Explained: Breaking rules, moves and format

Breakdancing was part of the 2018 Youth Olympics and is a medal event at Paris 2024.

By Aarish Ansari
Picture by 2013 Red Bull

From the streets of New York in the 1970s to the grand stage of the Olympic Games, breaking has charted a course not many would have thought was possible.

Breakdancing, as breaking is popularly known, is a form of dance sport that blends urban dance with remarkable athleticism, making it worthy of a spot in the Olympic programme.

And after its successful introduction at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, breaking is set to make its big Olympic Games debut at Paris 2024.

However, unlike its beginning on the streets, breaking has evolved into a proper dance sport, with a fixed set of rules that make for fair competition.

Breaking moves

But, before we dive into the breakdancing rules, let’s look at the three basic elements that make up breaking – top rock, down rock and freeze.

Top rock refers to all moves that are performed while standing up - generally a combination of stylish hand movements and footwork whereas freeze is when the breaker comes to a standstill in an unusual position (on their head or hands) in the middle of their routine.

But the most crucial and often the highlight of the performance is the down rock, which involves all moves done on the floor. It features spins, footwork, transitions and, most importantly, power moves.

Power moves are a complex set of movements the breakers showcase by spinning their whole body on hands, elbows, back, head or shoulders. The gravity-defying, acrobatic movements require superior strength, balance and flexibility.

For instance, the air flare power move requires dancers to rotate their body, whilst upside down, while alternating their balance on either arm and moving in a circular path.

Meanwhile, flare is a common acrobatic move that is also done by gymnasts. It involves balancing the torso on alternating arms and swinging the legs underneath in circles.

Alexander Artemev of the USA performing a flare.
Picture by 2007 Getty Images

Breakers combine all three elements in their routine on beats provided by a hip-hop DJ when facing each other in a one-on-one competition called a battle.

Breaking battle format

Athletes, or breakers, as they are called, go up against each other in a 1 vs 1 battle and take alternate turns or throw downs to perform their routines.

A battle generally features a fixed number of sets from all breakers. Most major competitions, like the Red Bull BC One, have either two or three throw downs until the final, which has three or five throw downs.

Moreover, each throw down cannot be longer than 60 seconds but there are no penalties for performing too short or too long.

Each battle is conducted in front of a panel of judges, which usually comprises respected dancers from the breaking community. The judges rate each performance on clearly defined criteria.

Breaking judging criteria

A minimum of three or more uneven number of judges score the battles on six criteria - creativity, personality, technique, variety, performativity and musicality.

Each parameter has different weightage in a battle, with technique, performativity and creativity constituting 60 per cent of the total score while variety, musicality and personality make up the remaining 40 per cent.

The judges submit their votes after each round and the breaker with the highest points is declared the winner.

At the 2018 Youth Olympics, the judging panel comprised five judges.

Breaking at Paris 2024

Breaking was added to the 2024 Paris Olympics medal programme, along with other youth-centric events like skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing, which form an integral part of today’s culture.

There will be separate competitions for men and women, where the best 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls of the world will face off in solo battles.

And undoubtedly, we will get to see the new generation of Olympic stars arise in Paris from a movement that started half a century ago in New York.

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