Olympic breaking hopefuls are getting ready for the Paris 2024 spotlight, taking on a decidedly athletic approach to an event that straddles the line between sport and art form.
Known among the uninitiated as “breakdancing” — a term roundly rejected by its practitioners — breaking blends artistry and dance with acrobatic moves and was announced as part of the Paris programme in late 2020.
Breaker El Nino grew up in show-business, going on tour with rapper Missy Elliott when he was 13 years old and appearing on late-night television talk shows.
But a potential ticket to Paris is an entirely different matter for him.
“The Olympics, it just feels a lot more serious,” said the now 32-year-old breaker, whose given name is Alexander Raimon Diaz.
“I always thought that we had the potential to be as big as to be on a platform like the Olympics… I can’t say that I knew that that would ever happen.”
A fundamental divide remains between the old guard and the new generation over whether breaking could maintain its roots as an art form while joining the ranks of elite Olympic sport.
Diaz once thought that rift would disqualify his craft from being included in the Games.
“I always felt like we’re on the same level as athletes who are in the Olympics,” he said.
“A big part of it is just like this new generation of dancers. They want to push it forward, they don’t care about it being called a sport.”
Diaz travelled to the United States Olympic and Paralympic (USOPC) camp in Colorado Springs earlier this year, where he worked with a nutritionist, a strength and conditioning coach and a mental health coach.
“There’s definitely a level of pressure there,” said Diaz. “Just trying to remain calm. Trust the process. Trust your coaches. Trust your training.”
Fellow American Victor Montalvo will have to fine tune his style like any other Olympic hopeful and anticipates that showmanship and power moves — explosive displays such as spins — will be particularly valuable.
He expects to compete in next month’s World Championship in Belgium, where he could potentially book his spot for the Games next July and August.
The world championship bronze medallist did not particularly care about the Olympics early in his career, telling Reuters, “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just a gold medal, whatever, and you’re forgotten after that’.”
But having breaking included in the 2024 programme provided new motivation after nearly two decades of performing that saw him claim the Red Bull BC One championship in 2022 and 2015.
“I feel like in my breaking career, I reached a plateau. It’s like, what now? It just got boring,” said the 29-year-old Montalvo, who served as a judge in Saturday’s Red Bull BC One Cypher East.
“And now that the Olympics is coming up, it’s like, okay, so I feel like that’s the last one I need to get before I retire.”