InterviewBreakdancing is an Olympic sport! Let's meet a 'breaking' judge.
It's official! Breakdancing will be an official Olympic Sport at the Paris 2024 Games. But what does this mean for the future of the sport, the community around it, and the global impact it's creating?
We had a conversation with Maikel Walker, who is a differently abled Dutch breakdancer turned breakdance judge. Maikel has an extensive history with the sport, beginning in the 80's and it has taken him to international stages. His style is influenced by his training in martial arts and his time as a 'b-boy.'
Breakdancing will be an Olympic sport for the first time ever at the Paris 2024 Games. And the Netherlands is gearing up to send our best 'breakers' forward. Maikel gives us the inside scoop and tells us about his inspiring journey with breakdancing.
Learn more about breaking in the Netherlands here.
Photo credits: Nederlandse Breaking League (NBL)
Yes! My name is Maikel Walker and I work as a Senior Advisor for International Business Development in Canada and the United States at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) But, I have a background as a breaker of course.
I started ‘breaking’ in 1984. It felt like the first wave of people breaking in the Netherlands back then. I saw a movie called ‘beat street' which was released that year and it sparked my interest. From 1984 till 1988 I started taking it very seriously and practising. By the way; within the community, we refer to it as ‘breaking’ often rather than breakdancing. (And we will therefore call it 'breaking for the rest of this chat).
I took a break in 1988 and started again in 1997 with a crew in Rotterdam. We performed many shows, had many dance battles, and even got to be on stages internationally. In 2002 we started a school called the ‘Hip Hop Huis.’ It still exists even though I’m not involved anymore and teaches a lot of young people the sport of ‘breaking.’
In 2004 I performed at the Olympic Games in Athens. We did street shows and also had a spot at the Heineken Holland house, which was a pavilion dedicated to Dutch athletes. So, in the past I was active in the sport of ‘breaking,’ but now I play the role of a World Dance Federation certified judge, which means I'm certified to judge national and world champions, but also the Olympics. I still practise three times a week and love being around the sport in whatever way I can.
When you’re a dancer, the community is really tight-knit. We would always be together and interact with everyone, including competitors. And when you’re a judge it’s not always possible to be part of that because of impartiality in competition. It’s sometimes hard to re-imagine my role in the community as a judge now rather than a dancer.
As a WDSF judge I’ve had to go through formal exams to be qualified, apart from just my background as a dancer. We have a system that’s set up for competitions that is built to be fair and transparent to everyone. In my new position I’m very aware of that and take it seriously.
I was in Madrid for a competition this weekend and saw dancers I’ve known for over 20 years. However, I was not able to interact with them until after the competition proceedings. It’s a big shift, but also one I’m embracing as I really like the role I play now too.
It’s a question on everyone’s mind. And in my opinion it's fantastic that it's been formalised into an Olympic Sport as it opens doors that we didn’t have access to when I started. Now, major sports brands that never considered signing sponsorship deals with breakers are lining up. It's an opportunity to build a very serious sports career for many ‘breaking’ athletes.
Of course, there’s some who aren’t fully in support of it being formalised as an Olympic Sport. I believe it's because they find a lot of freedom from the rules that formalised sport brings in something like breaking. It’s a similar thing with Hip Hop as a musical expression, which often pushes or subverts rules. In the Olympics it’ll be a sport and with that comes rules.
However, I think that both these worlds can exist in harmony. We have our own platforms that aren’t the Olympics and the rules there are set by the community around them. But, for dancers who want to also pursue it as a sporting career as an athlete, there’s also a space for that.
The people who want to engage with breaking as a means of self expression can continue to do that. And for those who approach it through the lens of sport and competition on the highest level; there’s also a space for them now too! These processes working hand-in-hand will only give each other strength rather than take anything away from either approach.
"Imagine if in 2024 a Dutch athlete wins the first ever Olympic gold medal for breakdancing. It’s a chance to create history and a new age for the sport!"
Well, it's not easy but it's certainly possible. Dancers now have the opportunity to take part in many global competitions. And as I mentioned before more brands are providing financial support for this as it's not always the smoothest process to make a living from breaking. Some brands even formed entire teams. This enables dancers to focus their energies on training and being part of the competition circuit leading to the Olympics.
Dancers that make it on the Olympic team of the Netherlands will first have to pass through ranking events throughout the year. Based on the cumulative results of these competitions, the top 3 men and top 2 women will be selected for the Dutch Olympic team for breaking.
However, they then have to fight for their spot to make it to the Games. There are only 16 available positions for breaking teams at the Olympics, with France’s place secured as host nation. It’ll be a tough competition, but I’m sure we can make it.
Before the Olympics came into the picture, it was a lot harder to dedicate your life to breaking as a professional athlete. There’s so much support that goes into it and even governments are getting involved. Apart from that, there’s training regimens and teams of coaching and support staff that are now around to help with diets, recovery, and anything a pro athlete needs to succeed.
I see the change personally amongst my friends and colleagues in the scene. There was always immense amounts of talent, but now there’s also the practicality of finances backing it. There’s a spark in everyone’s eye now at the possibility of being a pro Olympic athlete. Kids can now go to their parents and say ‘I want to be a professional breaker’ and find that their parents also see value in it. It’s a whole new world of opportunity!
There are changes and more people getting involved, but not yet at the rate the sport needs in my opinion. Dancers often receive financial support for attending global competitions, but the process needs to start earlier than that stage. I would love for more companies to be involved in this process and realise the value that being associated with this sport can bring.
And on the government side, I hope we see that in order to compete at a global stage and send our best athletes forward in team NL at the Olympics, we need to invest in the infrastructure and programmes that surround the sport. In addition, there’s a breaking division at the Dutch National Dance Federation which is always looking to work with people that are interested.
It’s many different things that need to come together to ensure the success of this sport and our athletes. But it starts with knowing that breakers are serious professional athletes and train in this way. And breaking as a sport will only continue to grow in popularity and influence globally.
The Olympics, as we’ve been talking about, is a huge step but it doesn’t end there. We need to approach it from the role of governments, companies, the breaking community, and the audience too. If all of these come together and realise the positive potential of this sport we can make a lot happen. Breaking is a sport that gives people a platform for self expression, inclusion, hope, and now a career as a professional sports person.
We’ve already talked about the role governments and companies take and can continue to play. And on the side of the community I would urge everyone to support the future of the sport. It would be great to see more parents encouraging their kids to take up the sport. Also, coaches who impart skills in breaking, but also an understanding of the importance of community and the globally impactful nature of this sport.
And as for the audience I would like to invite everyone to go watch a competition live. You can always watch it online, but there’s many events that happen like The Notoruis IBE in Heerlen and the Nederlandse Breaking League events, which happen locally. And many more globally. Being in the audience is a different experience. It’s accessible and the community has nothing but love for those who embrace breaking.
We’ve come a long way since I started my journey with ‘breaking’ back in the 80’s. Imagine if in 2024 a Dutch athlete wins the first ever Olympic gold medal for breaking. It’s a chance to create history and a new age for the sport!