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Photos: Owen Hammond for WDSF
Having been part of the Breaking scene since the early 1980s, Niels Robitzky, aka Storm, and Kevin Gopie, aka DJ Renegade, have pretty much seen it all.
But one thing they have never witnessed is Breaking at an Olympic event, something that will happen for the first time at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, which begin tonight with an Opening Ceremony on the streets of the Argentinian capital.
Storm and Renegade are head judges for the Breaking events, which will feature 12 b-boys and 12 b-girls from 18 different countries competing in 1vs1 and 2vs2 battles on October 7, 8, 10, and 11.
The pair say they were initially hesitant to get involved in the Olympic project, so deep are the scars from the first attempt to bring Breaking mainstream (think Flashdance and the misappropriation of the community in the 1980s).
As the old saying goes: Once bitten, twice shy.
But after learning more about the concept envisioned by the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) and productive first meetings with the organisation, the duo felt it was finally time to bury the hatchet – there were too many potential benefits for both sides not to work together.
“This is the biggest platform in the world,” Renegade says of the Olympic Movement. “We’ve got a rich scene that’s quite diverse but nothing as big as this. It’s an important step that people have wanted to have happen for about 30 years, but I think it was too early then, I think now is the right time.
“Our scene has matured to the point where we understand things like compromise, and judging systems, and increasing our visibility through different platforms. I think there’s a maturity in the scene now.”
Storm concurs, adding that culturally the community is more self-aware than it was in the past, enabling it to have more control over how it is portrayed.
“The Breaking culture has developed so far over the years with its battle formats. And people really understand what Breaking is about nowadays – the cultural understanding has developed with it,” Storm says. “So it’s not like in 1984 when people thought it was just fashion and really didn’t have an idea of the cultural values of the dance. When I see the way the media projected hip hop back then … in most cases it was the wrong way. I never saw hip hop that way. So now we finally have much more possibilities on the Olympic stage to show positivity, great positivity.”
Having overcome their initial skepticism of the Olympic plans for Breaking, Storm and Renegade did what they always do: they put their heart and soul into making it the best possible vehicle with which to showcase the discipline to the world.
Not only did they suggest a list of names to the WDSF of who they should reach out to work with (which wound up bringing on board judges AT, Crazy Legs, Mounir, Moy, and Narumi; DJs Fleg and Lean Rock; MC Mario Bee; and the event specialists at Six Step, including its venerable leader Thomas Hergenröther), but they also developed a brand new judging system for the YOG, known as Trivium.
The Trivium system was designed to work on iPads, which allows the judges to react instantly to what the breakers are doing according to, as Storm puts it, the “mind, body and soul of the dance”: Artistic quality, physical quality and interpretive quality.
“The most important thing about it is that it is a holistic system and it is based on direct comparison,” says Storm. “With direct comparison it makes it a lot easier to keep things in mind about what just happened.”
The system, both technically and intuitively, has been so successful already that even timing specialists are saying Trivium could have legs in other sports in the future. “People have been amazed by it,” Storm says. “Even skaters, snowboarders, they ask why didn’t we come up with this 10 or 20 years ago. It would be a dream to watch other sports – Skateboarding or even Gymnastics – judged by the Trivium one day.”
After a year and a half of unwavering dedication and hard work, Storm and Renegade are on the eve of seeing their labour bear fruit. The first breaking competition begins on 7 October with the 1vs1 preliminaries at 15:30 local time. The final three days of the Breaking action in Buenos Aires will be livestreamed on the Olympic Channel and WDSF Breaking for Gold websites.
So on competition day, what do Storm and Renegade expect to see from the 24 young breakers, who they have followed through a yearlong qualification process?
“I hope that they know their game enough and that they are experienced enough to really show their art form, because creativity plays such a big role in this,” Storm says. “It’s important that everyone who watches understands that each breaker is a superhero, like the X-Men. The dancers just need to find their own superpowers and learn how to control them.”
According to Renegade, win or lose, the 24 breakers are already champions. “I think they are gonna go for it,” he says. “Let’s imagine that this is a one off and it never happens again. Fifty years from now they can say that they were actually part of it. Imagine that. Or even if it does happen again, 50 years from now, they were part of the first one that kicked it all off. So you’re a winner either way, you know? That’s the reality of it.”