Stepping out of the shadows: how this group of Hongkongers are dancing their way to the international stage

Bboy Think

Hong Kong may not be ready for a dramatic breakthrough but these dancers are.

Tsang Tsz-wa, also known as Bboy Think, is one of the Hong Kong Breaking representatives. This 30-year-old Bboy dyed his hair white but always hides it under a black knit cap.

The hat is used to reduce the damage to his hair and head when he does a headspin, a very dangerous break dance move that requires a breakdancer to rotate along the vertical axis of their body by balancing on the head.

Having breakdanced for 15 years, Bboy Think said he has joined around 50 local competitions, mainly team battles because he really enjoyed the team spirit by dancing with his teammates, whom he calls “brothers”.

Even though the Hong Kong Breaking Team selection were one-on-one battles, instead of Bboy Think’s favorite team battle, he ranked first in the Hong Kong Team selection.

The Hong Kong Breaking Team was selected from three qualifying matches and a final match. The final match was supposed to take place in Olympian City, a shopping mall in Tai Kok Tsui, in January. Yet, the match got canceled because of the tightened anti-epidemic and social distancing measures.

After amending the rules, only three Bboys and three Bgirls with the highest two scores from the three qualifying matches are selected as Hong Kong representatives. Bboy Think ranked first in the first two Hong Kong Breaking Team qualifying matches last year, earning the highest scores.

Although Hong Kong Team has six breakdancers, only the top four will be sent to join overseas competition or Asian Games. Bboy Think is one of the breakdancers who will join the coming Asian Games in Hangzhou this September.

Bboy Think currently trains three days a week instead of full time because he also needs to sustain a living by working as a dancing teacher.

Bboy Think is not the only Hong Kong Breaking representative who cannot train full time because of financial concern.

Bgirl Lady Banan

Bgirl Lady Banan is one of Hong Kong’s leading female athletes in breakdancing, she represented Hong Kong in the latest Word Breaking Championship. She is 52 on the leader board out of 204 competitors, one of the first athletes of Hong Kong to make it on the international stage. She is currently placed second in Hong Kong in making the Olympic team for Paris 2024.

Bgirl Lady Banan works as a part time dancing teacher at the School of Hip Hop.

“I’ve been training as a breakdancer for 11 years, I have always loved the sport,” said Lady Banan, who did not give us her real name. To support her dream in becoming a breakdancer and make ends meet, 32-year-old breakdancer also works as a dancing teacher in School of Hip Hop and also a part time in a beauty parlor.

School of Hip Hop is a dancing school under Youth Outreach, a local NGO dedicated to help at-risk youth.
School of Hip Hop is on the 12th floor of the center of Youth Outreach in Sai Wan Ho.

“Breakdancing is definitely an underground dance sport, many institutions in Hong Kong support dance sports like ballet and ballroom dancing but not the odd one out like break dancing. We have extremely limited support. Of all the international tournaments I have done, I had to pay for rent for rehearsal rooms, my flight, my competition fees and hotel fees, it’s definitely a burden for a full time athlete,” said Lady Banan as she gets ready to teach an online dancing class, one of the ways she had been making income during the pandemic.

Initially, her family did not support her idea of being a breakdancer, they thought that she wasn’t taking school seriously and viewed it more as a hobby than a career. However, as more international sport institutions are now including the dance sport in recognised competitions, it seems like there is hope for this new generation of athletes.

Breakdancing Development in the Region and in Hong Kong

Breakdancing, or professionally known as breaking by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), will soon make its way to the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou this September for the first time. While the sport has only been included in international athletic competitions recently, Hong Kong has had its own circle of break dancing athletes that are olympic-ready.

Hong Kong currently has four breakdancers registered under the World Dancesport Federation (WDSF), all of which had competed at the 2021 World Breaking Championship. However, not one of them are certified official athletes with the HKSAR government’s athlete program and the future of the sport in Hong Kong seems dire. It means that none of the city’s breaking representatives are getting paid by the government. The government or the dancesport association only subsidies the breakdancers for their flight tickets and hotel fees when they go to compete abroad. Those who desire to train full time as breakdancing athletes have to fend for and support themselves.

The sport was added to the Paris 2024 Olympic roster as part of four new sports. The IOC supported the addition of breaking, alongside skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing. “They contribute to making the programme of the Olympic Games more gender balanced, more youthful and more urban. They offer the opportunity to connect with the young generation,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in an official statement.

In the official format, 16 Bboys and 16 Bgirls will compete in one-on-one battles.

According to the Paris 2024 Games website, the Dance Sport will be sectioned into 2 events, one for men, one for women. The event will only feature 16 B-Boys and 16 B-Girls in solo dance battles. The Olympic standard dance moves include windmills, the 6-step and freezes, while also grading on improvisation.

