When Philip Kim first saw break dancers busking outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, he thought it looked cool and that learning how to do it might come in handy, too.
“I thought I could impress girls,” says Kim, reminiscing about her teenage self. “But it’s a very male-dominated sport, so it didn’t exactly work out. They are mostly sweaty guys.”
Break dancing may well be what gets Kim, a 25-year-old known internationally as Phil Wizard, all the way to the Olympics.
Yes really. Not only is break dancing still around, it’s the latest seemingly gravity-defying youth sport to feature on the Olympic programme. And forget about the dance part, now it’s just called break and the athletes are b-boys and b-girls.
Kim is Canada’s top-ranked b-boy, with multiple world titles, and should be a serious contender at the sport’s Olympic debut in Paris in 2024.
“It’s great,” says Tiffany Leung of Toronto, an artificial intelligence consultant for Deloitte when she’s not competing as b-girl Tiff. “She is a full time breaker. She is helping to bring attention to Canada.
“The thing about Canadian breakers is that we all value originality and creativity, I think it’s very Canadian in that sense.”
Kim and Leung are in Birmingham, Alabama, this weekend competing in the World Games, a multi-sport extravaganza in a big top.
For years, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, has been pushing for the addition of new freestyle and action sports, such as snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding, BMX and rock climbing. Bach is looking to appeal to a younger audience and the new sponsors and streaming dollars that come with that.
The status of the Olympics has raised the profile of the breakup, which generally has its roots in the streets of New York and 1970s hip-hop culture.
“Breaking used to have this childish reputation that it’s just dancing on cardboard,” says Leung. “So I’m really excited for breaking to be on this world stage so I can show the world what this art is, but also how athletic it is.”
As he said this, he was literally still catching his breath after competing in the Rock Harder: Battle for the North event in Toronto last Friday.
And in a downtown Toronto hotel ballroom, it was easy to see why the IOC is interested in the sport: It doesn’t require an expensive or specialized venue, the competition is short, high-energy and easy to broadcast, and the the athletes are young and seem to be enjoying themselves.
Considered the highest form of the sport, the one-on-one battle sees two athletes taking alternate turns for approximately 30 to 45 seconds to launch their moves in a series of sets. A panel of judges decides the winner based on criteria ranging from technique and difficulty to creativity and musicality.
The music is live, performed by DJs who mix breaks and rhythms, and the audience is encouraged to crowd onto the dance floor.
The casual dress code consists of baggy pants, oversized T-shirts, and hoodies, along with a fair number of brightly colored nylon sweat suits that those outside of the breakup world might have thought had gone out of style a while ago. decades.
B-boys and b-girls value originality in these unscripted routines, but there are common elements of dance footwork, drops to the ground, spins, flares and freezes, where handstands are out of the ordinary or in some other challenging position. In some movements, athletes have multiple body parts on the ground, in others none, as they move in ways that don’t seem entirely possible or safe.
When the break reaches a wide television audience during the Olympics, there is bound to be a little controversy with at least some people wondering if it should be in the Olympics. Or, if this is inside, what the hell is next? But without a doubt, art like this requires incredible athleticism.
When Kim talks about his love of the sport and why he dropped out of college to pursue a full-time career competing, acting and teaching breaking, he begins with what he calls the simple answer: “It’s super fun.”
One minute later, he’s in the sport’s deepest pull for him. “It challenges me physically and mentally. You know, I do this almost every day, five or six times a week. And every day I’m training about three to five hours and my body is dead at the end of the day. It is very physically demanding.
“One of the most beautiful things for me about breaking is that it covers almost all movements. There are no set rules like, you have to do this in a routine or you have to do this; You can do whatever you want.”
But like other high-style sports like snowboarding, participating in the Olympics has increased the opportunities and raised both the expectations and the level of competition.
“I used to do a lot of the same moves, I never really pushed myself because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m doing it right,'” says Leung. “But now with the Olympics, I’m really going to push myself and even if I don’t make it to the Olympics, training for it is pushing me to another level.”
Leung’s top competitor in Canada is Emma Misak, who won a silver medal when the sport made its debut at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
Getting to the big show in Paris will not be easy for anyone: only 16 men and 16 women from all over the world will compete for the first Olympic medals in the sport. Regardless of who wins those medals, the Olympics are already helping breakwaters by encouraging more participants, increasing respect for the sport and raising basic public awareness, says Reyes.
And that could mean fewer awkward conversations for Kim.
“If people ask me what I do for a living, I say, ‘Oh, I’m off full time.’ They’re like, what? Is that still out there? I thought that died in the ’90s,” she says. “People don’t know that he’s thriving and he’s bigger than ever, so definitely getting more eyes on him (at the Olympics) is a great thing.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION