Japanese dancers break new ground ahead of Paris Olympic debut

This December 12, 2021 photo shows a children’s breakdance demonstration class at a school gymnasium in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

KAWASAKI, Japan (Kyodo) – With two years before the Olympic Games in Paris, Japanese breakdancers hope that the inclusion of the street dance genre in the world’s largest multisport event can increase its popularity and increase recognition of Japan’s status in as a world power.

The Japanese breakdancing community has stepped up preparations for the return of the Quadrennial Games to the French capital, aiming to ride the wave of success at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where Japanese athletes set a record medal record.

In “breaking”, as the discipline is widely known, dancers improvise to music played by a DJ, performing stylized footwork and body acrobatics such as head spins and windmills.

Approximately five decades after their development on the nascent New York hip-hop scene, the 2024 Paris Olympics will feature 32 dancers competing in two medal events, one per gender.

“The appeal of the break is that each dancer has unique and individual dance styles. I can’t get enough of them,” said Ramu Kawai, a 20-year-old dancer who won two gold medals at the Olympic Games in Youth of 2018 in Buenos Aires.

“I hope there will come a day when everyone experiences the breakup. Until the Olympic Games in Paris there may be a lot of (Japanese) who don’t know him, but I think that can change. if a Japanese dancer manages to win gold, ”she said. .

At the Olympics, the dancers – known as b-boys and b-girls – will compete in solo fights and be judged on Place de la Concorde, a large public square on the bank of the Seine in Paris. which will also host other urban sports – 3×3 basketball, skateboarding and BMX freestyle.

In an effort to accelerate development, the Japan Sports Dance Federation officially launched a breakdance section in 2019. Japanese dancers have also enjoyed success in recent international competitions, including at the Youth Olympic Games, where Kawai and Shigeyuki Nakarai won a total of three medals, and the World Championships in December where veteran Ayumi Fukushima won the women’s event.

Katsuyuki Ishikawa, a 40-year-old breakdancer who heads JDSF’s breakdance division, said Japan has become a world power because there is what he calls a “hip-hop tree,” a network in which experienced dancers pass on their experience and knowledge to young people to help them improve.

“There are a lot more dance studios than when I was young and more people are teaching young dancers. Parents also take the break very seriously,” said Ishikawa, who performs under the nickname Katsu One.

The station wagon was included in the program of the Paris Olympics in December 2020 as one of the four sports proposed by the organizing committee of the games to engage a younger audience. It is the only one to make its Olympic debut, however, as other sports – sport climbing, skateboarding, and surfing – were all contested at the Tokyo Games.

At the Tokyo Olympics, these sports for the first time attracted a lot of local attention despite the lack of spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic, in large part due to the success of Japanese athletes who won medals in each. Skateboarding proved to be a huge success when the team of young athletes from Japan won five medals, including three gold, in four events.

Kawai, who started breakdancing at the age of 5, said she was inspired to make the same impact in Paris, especially after taking part in the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics as a one of six people who carried the Japanese flag in the national stadium.

Recalling the experience she had alongside Olympic medalists from Tokyo, including two-time swimming gold medalist Yui Ohashi, Kawai said, “They looked very confident, they looked so cool and daring. I want to be like them in Paris. ”

Ishikawa said he initially had “mixed feelings” about becoming an Olympic sport, as he feared it would run counter to the essence of the dance styles’ intrinsic street culture, in which dance battles are not graded.

However, he said he wanted to make the most of the opportunity, and he became more determined to do so when he saw the excitement generated by the success of Japanese skateboarders in Tokyo.

“I got chills thinking the same can happen for the breakup. But at the same time it made me nervous because we have to do everything we can to make the most of this chance”, a- he declared.

“Of course, if I were asked what color of medal Japan is looking for, it would be gold. But it’s not just about medals, we want to increase the value of the break,” he added.

While breakdancing is not yet commonly seen on television in Japan and is far from a common activity to participate in, more and more people are getting a taste of it.

A professional league called the D-League was launched in January 2021. The second season which kicked off in November features breakdancers seeking a berth in the Olympics.

Kawasaki, an industrial city just outside of Tokyo that has become the country’s breakdancing mecca, is trying to attract more young people with an emphasis on station wagons and other street sports.

The prefecture-level city of Kanagawa, where Ishikawa and Kawai are from, often sees groups of dancers gathering to show off their movements in front of Mizonokuchi Station, with some people using windows as full-length mirrors. A local club has been organizing disruptive events for a long time.

In December, the city held demonstration classes for elementary school students to practice street sports, including break and hip-hop dancing.

About 40 children tried out the break during one of the sessions in a local school gymnasium, where they listened to a dancer describe basic techniques and copied the movements.

“It was so much fun and I want to do it again,” said Towa Ueno, a 10-year-old elementary school student. “It will be so cool for the break to be at the Olympics. I want to watch it.”

Ishikawa, who has traveled the world on his dance trip, said he wants young break dancers to make friends everywhere because he believes foreigners can bond through dancing, despite the language barrier.

“There are so many attractions to be broken off, but I think the biggest point is that it allows you to bond with people no matter where they’re from,” he said. “I feel like we can relate to each other, our community is so unique and so fun to be a part of it.”

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