Philippine Olympic team

Breaking for Paris: Filipino dancers could be the next Olympians

Paolo Bitanga

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Breaking for Paris: Filipino dancers could be the next Olympians
With breaking now an Olympic sport, can the artists-turned-athletes of the Philippine streets spin their way into the Paris 2024 Games?

I never pictured myself here. 

In 2019, I found myself next to a grand stage, pointing my camera up at Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen as she declared her country the “b-boy capital of the world.” It was the first time I heard a statesperson use the term, albeit in another language.

In all my years covering world championships for the street dance-turned-sport known officially as “breaking,” I had never seen anything like this.

The denizens of Chiayi province came in the thousands to support the Dream Runnerz, a crew of local b-boys that made waves internationally. In an epic two-hour exhibition, they bested an all-star Hit Squad from New York, the street dance mecca. An almost biblical clash between old school and new school, “The Battle of Chiayi” was a testament to the awesome power of state-supported dance.

Over some midnight hotpot, I reconvened with the mastermind behind the event, Karl “Dyzee” Alba. A Filipino-Canadian dance-entrepreneur, Alba organized the R16 Korea World Championships for 8 years before pursuing new ventures in Taiwan. I asked him what was next.

“The Olympics.”

Buenos Aires 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games. Photo courtesy of Reuters
From the Bronx to Buenos Aires

During the late 1970s hip-hop movement, a dance was born out of the Bronx. It was called “breakin’” because dancers would get down during the record breaks in the songs. While rap and DJing swiftly took over the music industry, hip-hop’s native dance became, at best, a passing fad appropriated as “breakdancing.”

Then the movement went underground and overseas, eventually forming a global community that hosts such events as R16 Korea, the Silverback Open, and Battle of the Year, which even had its own movie starring Chris Brown.

Last December, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its Paris 2024 lineup and addressed “breaking” by its sovereign street name, it set a reverent tone for the dance’s mainstream reemergence. 

Interestingly, the group responsible for bringing breaking to the Olympics is the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF), the global authority on ballroom dance. For them, breaking was but a “discipline” among its many disciplines, until Olympic approval bumped it up to priority one.

“It’s part of dancesport and this is our pride,” assures Becky Garcia, chair and founder of the Philippine DanceSport Federation Inc. (PDSFI), the local WDSF chapter.

Under the WDSF, breaking first made its medal debut at the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympics. Thanks to the PDSFI, it then took to the 2019 Philippine SEA Games.

As the first ASEAN country to host breaking, the Philippines has made hip-hop history; but what are our chances for Paris?

Project P-Noise. Photo courtesy of R16 Korea
The Pinoy b-boy

In 2010, I documented Project P-Noise, the first crew to ever wave the Philippine flag at R16 Korea. The all-star team united Filipino-immigrant superstars with emerging local talents to inspire growth in the domestic scene. Since then, homegrown crews have constantly rocked the region. 

In 2015, Baclaran-based SAS Crew won 1st runner-up at Radikal Forze Jam, the largest street dance festival in Asia. Right before the 2019 SEA Games, a newly-formed Manila Soul Crew, composed of dancers from around the capital, won 1st runner-up at Respect Culture Taiwan. Needless to say, Filipinos can compete on a crew level, but can we contend with the Olympics’ 1-on-1 format?

“1-on-1, you’re on your own, so the training will be much harder without a crew backing you up,” explains Ereson “Mouse” Catipon, international coach for the Philippine SEA Games team. A former finalist at Red Bull BC One, the current largest solo competition, the Manchester-based “Mouse” knows what it takes to battle the best.

In a 1-on-1 battle, opposing dancers take turns, trading off “freestyle solos” — that is, to whatever music the DJ plays — and are scored on a round-by-round basis by a panel of judges. Unlike crew battles, where teams can mix choreographed routines into their rounds, the Olympics calls for the world’s most well-rounded individuals.

Debbie “Hate” Mahinay wins silver at the 2019 SEA Games. Photo courtesy of Melvin Ang

“You need discipline, determination, and love for dance,” says SEA Games silver medalist Debbie “Hate” Mahinay, who is eager to pave more opportunities for fellow breakers from Bacolod. Outside of her full-time teaching job, Mahinay has devoted years to uplifting the burgeoning dance scene in Visayas. 

Breaking has always been rooted in community, more so than competition. For the Olympics, that means strong synergy between the PDSFI, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) — and of course, the b-boys and b-girls themselves. 

“What we need is unity,” stresses SEA Games representative Randolph “Killa-4” Bagalawis, who encourages all involved parties to “prioritize the needs of our representative.”

“We need to set aside our differences and focus on how we can help each other.” 

It clearly takes a village to make it to the Olympic Village. 

Actualizing the extraordinary

Until we establish our own national breaking association, we might have to wait to earn the kind of government support that sustains Taiwan’s Dream Runnerz and fuels Korea’s dance industry, but as Karl “Dyzee” Alba puts it, “The Olympics is not the end. It is the beginning.” 

The Olympics is not the end. It is the beginning.

Karl “dyzee” alba, b-boy

Paris 2024 isn’t as much a competition as it is a test for the global breaking community, which has fought for years to lead its own legacy. Any b-boy and b-girl who makes it to Paris will have already won. They will have proven that their national bodies were able to unify and step up when it counted.

As for the Philippines, we have all the right elements in place — from hometown heroes like Mahinay and Bagalawis, to world-class mentors like Alba and Catipon.

Who knows, maybe Team USA prospects like Silverback Champion Logan “Logistx” Edra and Red Bull North America Champion “Icey Ives” Viray might want to don the stars and sun, instead of the stars and stripes. 

Either way, we will likely see a Filipino dancer shine on the Olympic stage. Who could have pictured that? 

Actualizing the extraordinary is what dancers do.

Randolph “Killa-4” Bagalawis at the 2019 SEA Games. Photo courtesy of Reuters

When the street kids of the South Bronx hopped onto their hands, the world turned upside down. And when they spun on their heads, the world revolved around them. 

Breaking proved to be more than just movement. It was a mindset that shattered social and national barriers. It has since pervaded the arts, entertainment, and now, sports. 

Now b-boys and b-girls from around the world can actualize their extraordinary ambitions. They can become teachers, entrepreneurs — or even writers.

They can become Olympians.


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Paolo Bitanga

Pawi is a multimedia producer, content writer, and host of Hustle's Inside the Industry podcast. A graduate of New York University's film program, he started as a commercial director in the US, working with brands like Adobe, Playstation and Coca-Cola. In 2020, he founded Act One, Rappler's online platform for Filipino short films. An all-around artist, Pawi is also a professional b-boy (breakdancer) and published children's author. You can follow his upside down adventures on Instagram @pawifiction