breakers reacted?
While the “sport” tag has somewhat divided the global breaking community, with traditionalists fearing it will dilute its artistic nature, top Indian breakers have welcomed the move.
The 23-year-old Chaudhary, who has risen to become India’s most prominent professional breaker from Mumbai’s underground scene, called it a “big win” for his community. Johanna Rodrigues, another preeminent Indian breaker who competes as b-girl Jo, was glad the long-drawn process finally reached its conclusion. “The breaking community has been talking about this Olympic stamp for a few years now and I’m really excited to hear it has come through,” the 23-year-old from Bengaluru said.
What will the format look like?
The Paris Olympics will see 16 b-boys and 16 b-girls compete in one-on-one “battles”, and will be scored by a panel of judges. It is a format already well-known in the breaking community which hosts hundreds of competitions across the world.
At the 2018 YOG, points were awarded on technique and variety as well as interpretative and artistic quality. As for the road to Paris, the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) will finalise a qualification system. Last year, they organised a World Breaking Championship (WBC) that doubled up as a qualification event for the World Urban Games in Hungary.
As the sole Indian at the WBC in Nanjing, Chaudhary could feel the difference between competitive breaking vis-à-vis breaking for fun. “It was like how battles were held earlier. In between, that touch was lost, where events would be like jams held in a small hall or studio. It has now come back but at a larger scale; a legit competition involving timings and points,” he said.
Where does India stand?
Indian breakers regularly compete in private global competitions—most notable among them the Red Bull BC One. At the BC One World Final held in Mumbai last year, Chaudhary—a three-time India champion—was the only finalist from the country, with Rodrigues and Mumbai’s Ramesh Yadav aka b-boy Tornado participating in the qualifying round.
The All India DanceSport Federation is a full member of the WDSF. Sensing the Olympic move, it drafted breaking as a discipline at its 2019 nationals held in Nashik and plans to do the same next year too.
Is four years too less time?
The national federation certainly believes so for the Paris Games, even though it plans to rope in an international breaker as coach for a camp next year. “India doesn’t have an organised set-up for breakdancing yet. It’s difficult to find new talent and groom them in the next 2-3 years. We don’t have time. We’ll have to start from scratch, right from the grassroots,” Mohanty said, while also appealing to budding breakers to get in touch with the federation if they feel they deserve a look in.
India’s current top breakers, however, think otherwise. “I hope the Indian breakers get a fair shot at qualifying for the Olympics. Breaking has been going on for many years already and it’s progressing as it is, with or without the Olympics. I don’t think four years is too short,” Rodrigues said.