By now most everyone on the breaking scene knows that breaking has been selected to be one of the new sports at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. This major new opportunity has sparked a lot of discussion and debate in the Breaking community as to what affect this will have on the scene and culture of our dance, and ultimately how positive this is for breaking. To answer these questions, and also give us information on how breaking is going to fit into the Youth Olympic Games, we sat down with Thomas (the organiser of Battle of the year), DJ Renegade, B-girl AT, B-boy Moy and B-boy Crazy Legs, all of whom are working together with the Youth Olympic Games committee.
WHAT'S YOUR ROLE IN THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES?
At the moment I am a consultant of the World Dance Sport Federation, helping or supporting them to implement Breaking, as a sport and culture, into the Youth Olympics. And also they call me the Event Delegate, which means I am the head of the event, to oversee it and guide it and make sure that it is running smoothly.
I'm one of the judges and also have a different role that I just got nominated for, I am an A.R.M (Athlete Role Model) for the Youth Olympics.
I'm judging. I'll be judging the Asian qualifiers and the Youth Olympic Games, as well as working with the Youth Olympics as an Athlete Role Model, alongside B-boy Moy.
My role is as a judge and I would also like to serve as an ambassador.
My role is on the judges committee, and myself and Storm have been working on a system of judging that fits the Youth Olympic Games needs, and our needs.
CAN YOU BRIEFLY SUM UP HOW THE YOUTH OLYMPICS AND BREAKING SCENE CAME TOGETHER
Last year, in December, it was announced that breaking would be a discipline in the Youth Olympic games in 2018, for 15 - 18 year old kids. I got a call and had a meeting with them and then we put together a group of scene heads. We all come together to consult with the W.D.S.F (The World Dance Sport Federation) which is the only dance sport federation being accepted by the I.O.C (International Olympic Committee), and the I.O.C gave the handling of implementing Breaking at the Youth Olympics over to the W.D.S.F.
DID THE I.O.C PICK WHO THEY WANTED TO WORK WITH FROM THE SCENE OR LEAVE IT UP TO YOU GUYS?
The IOC is not really actively involved in this process. They always work with an accepted federation in each sport and the W.D.S.F is actually the federation in dance who is responsible. After long talks we decided with whom they wanted to work with and now have a board and panel of people which is a mix from the scene, like Storm and Kevin (DJ Renegade). Also we have a judge's panel, which was selected by Storm, that right now includes: AT, Crazy legs, Narumi, Katsu and Moy, so we have really creditable people in it. That decision was lead by the W.D.S.F but they let us pick because we are from the scene and have the knowledge of who's a good judge and who we want to have as hosts and DJs to make it look good, fair and professional.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BREAKING AND THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES COMING TOGETHER?
When I heard breaking was going to be in the Youth Olympic games I was a bit worried about who was going to take care, pick the judges, DJs and everything so that it's done in a way that honours our culture? But with the people who are behind it now I am happy that they are working hard to keep the real essence of the dance and they want to pick qualified judges, and have everything in a way that is good for the scene. The Youth Olympic Games is also something for people who don't understand too much about the culture or understand that it is a big thing. This will give more attention to the culture so the media and everyone become more interested in it.
I think the impact is going to be good for our scene. It can potentially lead young kids off the streets to work for something that doesn't cost much. When you think about gymnastics, basketball, soccer, baseball, these cost a lot of money to get into and a lot of families can't afford it. And yeh, there are a lot of breaking schools across the world which are a lot cheaper than those things, but at the same time you can learn on your own for free and become an Olympic gold medallist.
The idea of kids breaking and potentially winning medals is mind blowing to me, and if that is the last thing that ever happens for breaking then that is an amazing thing that ever happened for breaking.
I think we're going to have a whole bunch of new energy and new interest in the scene.
Assuming that we can get past the growing pains of it being new, I would like to think that it's going to have a great impact on people globally. You're going to have people getting into breaking that maybe didn't care about it before. So yeh, I think it's going to have a great impact, and I think there are going to be some bumps in the road but it's something that's new and I think that it's something we're going to have to master.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE IMPACT WILL BE ON THE COMPETING 15-18 YEARS OLD AND THE YOUNGER KIDS BELOW THEM GROWING UP IN THIS YOUTH OLYMPIC ERA?
I think that it's a good thing for the young people so that they get more chances and I've already seen in Finland that the youth are practising super hard now and the Finnish B-boy association is working hard to get funding and opportunities for the youth.