Bgirl Lady Banan is doing a freeze which is a technique that involves halting all body motion in a balance-intensive position.
Bboy Chacha is performing toprock, a movement performed while standing. Toprock allows the breakdancer to demonstrate coordination, flexibility, rhythm and style.
Bboy Chacha is demonstrating footwork which is also known as downrock or floorwork. Footwork refers to any movement on the floor with the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet.
Bboy Think is doing a head spin, a kind of power move. Power move is the most challenging dance move in breaking, requiring the dancer to create a circular momentum while the whole body is supported by the upper body.

Hong Kong’s Support for Athletes

According to the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI), Hong Kong currently has a government-led elite sport training system. It aims to provide training grounds and support services for athletes that are picked by the HKSI; these athletes represent Hong Kong in international sporting events. The HKSAR government utilizes the Elite Vote Support Scheme (EVSS) in hand-picking representing athletes. The accomplishments of senior and junior athletes at major international competitions will be taken into account in the selection process. Those selected will be able to access the HKSI’s support for four years. A review mechanism is in place to evaluate an athlete’s performance.

Under the scheme, the HKSI categorizes its athletes into 2 tiers, Tier A and Tier B. The main criteria that differentiates the tiers is the sport, and whether or not it was competed in the last 3 Asian games or Olympics games.

Hong Kong Sports Teams are divided into Tier A and B, depending on the athletes’ performance. Teams and athletes from different tier receive different funding and support. (Source: HKSI)

While the training system seems quite comprehensive, the reality of support for the sport of breakdancing athletes is far from consistent. Although breakdancing falls under the DanceSport category in Tier B, dancers may not be able to receive funding due to the lack of wins or dancesport program competition recognised by the Hong Kong government. In the latest statistics provided by the government, no DanceSport athlete is currently funded by the Tier B training system. Data from the HKSI shows that in 2021-22, only 6 athletes in the DanceSport category are receiving an Individual Athlete Sports Scheme, how many of those are breakdancers are unknown.

The government pays elite athletes from Tier A and B according to EVSS. No breakdancer is under the funding scheme currently. (Source: HKSI)

The Hong Kong DanceSport Association represents local dancing athletes and covers a number of dance styles, breaking rose to the ranks after being recognised as an Olympic Sport. To facilitate the support for breakdancing athletes, a Breaking Committee was set up in 2018 and had 5 members that regulated support for local break dancers that were set to compete at international competitions. We reached out to the Hong Kong Dancesport Association for an official comment on the how the Breaking Committee had funding to support local break dancing athletes but did not receive a reply.

Bboy Cha Cha Kong led the Breaking Youth Olympic team to the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games. (Credits: World DanceSport Federation)

Stigma and Challenges of Breakdancing in Hong Kong

“Many people associate breakdancing with drugs, the bad side of town, and it has driven a lot of potential of the sport away. The inclusion of the dancesport at the Paris 2024 Olympics have definitely re-sparked interest,” Bboy Cha Cha
Bboy Cha Cha was one of the committee members of Hong Kong Breaking Team.

Bboy Cha Cha, who refused to give his real name said even though the underground community of break dancing has long existed in Hong Kong, it was difficult for it to break out of its shell and be embraced by the public and something that was “healthy” and “positive”.

This 34-year-old breakdancing educator at the School of Hip Hop was also on the committee of Hong Kong Breaking Team. He said the intentions for the committee were far rosier than reality. Bboy Cha Cha led the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic team for breakdancing and recruited 10 members to the games but since then the move forward for the development of breakdancing remains to be slow.

Breakdancers from the School of Hip Hop has won many local competitions.

“Hierarchy of dance styles have definitely become a block in the road for breakdancing, more resources are given to long-standing dancesports like Latin Dance and Ballroom Dance. Even though there have been multiple efforts to push for more consistent support and funding for breakdancing specifically, many knocks have been ignored.

It seems like all odds are against their efforts as the pandemic has forced-shut a lot of rehearsal rooms for break dancing. Social stigma of break dancing being “bad”, where tattoo-branded people who smoke gather, had made the underground dancing frowned upon. Another real struggle dancers face are the many street violations they are tossed with when dancing on the streets.

“Break dancing is an art, it’s a component of the four elements of hip hop. It is part of our culture to exchange ideas and dance together on the streets. Clearly, the pandemic had not helped the situation, but prior to the social-distancing rules and Covid mandates, the police were never kind with giving us space to dance. We were targeted,” said Bboy Cha Cha.

According to the HKSAR government, the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228), require street performers to apply for a one-off permit to the Commissioner of Police. “The red tape around doing what we do and the bureaucracy around securing any consistent funding for the sport [break dancing] makes it difficult for us,” said Bboy Cha Cha. However, he remains hopeful for break dancing and its development as a sport with momentum of support in sending athletes to the Paris 2024 games becoming more visible.

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