Sun, Mar 31, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Chinese break dancers spinning toward Olympics


Wang Shenjiong, head coach of China’s national break dancing team at last year’s Youth Olympic Games, trains at his studio in Shanghai on March 18.

Photo: AFP

Mama Said Knock You Out boomed through a speaker as a handful of B-boys bust out their break-dancing moves in sporadic spurts of energy.

The 1990s LL Cool J hip-hop classic and their gear — tattoos, beanie hats and caps — hark back to break dancing’s US roots.

However, this is Shanghai, and “breaking” is in the global spotlight like never before.

The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday gave it the provisional nod for inclusion at the Paris 2024 Games.

Decried by sporting traditionalists, the move is designed to make the Games “more youthful and more urban,” committee president Thomas Bach said.

Wang Shenjiong, better known as “Danny” and a pioneer of break dancing in China, said that Olympic acceptance caps breaking’s journey from the streets and being “a rogue dance in smokey nightclubs.”

Wang was China’s head coach when break dancing made its debut at the Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in October last year, and he has worked to help drum up support for the Olympic cause.

“Without the support of a big platform, any grassroots culture will become more and more niche or even vanish,” the 37-year-old said.

However, some B-boys are concerned about commercialization, he said.

“The spirit of hip-hop culture is peace, love, unity, having fun,” he said.

Wang is a relative veteran — most break dancers are over the hill by 25, he said — and has watched breaking grow in China since the late 1990s.

“If you master breaking, you are like Superman, but superior,” Wang said.

At last year’s Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, China’s “X-Rain” finished eighth of 12 in the boys’ competition, which was won by Russia’s “Bumblebee.”

Japan’s “Ram” won girls’ gold.

Wang picked out France, the US, Japan and South Korea as among the strongest nations.

There is also the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine, he said, the spread of countries underlining how break dancing has grown since its beginnings on the streets of early 1970s New York.

China might not strike many as the obvious place to find break dancing, but hip-hop and rap culture have found popularity in the nation, fueled in part by a highly successful reality rap show that debuted in 2017.

Wang cited rough estimates of 10 million Chinese engaged in some form of “street dance” — breaking, hip-hop, popping and other genres.

Wang began breaking in 1997, picking up moves from visiting Japanese and US students, and had a solid foundation thanks to his skills as a former gymnast.

From Shanghai, the scene spread to other Chinese cities after 2000.

“Overall China has lagged about 30 years behind and it is difficult to catch up in skills and physical fitness,” he said.

There is also a lack of creativity, although that has begun to change, he added.

“Chinese break dancers are transforming a type of dance while overseas dancers are making a total new one,” Wang said. “What matters for breaking is the creativity, not the degree of completion.”

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