FASTER, Higher, Stronger. To the traditional Olympic motto a new thread of values can now be added: younger, more urban, more contemporary, more gender neutral.  

The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to evolve and diversify to welcome in non-traditional sports will see surfers, skateboarders and climbers compete for medals in Tokyo in the summer.

They will be joined in 2024 by competitive breakdancing  – or breaking as it is widely known – when the hip-hop inspired movement is rolled out as an Olympic discipline for the first time, not in one of Paris’s many sporting arenas but at a downtown venue alongside three-on-three basketball.

It has, unsurprisingly, not been a universally popular move. Those from traditional sports like squash, that continue to have the Olympic door slammed in their faces, feel it is a “mockery” while even within the breaking community itself there has been division on whether this ought to be considered a welcome development or not.

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For those in favour, however, there is a hope that attaining a worldwide platform that the Olympics provides will help reignite interest in a pursuit that, in the UK especially, has waned in recent times.

“You can see the Olympics are trying to become more modern and tap into a new audience and that makes sense,” says Chris “Sideshow” Maule, a veteran of the Scottish scene for more than 20 years, most notably as part of the Flyin’ Jalapenos crew.

Originally from East Kilbride, Maule performed at the Commonwealth Games handover ceremony in 2014, T in the Park, the MTV Europe music awards and numerous other high-profile events. Now living in Düsseldorf, Germany, the 39 year-old DJ still teaches breaking to local school kids and sees its inclusion at the Olympics as a positive step, even if not everyone agrees.

“The decision has split those involved in breaking. Some think it will be brilliant for our scene and others think it’s terrible and argue that breaking is a dance and not a sport.

“But I think it’s great news. It is one of the most physically demanding artforms on the planet and the Olympics is all about bringing nations together to see who is the best in whatever discipline they are competing in.         

“It’s definitely a dance and that makes it subjective. How to score or judge it might be the hard part but they could look at different factors – how well they dance to the music, how hard the moves are, how original they are, how clean they execute each move and how they engage with the opponent. And there’s definitely that competitive element that the Olympics are all about.”

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While some remain sniffy about having breaking alongside athletics, swimming, weightlifting and the rest, Maule reveals those at elite levels train as hard as any other athlete.

“It’s actually really demanding physically,” he adds. “As I say to the kids I teach, in breaking you use everything from your heads to your toes. So it puts a tremendous stress on your whole body.

“The top level dancers train like athletes. Some of them do it as full-time professionals and they are all absolutely ripped. They have incredible stamina. While we used to just practise to make sure we could perform, the younger generation work really hard in the gym. I’d say they are as fit as any runner or swimmer.”

Breaking was included in the 2018 Summer Youth Games in Buenos Aires where the dance battles proved to be hugely popular. Buoyed by that success, the IOC has now moved to add it to the main Olympics.

“Everyone wanted to watch the breaking in Argentina,” confirms Maule. “It was amazingly well run and the level of kids performing was insane. The feeling after that was there was no way they could say no for Paris.”

Lobbying for breaking’s inclusion at these events, however, came from an unlikely source. It was the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF), the international governing body for competitive amateur ballroom dancing, who pushed hardest to get breaking included first in Buenos Aires and now in Paris, believing it would help prise open the door for their own discipline to be included at future Olympics.

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That meddling has not gone down well in all quarters of the breaking community but Maule believes the end has justified the means.

“The WDSF had been trying for years to get ballroom into the Olympics without any joy,” he adds. “So their thinking now was if they could help get breaking in for 2024, then it might help them get ballroom included in future.

“A lot of folk involved in breaking got really angry at not being properly consulted. So there’s still a bit of conflict there. Some people are worried that breaking might just get tossed aside again after Paris just like in the 1980s.

“But I see it as a positive move. It should open up more opportunities for dancers all over the world to help improve their local communities and bring more people together to get involved with the culture to preserve it for future generations to enjoy.”    

All photos by David Aing.