Forward: This article was originally published by USA Dance as they publicly announced partnership with USA Breakin. The partnership is working to pave the way towards a sanctioned "Dancesport," in order for USA to have representation in international athletic competitions that include Breakin', such as the 2024 Olympics in Paris. It is my honor to have been selected as a member of the USA Breakin committee. While I've always been in favor of Breakin as an cultural art form rather than a sport, I recognized the inevitability of this evolution and want to ensure the culture is represented even as it is presented in athletic forums. It is also my intention to balance my efforts personally and focus on throwing party/cypher jams rather than competitions outside of my involvement with USA Breakin. In today's world nothing is binary and whether Breakin is an art or sport is not black or white. It is not my goal to define it as one or the other, but rather to make sure the legacy and history is honored no matter the platform it is presented on. Check it out!
This year, Hip Hop celebrated its’ 46th birthday. It was born in project housing at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, New York City, when a DJ named Kool Herc threw a “back to school” party. A culture does not simply appear in an instant. The elements of Hip Hop existed in some form or other before August 11th, 1973. However, Hip Hop historians point to this party as the moment the elements (Djing, Graffiti, MCing, and Breakin) unified to create what we now know as Hip Hop.
What is Hip Hop? As American as Jazz or apple pie, it is a cultural movement that evolved from the Afro-Carribbean diaspora. From the same slang term embraced by the “hippies” of a generation previous, “hip” means to know, to be conscious or highly aware. Hop is a movement both literally and metaphorically in terms of socio political change. The Hip Hop cultural movement gave inner city youth from underprivileged communities an outlet to express frustration and focus their energy on something positive. It became a street culture ebraced by youth as an alternative to the gangs and crime that were, and are, prevalent in their neighborhoods.
Breakin appealed to many young boys and some girls. It was highly athletic and encouraged aggression and confrontation without physical violence. The “break” was the part of the record that would become Hip Hop music. A DJ would loop the same part of a song by putting identical records on each turntable. Cueing the break on each record, the DJ would manually rewind one record back to the ‘break’ while the other turntable was playing then switch turntables in rhythm with the cross fader to let the break continue. Kool Herc called this continuous rewinding and switching, “the merry go round.” It allowed a DJ to take 20 or 30 seconds of a song and extend it for as long he desired. This encouraged the Breakers to form circles, called “cyphers,” and take turns showing their moves.
Breakin derives from the “break.” A Bboy is a Break Boy, a Bgirl a Break Girl or a boy or girl who dances to the “break.” However, Breakin has other important meanings. To “break” also signified the desire to break loose from the hardships of day to day, to break loose from struggles of growing up in underserved neighborhoods, to break down barriers between gangs and inner city rivals. Breakin was an energetic release of the tension felt by urban youth and physical movement that showed off physical prowess and discipline.
Fast forward 46 years to today. Breakin has gone through many ups and downs. During the early 80’s, Rock Steady Crew were featured in the blockbuster hit “Flashdance” and toured the globe. Breakin was in the 1984 Olympic opening ceremonies in Los Angeles. The dance and Hip Hop culture took root internationally. However, by the early 90’s Breakin had gone underground. Much of America considered the dance nothing more than a fad from the 80’s. Breakin became a tiny microcosm of youth counter culture in America. But during this time period, several large events such as Bboy Summit, Bboy Pro Am and Freestyle Sessions were formed and the annual events kept a small group of dancers motivated to keep evolving.
Internationally, Breakin grew strong in Europe and Asia. An event called Battle of the Year began hosting qualifying regional events throughout the world and brought national teams to Germany to crown World Champions. By the 2000’s, Breakin was a worldwide cultural phenomena and many countries outside of the USA were becoming powerhouses in the dance, such as Japan, South Korea, France, and Germany. Major sponsors started taking notice and in 2005 Red Bull began hosting an annual 1 vs 1 World Championship known as the Red Bull BC One.
In 2018, the IOC tested the waters and included Breakin in the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is perhaps the most athletic dance form the world has seen. However, to be honest, there is some hesitation internally to call it a “sport.” Many believe dance is art and of course they are not wrong. Albert Einstein once said, “dancers are the athletes of God.” Regardless of internal politics, more and more events are emerging globally that present Breakin in athletic forums. In 2024, Breakin will showcase on the world stage in the Summer Olympics in Paris, France.
This will not replace Breakin as a cultural element of Hip Hop. It will not destroy the love dancers have for Breakin together in cyphers at parties. It will never be one or the other. It will bring the dance to new levels of recognition and open new doors for dancers to build careers. Imagine how many kids will sit in front of televisions and see Breakin in the Olympics and think, “wow, that’s amazing. I want to do that.” Breakin will have to evolve and learn to exist both as art and as sport, dancesport.
Many in the community have seen this coming. In the past decade, a handful of Breakin schools have opened throughout the country. Schools such as BreakFree in Houston, The Beacon in Seattle, District in Las Vegas and many more. These facilities have provided a space for kids to find proper instruction to learn the dance. A young new generation is emerging. As more focus is going towards education and mentorship the need for a sanctioned governing body to provide representation at the national and international level is growing. This is challenging for a dance that is traditionally organized by grassroots community members.
To be a sport, there has to be standardized rules and regulations. There has to be a sanctioned body that governs members and events. Several organizations have made efforts to organize the community. In 2013, The Competitive Breakin League was formed in Washington DC. Antonio Castillo who also opened The Lab Breakin School in 2011, devised a way to present the dance as a sport. With the help of the late Breakin icon, Float of the Incredible Breakers, he created a judging system that gave points to dancers rewarding their skills in the essential elements of the dance. The CBL has grown over the past 6 years and this year a representative from USA Dance attended the National Championship in Washington DC. Upon witnessing the event, USA Dance asked Antonio to help form a USA Dance Breakin Committee.
The USA Breakin was formed in partnership with USA Dance and initial members were democratically voted in. Theses members are all educators and are focused on developing USA Breakin as a platform for young Bboys and Bgirls to represent USA on the international stage. In addition to Tony “Tazk” Castillo, members include the founder of Miami Bboy Academy which opened in 2012, the founder of Bboy Factory in Denver, Colorado which also opened in 2012 and the founder of Xcel Breakin Academy from the legendary Boston crew, Floorlords, which opened earlier this year.
The Breakin Committee is proud of the rich history of Hip Hop culture in the USA. Our mission is to create structure in the United States for Breakin as a competitive sport and develop the foundation for the general population to embrace the art form and its rich culture. We plan to work with the larger Breakin community to develop a platform that will benefit all who participate in the art of Breakin and who have a deep love for the dance.
From the beginning this culture has empowered youth. Today, Breakin is growing faster than ever and the youth are evolving to new heights right before our eyes. Our culture has a beautiful history and we are excited to see it continue to flourish and grow. We hope that the country of its origin remains influential as the dance takes on greater international significance. From a small project housing community room to the Olympic stage, Hip Hop has captured the attention and imagination of the entire world. USA Breakin is honored to continue that legacy.