One of India's biggest break dancing competitions returns this weekend, providing renewed hope to a neglected community
This isn't going to be a surprising story, but here's what happened. In 2018, the government of Maharashtra had organised a state-level B-boying competition in Nashik. This was after it was announced that breaking, as break dancing is officially called, would be included as a sport in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The state told the judges and the designated DJ that they'd be paid a certain sum of money for their participation. Word spread, and enthusiasts started preparing their moves. But then one day before the event — and this is the part that is not surprising — one of the judges, B-boy Bunny, got a message from a government official that was on the lines of, "Sorry boss, but we are taking back the offer of paying you for your services."
What happened next should give you an indication of the integrity with which the local B-boying community approaches their craft. All the people who had been looking forward to participate in the competition got wind of that message and decided to boycott the show en masse. One crew had already reached Nashik from Mumbai, oblivious of the government's volte face. But the others stood in solidarity with their wronged compatriots. And in the end, an event that was supposed to be a step forward in the country choosing its B-boying face for the Olympics ended up being one where just that solitary clueless crew put up a brief showcase. The whole affair, in other words, was an epic fail.
Now, consider this. Three Indian B-boys — Art-tech, Flying Machine and Burst — have won international competitions in Kuala Lumpur, Linz and Salzburg. The world championships of one of the biggest global breaking competitions will also be held in Mumbai for the first time ever, in November this year. So it's not that the country doesn't have recognisable talent. We have in fact seen for ourselves in a few ciphers the incredible feats of coordinated agility that some city-based B-boys can pull off. But here's where the problem lies — there are still too few avenues for the breaking community to highlight what their capabilities are. They are largely dependent on DIY ciphers where around 300 people at the most show up. That's just not enough to nurture the movement. So, who do we then rely on to give this emerging group the sort of oxygen it needs to grow? The answer, so far, lies in a handful of brands that have recognised this need, such as the one that's organising Breezer Vivid Shuffle, a national B-boying competition whose grand finale will be held in the city this weekend.
A participant in the first edition of Breezer Vivid Shuffle
The event will witness a portion of Famous Studios in Mahalaxmi being entirely restructured. A massive stage will be set up around which an audience of over 1,000 people is expected to gather. On it, 32 finalists from 11 cities will try and outdo each other in four different categories. Two international dancers — Kid David and Hok — will also perform to give the local talents an indication of where they are placed at globally. And the fact that Varun Dhawan has been roped in as the face of the competition lends it a much-needed Bollywood-style push. In fact, the actor is himself expected to shake a leg. But without taking anything away from him — and going purely by what we have seen first-hand — Dhawan can definitely pick up a trick or two from the moves that the B-boys display at the competition.
All in all, it's thus the sort of initiative that's needed to give a leg-up to Indian breakers. Ramesh Yadav aka B-boy Tornado, who won this event last year, tells us, "The problem is that breaking is still not considered a serious dance form in India, which is why we don't get sponsors or support from our families. Our only livelihood comes from hosting workshops and judging events, forcing us to juggle our passion with the demands of a steady job. We need people to finance foreign trips for B-boys, because that's how we will really improve ourselves after figuring out where we stand as compared to people abroad."
This is a long-standing plea that the community has had. An article in these pages in March this year had even conveyed the same when it was announced that breaking will become an Olympic sport. Sailesh Shantaram aka B-Boy Sonic had told us back then, "The government can also at least start training facilities on its part," though he'd quickly added, "But they don't even look towards us." Which means that with the authorities keeping their purse strings firmly tightened when it comes to B-boying, there's still little hope beyond wrestling, boxing and shooting to ensure that India's Olympic tally starts looking less like Mother Hubbard's cupboard.
ON September 21, 3 pm
AT Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi.
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