With breakdancing set to make its debut at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, local leaders in the scene are expressing mixed feelings.
“If you asked me that in the nineties or the early 2000s, I probably would have said, ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea,’” said LaCouir Yancey, a massage therapist and personal trainer who was a pioneer in Madison’s breakdancing scene in the 1980s and 90s and who has coached breakdancing and organized competitions for many years. Yancey, who performs as BBoy Spirit, said in those early days of competition, there wasn’t enough balance between power moves and the artistic expression of the dance.
“I was like, ‘It’s not ready for the Olympics because we’re still trying to figure out who could win a battle between someone who has great style and great rhythm and great movements and dances better, but there’s a guy who comes in who maybe has more of the gymnastics, acrobatics, and the tumbling and the power move, then the headspin, but can’t really dance as well,’” Yancey said in an interview Tuesday.
LaCouir Yancey, aka BBoy Spirit, in the Honor the Warriors Battle:
“There’s a lot of breakers who are really traditional, really want to keep it more underground, more cultural,” said Aleksey Antipov, who organized regional and state tournaments for several years, as well as national events like Crewsade 2016, held in Milwaukee. “Because when you get all those sports guys coming in and trying to change it, make it more like competition, you’re losing the rawness, it’s not raw anymore. I feel both sides. Sometimes I go to competitions where I really feel the energy, I really feel the vibe. [Other times] when I come to a big stage, you just look so staged and it’s just … you lose this energy or the feeling.”
2012 Wisconsin Wars:
Both Yancey and Antipov, who performs as Yosha, have been and remain plugged into a small but vibrant breakdancing community across the state. Both said the state is home to about 150 young people who would be considered competitive breakers, and many more who participate just for fun and fitness.
Yancey said the scene is very diverse, with many Black and Puerto Rican youth in Milwaukee participating, as well as Black and Asian American dancers elsewhere around the state with “speckles” of white youth also taking part. Anitpov, on the other hand, said as many as 90 percent of the kids who’ve participated in his competitions and clubs have been Hmong.
Despite some misgivings, both see a tremendous opportunity for the sport — or, rather, the art form — in the platform the Olympics provides.
Antipov said more parents are likely to encourage their kids to pursue dance after seeing it performed on the world stage.
“I always talked about it. If people don’t see the future in breaking, parents don’t support it, the kids just lose their motivation and there’s no reason for them breaking,” he said. “It’s one thing you like something, but then how long are you going to keep going and keep doing it, if there is nothing in there?”
As a youth, Yancey parlayed his breaking skills into a career as an All-American gymnast in floor exercise who went on to coach gymnastics at clubs and high schools in Madison.
“I had break dance, windmills, in my routine,” he said. “I would like to put it out there to think I might’ve been the first to do the windmill” in elite gymnastics competition, he added with a laugh.
So for Yancey, there’s a lot of overlap in the skills and athleticism in gymnastics and breakdancing, so to put both on equal terms in international competition makes sense.
“When I got back into breaking, that conversation would always come up because you had gymnasts that were doing movements like flares on the floor exercise and on pommel horse doing Thomas flares,” he said, referring to the maneuver pioneered by legendary American gymnast Kurt Thomas. “But then we as breakers learned how to do flares by just figuring out how to do it.”
That said, he still hesitates to call breaking a “sport,” and feels it should be judged accordingly.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a sport. It wasn’t a sport when we were doing it back in the day. It was a culture,” he said. (The same could be said of two other sports set to make their Olympic debut: skateboarding and surfing.) “It’s got to be judged by the pioneers who know the foundations, who know the movements and the nuances. Otherwise it’s going to get swallowed up into head spins and air flares and those sorts of things, again, without the essence of the actual it being a dance,” Yancey said.
As long as it’s held up and judged on that basis, Yancey is excited for the form to be featured on the Olympic stage.
“This is mind blowing,” he said. “We’ve come from the street to the Olympics. People thought break dance was just a fad and here it is in the Olympics now.”
“I feel really good and really excited. I wish breaking was in the Olympics earlier … when I was at my prime,” said Antipov, now 30. “I think it’s great. I think just because breaking’s in the Olympics, it will make more people be interested in actually doing it. So I think we’re going to be just going forward, closer to 2024, we’re going to be seeing an increase in a lot of people interested in breaking. We’re going to be seeing a lot of more break dancers and I think parents will be involved in it.”
Breakdancing is the first true dance form to make its Olympic debut, with ballroom dance often considered a contender. Breaking will be added to the 2024 slate of events following a successful trial run at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.