The breakers made their way to the circle. Out on the floor at the Gathering, many had already gotten started.
Michael Cannon, 28, hadn’t really been planning on dancing as he did that night at Philadelphia’s longest-running hip-hop party. His knees had been bothering him and grew swollen, but all the same, he couldn’t help himself. Dance, the Germantown native explained, is really about the emotion, and he was moving off the feeling.
Cannon, who dances with Philly Surfers, isn’t convinced that the proposal to make breaking an Olympic sport is a good idea, because he’s not sure how that kind of spirit would be measured.
“Our founding fathers laid down a foundation for us that was supposed to be based off of us knowing our curriculum, and studying things like that,” he said, wiping sweat off his face (the Gathering doesn’t have AC). “Not off us laying down moves to be judged upon. Because the judge doesn’t always know what the heart feels.”
For months, the breaking world has brimmed with anticipation. The International Olympic Committee begins its 134th session Monday and may approve breaking — provisionally — as an official sport for the Summer Games in Paris 2024. The Youth Olympics last year in Buenos Aires already welcomed breaking, something Olympic watchers viewed as a test run.
Along with waves of excitement, the Olympic process has stirred debate, and in some cases, distaste from such dancers as Cannon. Despite the potential prestige, the moment has raised questions over whether the Olympic stage is right for Philly dancers, even among those who say they’re in favor. Conversation in the breaking community, which grew decades ago out of hip hop party culture, roils with concerns over how the art would be judged, who would get to decide, and ultimately who, in a playing field expanded long ago with hip hop’s globalization, would benefit from Olympic glory.
Raphael Xavier, a longtime Philly-based breaker with roots in Wilmington, isn’t against Paris 2024 per se; he just thinks that Olympic elevation could make the global community implode.
“Everybody’s still arguing about what it is, what it’s not," he said. "Is it a dance? Is it a sport? Who created what? How come this person is not getting the attention?”
Hip hop scholarship has a tendency to follow the music, rather than the dancers, he said. Without clearly traced histories, who’s to tell the next generation what the rules should be?
“No matter how they see it right now," he said, "it’s still some internal beefs that are happening that won’t allow it to move in the [right] direction.”
One layer of controversy concerns breaking’s governance. If accepted, breaking would be the first Olympic “dance sport.” This current campaign falls under the dominion of the World Dance Sport Federation, headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. Some breakers resent the fact that the biggest decisions would be up to an organization known for ballroom dancing.
Jean-Laurent Bourquin, a World Dance Sport Federation senior adviser, acknowledged that they could have tried supporting a new, breaker-led organization. But that, he said, would have brought decades more of red tape.
“It would mean that breaking could have been in the Olympics in 2040, for example,” Bourquin said. “We have no time to waste for the new generation that is just coming and who is dreaming to be in Paris or in Los Angeles [in 2028]. I think what people do not realize is that, OK, we could have let the breaking community start in its own way, but they would have gone through many fights between the U.S. and Europe, between the U.S. and Japan, between Korea and Japan, between China and France. And it would have been painful without a concrete result.”