'Coolest thing': breakdancing wows Asian Games ahead of Olympic bow

By AFP   October 6, 2023 | 09:04 pm PT
'Coolest thing': breakdancing wows Asian Games ahead of Olympic bow
China's Liu Qingyi in the women's breaking competition at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. Photo by AFP/Adek Berry
When South Korean Kim Hong-yul was a teenager in the late 1990s, hip-hop ruled the airwaves and breakdancing was "the coolest thing in the world", he says.

Now the acrobatic dance style, which originated on the streets of 1970s New York, is at the Asian Games for the first time and will also debut next year at the Olympics.

It is all part of moves to attract a younger audience.

But for some of the older "B-boys" and "B-girls", these may be their last -- as well as their first -- chances of a medal and broader recognition, with middle age approaching.

In Hangzhou on Friday dancers in baggy T-shirts, tracksuits and baseball caps flipped, jigged and spun on their heads to a throbbing beat as "breaking", as it is officially called, took center stage.

A DJ spun tracks and an MC hyped the contestants up. Spectators, who were overwhelmingly young, waved glow sticks and whooped.

The 38-year-old Kim, a full-time B-boy and two-time Red Bull BC World Champion, made it through to Saturday's knockout rounds after multiple dance "battles" against opponents.

He picked up breakdancing as a 13-year-old after seeing his friends show off their moves and told AFP he was thrilled to see what he calls their "culture" get recognition from top sporting events.

"It feels really great. I've been literally staying with my culture and this culture keeps growing up, and I’ve been keeping watching it, so I'm happy for it," Kim said.

He is among a handful of older dancers at a competition dominated by contestants in their teens and 20s. He can feel the clock ticking.

"When I was young it was almost whole day of practice (every day), but now I'm getting old, two or three hours a day is enough," he said.

Breaking's Asian Games debut is even more special for Kim and his rivals because spots for next year's Paris Olympics are up for grabs along with medals.

Japan's 40-year-old Ayumi Fukushima topped the women's qualification round, outperforming opponents half her age and impressing an international panel of judges with her agility and musical sense.

- 'Lost generation' -

Kim said there was a "lost generation" of breakdancers between those born in the 80s and the youngest contestants on Friday, as the genre ebbed from prominence in popular culture.

"When I started dancing it was the coolest thing in the world, but maybe it's not any more," Kim said.

But a recent boom in commercialized breakdancing competitions and breakdance-themed reality TV shows has inspired a resurgence, especially across Asia.

Kim, who dances under the stage name "Hong 10", said he hoped the discipline's inclusion in the Asian Games would result in "many kids trying this and understanding this and evolving this".

"Maybe five years later, ten years later, I wanna see something I never expected."

When asked if breakdancing's recognition by big multi-sports events would compromise its original counterculture spirit, Kim was confident the pros outweighed the cons.

"Just because it becomes a sport, we're not gonna get rid of our previous culture, we're gonna keep this culture... it's gonna be great," he said.

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