I think that the impact is going to be huge, man. Number one is kids now actually have something to work towards. When I first started breaking I was just breaking to break. And of course we wanted to get good at it but it's a different generation, the competitions have changed, the level of dancing has changed, the quality of events have changed, and now you got the Youth Olympics. That is a huge goal that I think every kid that gets involved in breaking should want to accomplish. At the end of the day if you want to be one of those, 'I want to keep it raw,' B-boys that's great but if you can compete for a medal I think that, that can be an ultimate feat in your life because that's something you can share with your family for the next generations to come. In a lot of this B-boy culture what we share right now is stories and to be an Olympian is a great story, and so I think these kids have it made right now, and as long as they stay focused and stay motivated and the parents keep them driven and support them along the way, I think the journey and the future looks great for these kids.
It's good for the culture to have more people involved but it's not out of the ordinary for kids to be involved in a youthful dance. And it's good to have another platform that gives people the opportunity to go global, to travel, to have relationships with people from different cultures and different backgrounds and bring the world closer together.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE JUDGING SYSTEM THAT HAS BEEN CREATED FOR BREAKING AT THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES:
The approach we took with the system was not to have it be like a normal system where you're marking points based on some absolute kind of view of what you're seeing, it is just a system of comparison. So, you're making a comparison between what two competitors are doing, not giving numbers to moves or not even to really what you're seeing, you're making a comparative judgement between two people based on criteria we figured are not too specific. It's not stuff like foundation, or these vaguely defined terms, it's more general, like artistic or physical qualities.
We found that there are 3 main things you look for in a good performance:
1) The Artistic Quality
2) The Interpretative Quality
3) The Physical Quality.
Physical qualities includes: quality of movement, balance, strength moves aka power moves, stuff to do with momentum and strength. Then you look at the Artistic qualities, like character, your style, the composition of your sets. The Interpretative qualities would be things like musicality and battling. We can define what Artistic qualities are, what Interpretative and Physical qualities are but when people use words like 'foundation' or 'originality' they have no meaning in the real world because foundation from 1970 isn't foundation from 2017, and what's going to be foundation 50 years from now is going to be a completely different kettle of fish.
So we are using these terms and had 3 originally but the Youth Olympic games people wanted 6 criteria so we sub divided each of the criteria and have 6 to judge on.
We've been using the system for a long time, now. We used it first at Silverback and then we used it at Battle of the year.
HOW HAVE THE KIDS TAKEN TO THE JUDGING SYSTEM, RECEIVING POINTS AND WINNING 1ST, 2ND AND 3RD PLACE MEDALS?
Some parents sent us questions and wanted to understand for example, what is the 'Round Robin system?' which we use for the qualifier. The kids collect points for the ranking as we need a ranking for the Olympics because there's a quota. For example, you can only have a maximum 5 qualified from one country to come to our qualifier in Europe, but only 3 maximum from one country can qualify to the final stage, so if number 1-5 in the rankings are Russians, 4 and 5 would fall out and the next highest in the rankings (6 and 7) will make it.
The fact that we gave medals was just our idea for now for the Europe qualifier. We tried it and they were so proud. Sometimes I'm shocked because I never thought like this, I mean I'm a sports man too, I come from gymnastics, but I am so long in the culture and breaking where yes basically it's about winning and losing but the main thing in our culture is about sharing, education, sitting together, travelling no matter what background or religion you have and to be honest I had doubts if it would work but so far after seeing what happened at our qualifier I was shocked in a positive way and it convinced me that we are working right with this generation.
All of those concerns about people waiting to see who won the round, of course when things are new it's going to be like that but the kids don't even look up at the screen anymore, they just get on with it.
DO YOU THINK THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES WILL KEEP THE CULTURE OF THE SCENE?
I believe that if you are a B-boy or B-girl who has studied the dance, has studied the art, and has studied the culture, then regardless of what platform you step on you are the true representation of the hip hop culture. So you don't need anyone to authenticate or qualify you, you are what you are as soon as you step on whatever stage you're on. That to me alone keeps the culture intact on any platform. Just because I'm a supported B-boy that doesn't make me a corporate B-boy it just makes me a successful one, and to have that understanding is really important. You have to look at these events as entertainment. Culture is you, you're the culture, you're the art form that makes that event a cultural event. So it's important that we ourselves are doing the right research and that we create an impact on those platforms to make sure that the culture stays intact and the authenticity of hip hop is represented well. And the Youth Olympics didn't try to do this on their own, they reached out to all the right people on our scene to make sure that all the right dots are connected.
