How do you judge a sport that does not really consider itself a sport, and has traditionally been fiercely independent and rebellious? This was the question facing Kevin Gopie, aka Renegade, and Niels Robitzky, aka Storm, when they took on the role of head judges for the new discipline of breaking at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Renegade, 48, from London, and Storm, 49, from Berlin, were pioneers of the European breaking scene in the ’80s. They were at the forefront of a street dance style, and the underground hip-hop world that accompanied it. It has been a long journey to the Olympics.
“When we looked at setting out the rules for breaking here, we had a massive debate about standards,” said Renegade, referring to the compulsory moves that form part of other sports, such as figure skating and gymnastics.
“We decided not to do them, because it locks the style into a box. So we made a system of comparison. One player does their stuff, then another does theirs, and you compare.
“Even in skateboarding, they have tricks they have to do. Here, there’s a degree of freedom you won’t find in any other competition.”
And he added: “When people see these kids and their level of dedication, I think they will take this art form seriously,” Renegade said.
Storm calls the battles, in which dancers go head-to-head, responding to each other’s moves “an argument”. “You do something, then I do something against it. It is a debate to music. It can’t work if we say, ‘This move gets you so many points’”.
Renegade said: “In London in the ’80s, whoever you danced with, you battled. It was always a competition, but it was just really informal. It was you against someone, crew against crew. But now it’s a global phenomenon, with competition all over the world.”
A breaker takes to the floor to practise at the Urban Park for the start of competition at Buenos Aires 2018 (OIS Photos)
The judges hope that the YOG will grant their scene more exposure. “The bad guys who wore white gloves, mirror shades and baseball caps – that was pantomime,” said Storm. “Breaking has evolved in so many ways.
“It is about musicality, a great portion of creativity, and the talent of moving your limbs in all sorts of ways. But the mindset is very different. Most breakers are self-taught. You need to have a hard head! There is no dance academy, so people generate their own styles.”
Both judges feel that breaking can contribute to the wider Olympic Movement. “I think we can contribute, and help to modernise things,” said Renegade.
Storm also believes that other sports can benefit from their approach. “Wouldn’t it be exciting to see two skaters on the ice - one does a set, then the other responds? Or in gymnastics?”
Buenos Aires 2018 competition has been enhanced further by the addition of Richard Colon - aka Crazy Legs - arguably the most famous breaker, to the judging panel.
“Where I come from in the Bronx, this is just something that was born out of a need for activity within your community. Youthful energy mixed with poverty brought about this dance. I was there close to the start, in 1977. I got into something because it was there" - said Crazy Lags.