NEW YORK (AP) – Breaking is in Victor Montalvo’s blood. He is a descendant of twin breakers – his father and uncle – who were performing in Mexico long before they taught a young Montalvo to spin on his back.
Born in Kissimmee, Florida, the 28-year-old who also goes by B-Boy Victor has mastered the foundations of the dance form. He has power. He has the flavour and swagger expected of a diehard b-boy. His movement syncs with the breakbeat flowing from the DJ’s turntables.
Scribble, chirp, rip, boom, blip.
He hopes to take breaking further than his relatives ever dreamt, to battle his way to a medal ceremony, when the now-global dance art debuts at the Olympic Summer Games less than two years from now.
“I feel like I have a really high chance,” Montalvo told The Associated Press.
He is among dozens of champion b-boys and b-girls – a term for a male or female entrenched in the culture of hip hop – who are charting a path to the 2024 Games in Paris.
The International Olympic Committee (OIC) announced two years ago that breaking would become an official Olympic sport, a development that divided the breaking community between those excited for the larger platform and those concerned about the art form’s purity.
But after the Red Bull BC One World Final, held earlier this month in the birthplace of hip hop and a short distance from the very streets where Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers pioneered the art of breaking, the field of Olympic competitors is starting to take shape.
The November 12 event also attracted some of the original B-boys and B-girls, as the hip hop community prepares to celebrate 50 years since the culture’s founding in 1973.
“You never thought that something you were doing for fun was going to go around the world,” said a B-boy of the first generation of breakers from Harlem who beamed with pride over the dance form’s acceptance into the Olympics Douglas “Dancin’ Doug” Colón.
Along with Colón, first generation b-boy Trixie sat near a circular stage in the centre of Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
One by one, Red Bull BC One World Final competitors from Canada, China, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, South Korea and Venezuela took to the battle stage. The energy drink beverage company runs the world’s largest breaking competition.
The OGs offered blessings to their descendants by giving them dap – a friendly gesture of greeting in the Black and Latino communities that communicates solidarity and well wishes to the recipient.
Joe Conzo, Jr, a photographer known in the community as “Joey Snapz,” who documented hip hop in the Bronx from its infancy, also sat stageside taking pictures of the Olympic hopefuls.
“Nothing’s going to change the culture, the culture stays the same,” Colón said. “Even though it’s now an Olympic sport, people back in the hood will still be doing their thing”.
Red Bull BC One World Final judge Victor Alicea told the AP that judging competitions within the hip-hop culture have always been very subjective.
But that won’t be the case with the Paris Olympics, where officials will use a newly developed judging system to decide which b-boy or b-girl bested their opponent in one-on-one battles.
The Trivium judging system, created for the debut of breaking at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, is a digital scoring platform that allows judges to react in real-time to breakers’ physical, artistic and interpretative qualities or their “body, mind and soul”.
A panel of five judges scores each breaker on creativity, personality, technique, variety, performativity and musicality.
The scores can adjust throughout the battle, based on how a breaker responds to their opponent.
Scores can be lowered if a breaker “bites”, or copies, a set of moves from their opponent.
Misbehaviour, such as deliberate physical contact with an opponent, and other unsportsmanlike conduct can also lower a breaker’s score.
“I look for someone that takes over the floor. It’s a battle. It’s not just you dance and then I dance. You’ve got to bring it,” said Alicea, who is also known as B-boy Kid Glyde.
Montalvo, who was ranked as the world’s top B-boy after a world championship competition in Paris last December, said his path to the Olympics will require intense training.
It will also require more winning performances at competitions sanctioned by the World DanceSport Federation, an IOC-approved body administering the battles.
Breakers who do well in those events score points that help them qualify for the Paris Games. Olympic qualifiers kick off in September and run through June 2024.
At the end of the process, 16 B-boys and 16 B-girls will be allowed to compete over two days at the iconic Place de la Concorde, an outdoor public square in Paris.
That gives Olympic hopefuls lots of opportunities to sharpen their skills for the high-stakes battles.