It's not the responsibility of the Youth Olympic games to keep the culture that's our responsibility as representatives of the culture. That's for us to do when we educate and do panels or whatever else. That's our job. Any corporation or whatever else, it's not their job to look after us, we have to look after ourselves, so those kind of concerns I'm not bothered by. For me, the Youth Olympics, or Redbull BC One or whatever else that is corporate driven, their job is to provide the platform and our job is to inform them on good practice and then to make sure that we inform our culture what they need to value. If we're not involved obviously these things are going to get overlooked so it's good they have us involved.
WHAT'S YOUR IDEAL OUTCOME FROM THIS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BREAKING SCENE AND THE YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES?
I would say my aim in general is professionalisation of the scene and for it to get more media attention, more respect, and open more doors. I'm working already on this project with the W.D.S.F since March and every day I realise that the scene still needs to be more professional, needs more education, and stuff like this. And I think the parents play an important role in this project too, and it's nice because when I was 14 and I was writing graffiti and breaking my parents always thought that 'oh it's a hobby and he will stop soon and get an official job or something.' My mum could never believe that I take this as my job and my company now, but now the parents believe in it I would say, and if they see someone winning a gold medal or sponsors approaching them or they are going into the national Olympic team of the country, getting support, training and facilities, its positive. So this is what I hope will follow sooner or later.
I believe attention to the dance is a good thing and I believe it's going to bring a lot of new kids to the culture, and the scene is going to grow because of this, which is a really good thing.
Also very often adults get all the attention so it's really nice that the young B-boys and B-girls will get the attention now. And I believe also that Storm and everybody are doing a really good job to keep the essence of the culture so I hope that the young kids who are watching it will have role models who represent the culture and not just a part of it. Also the judging system focuses on everything, not just the tricks, not just the musicality but it's inclusive of everything in the dance, so I believe that the people who are going to win are going to be really high level dancers in every part of the dance so I believe that they are going to be really good role models for all the people who are watching.
I think my ideal outcome is to bring more support for our community. Our community is a very poor community. It's great that we have some big brands getting involved with us and handing out some endorsements to some of the B-boys and B-girls all across the world but there is no reason why this shouldn't be as big as skateboarding or BMX. Breaking is such a physically demanding dance and art form. These B-boys and B-girls are constantly putting their bodies through torture to get to where they want to be and also to showcase their talent, and I believe that they deserve a lot more. So my ultimate outcome from all of this is just to have the ultimate support from bigger brands and maybe even much more televised support, because ultimately that is going to bring in a lot more partners and a lot more contributors to make our community a pretty successful and economical one where people can actually make a good living off of it. I'm tired of seeing our community struggle and if the Youth Olympics can do this, I'm all for it.
Work for people, because people give a lot to the culture. They shouldn't expect anything back but there should be some type of infrastructure where you can get work through what you've dedicated your life to. We're not in the 70s or 80s anymore where you did some breaking for a hobby. People used to appear, break for a few years and then you wouldn't see them anymore. Now you have people breaking for 20 years and they're only 21!! Already most of their lives in the game! They didn't finish school, they have no other skills outside of the breaking scene, so how are you going to provide for them? What's next? Working in Mcdonalds? I don't think so, no, they need jobs as judges, jobs as mentors, coaches, like Gravity is doing with his school. There should be some type of financial compensation for the 8 hours a day that you train, or whatever else. It's not just a hobby anymore where you went out to a club to break with your friends for 2 hours and went home. It's a proper dedicated art form/hybrid sport that people train hard for, hours and hours and hours a day, and, as far as I'm concerned, they need some sort of compensation for it. Whether the Youth Olympic games does that or Red Bull BC One or the Undisputed Series, whoever provides that infrastructure we have to make sure that it's done in the right way where people get proper compensation for their dedication.
I would like to see that the end result is as pure as possible for the preservation of culture and the history of it. At the end of the day if this brings the world closer together as human beings that is the greatest thing that can happen. Whether it's this event or other big events, the way the world is going right now anything we can do to break down barriers and build bridges, I'm all for it.
Interview by Emmanuel Adelekun