Looks like things must have been a bit slow at Olympics HQ last Monday. Purporting that it would be a way to attract younger TV viewers to the Games, the IOC sanctioned breaking — that’s breakdancing for some of you older, less-vernacularized in the audience — as an official Olympic sport.
Judges. Elimination rounds. Boom boxes. Dancing with the Stars, only now with the luster of gold, silver, and bronze as treasure instead of the glitter of the elusive, mesmerizing mirrorball.
Yes, really, breakdancing, and it will be coming to you live, as breaking news, in the summer of 2024. Paris will welcome the world’s best breakers, often referred to as B-boys and B-girls, to light up the dance floor smack dab in the middle of the magnificent Place de la Concorde at the east end of the Champs Elysees.
Yowza! Yowza! Now that’s some setting.
Designed in the mid-18th century, the 19-acre Place de la Concorde became an executioner’s drive-thru slaughterhouse amid the French Revolution of the 1790s. No fewer than 1,200 souls, including King Louis XVI and wife/queen Marie Antoinette, had their heads lopped off by guillotine and bodies heaved into a nearby mass burial pit. Some metal ceremony.
Don’t count on NBC including any of that historical narrative as one of its Olympic postcard moments from the City of Lights. But yeah, a dazzling TV look, forever the raison d’etre of TV, and increasingly, the raison d’etre of the Games themselves.
Eyeballs have called the dance, and in this case, it’s breakdancing, which dates to Manhattan and surrounding boroughs in the early ’70s.
I am not against breaking, or any kind of dancing. I’m hip. I worked it on out to the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” in the ’60s, and c’mon baby, there was never a dance so easy to do than the Loco-Motion. Where were the Lords of the Rings when Elvis the Pelvis was running hotter than the Olympic flame? No doubt Elvis secretly yearned for another medal to go with those sequined white jumpsuits.
Here’s the thing, though, dance is to Olympic sports what futbol is to a night at the opera. In those respective settings, they rightly deserve to be booed outta the house.
Which is not to say breaking lacks athleticism. The world’s best breakers, who since 2004 have aspired to Red Bull’s annual “BC One” as their biggest, grandest stage, are strong, fit, creative, a good number of them probably able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Sure, but so what? Much the same could be said, and should be said, of ballet dancers. Strong. Fit. Creative. Most of them literally have more strength in their pointed toes and steely arches than most of us have in our whole couch-potatoed, clicker-holding, potato-chip-munching, beer-and-wine drinking bodies.
Though while muscle and dedication and technique and performing under pressure often will create the body and mind of an athlete, all of that does not add up to a sport. If it did, then bring on the ballet, the Flamenco dancers, the Hully Gulliers, and the Monster Mashers to the Five Rings Circus & Aerial act.
Oh, and let us not overlook the marathon dancers of the 1920s and ’30s, who filled US ballrooms and arenas of the Great Depression with couples who could, and often did, dance the night away, along with the next morning and afternoon and sunset.
So, could the Summer Games use another marathon, the dance-till-they-drop, last-couple-standing crowd? Of course not. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
The Olympic breakers will be toprocking, downrocking, freezing, and gyrating in competitive segments that will last upward of 45 seconds.
The audiporn will blare. Footlights, spotlights, and colored strobes will swipe and flash, a setting not unlike, by the way, watching the NFL on Fox.
The energy of it all, for those who can withstand such an audio and visual assault, is meant to slam into the viewer as a tumblin’ tide of adrenaline. The typical Olympic watcher more accustomed to getting worked up over a knockout punch, or three runners ripping down their lanes to the 100-meter finish line, now will have breaking to capture their imagination, their patriotism, their dreams.
If you believe that, as the IOC now has chosen to, then I think maybe you’ve stared too long at the mirrorball.
Part of this move by the IOC is an intended diversity play, a move to balance out gender participation in the Games to 50-50. A number of reports have stated that the upcoming Tokyo Games (summer 2021) will have 48.8 percent female participation.
The addition of breaking will provide that final 1.2 percent push, in part because the IOC also will trim back some male-dominated boxing and weightlifting events. Come Paris, the total of approximately 10,500 athletes (down about 600 from Japan ’21) will compete in 329 medal events, and women will gain half the haul.
More women with more medals, and just generally more standing, is a great thing. It should have been that way forever. If something good can be said about putting a dance floor within a hop, skip, and toprock of the Eiffel Tower it’s that men and women were represented equally at Olympus.
It would have been all the better if the great 50-50 split were achieved by including more women in more events actually deemed sport. Instead, the IOC made the easy reach, transformed what might be an interesting intermission act into a medal sport.
The Olympiad is not a dance hall. Its governors, supposedly forever fixated on preserving the Games’ brand, would have been smarter to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to the ballroom what is the ballroom’s.