Breakdancing holds firm to its roots but readies for Paris Olympic stage

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Breakdancing is ready to embrace the Olympic spotlight with its Games debut less than two years away, as the pillar of hip-hop culture returned to its roots in New York this weekend.

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The Netherlands’ India Sardjoe and US’ Victor Montalvo were crowned the Red Bull BC One World Final champions on Saturday in a celebration of breaking - as participants prefer to call it - in its New York home, as competitors turn their focus toward Olympic qualifying in 2023.

Paris will mark the culmination of breaking’s long journey from hip-hop’s birthplace at a rec room party in the Bronx 49 years ago to an international phenomenon on sport’s biggest stage.

South Korea’s Jeon Ji-ye, known on stage as “Freshbella,” told Reuters via a translator that she pored over footage of hip-hop’s early years, becoming a scholar of breaking’s humble roots even as she embraces the Olympic platform.

“I just love the breaking culture itself but honestly when it comes to persuading others to really join into the breaking scene, I still don’t really have a concrete answer,” she said.

“I’m of course looking forward to participating in the Paris Olympics.”

Amir Zakirov, one of the world’s top B-Boys, said the Olympic stage offers the chance to show the rest of the world how breaking has flourished in his native Kazakhstan.

“I have plans to win it, of course,” he said. “Because I want to show my breaking for a new generation ... we have a real special scene of breaking in my country.”

Breaking’s inclusion in the Paris Games prompted soul searching among dancers and early pioneers, who questioned whether the art form with deep cultural significance should even be called a sport, when organizers announced it had been added to the Olympic program two years ago.

In the days leading up to the BC One World Final, title sponsor Red Bull made efforts to emphasize breaking’s history, piling reporters and enthusiasts onto a hip-hop history tour through the Bronx.

Tour guides educated the international crowd on the basics of breaking before leading them to the unassuming, linoleum-tiled Sedgwick Avenue room where experts agree hip-hop first sprang onto the scene at a birthday party in 1973.

“People think that this was some big concert or something – no! It’s a little rec room. This place holds about 100 people,” said Grandmaster Caz, a hip-hop pioneer who helped guide the group for Hush Hip Hop Tours.

“That kind of energy can’t be contained in a small place like this forever.”

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