For Pinoy breaking community, long road to 2024 Paris Olympics lies ahead

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 03 2021 02:36 AM

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MANILA, Philippines—Melvin Ang has every reason to believe that the Philippines can vie for a medal in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, wherein breaking will be contested for the very first time.

Aside from singing, Filipinos "have dance as our second nature," he says. And unlike other sports, it doesn't necessarily give an automatic edge to those blessed with superior height, or speed, or power. All competitors are on a level playing field — the dance floor.

Ang, the chief of the breaking division of the Dance Sport Council of the Philippines Inc. (DSCPI), is confident that with enough support, Filipinos should be contenders for medals by the time Paris 2024 rolls around. There are talents all over the country, he says, talents who are just waiting to be called upon to wear national team colors and represent the Philippines. Talents who are just waiting to be developed, to be supported.

That, for Ang, is where the country's medal hopes hinge — if the Filipino b-boys and b-girls will gain enough recognition and support from the government to give them a realistic chance of competing in the Paris Games.

"Filipinos are very competitive," he notes. "And dito, ito na — merong opportunity din tayo na may laban."

BREAKING AS AN OLYMPIC EVENT

On December 7, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that breaking, the official name for competitive breakdancing, will be included in the sports program of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. This development came two years after breaking was included as a medal event in the Youth Olympics Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2018, where "upwards of 30,000 people came each day to see the competition," according to the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF).

It's also a development that admittedly surprised Ang.

"Siyempre, masaya kasi this is what we have been working for all these years. Tsaka nagulat din, kasi napaaga," he says.

The expectation within their community, says Ang, is that breaking would be a "trial sport" in the Tokyo Games first, before it would be contested again in the Youth Olympic Games and the Southeast Asian Games. Instead, breaking is one of four new sports — along with skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing — to be included in the Paris 2024 program.

"Pagka-announce, gulat din kami. Parang OK, so parang premature siya, actually," says Ang. "Kasi parang, wala, lahat din gulat eh. Parang, 'Uy, biglang i-announce.' Ito na pala tayo."

"Tapos ano, OK, what's the next step?"

It's a question with several layers. On one hand, Ang is figuring out the next step as an organizer of competitions. How will the qualification process play out? What kind of judging system will be used? How many events will even be contested? He and other organizers have plenty of experience when it comes to putting competitions together, but even Ang admits that the Olympic Games is an entirely different level.

Then there's the question of the next step that must be taken by the local breaking community in the Philippines. No Filipino dancer reached the podium in the men's breaking event in the 2019 SEA Games. In the women's division, Debbie "Hate" Mahinay came in second to Indonesia's Dewi Desyana, but because there were only two competitors no medals were awarded.

There's just one Olympic cycle left before the Paris Games. Will the Philippines be ready to compete at an elite level by that time?

Ang is blunt when he answers. "Dito sa Philippines kasi medyo hindi pa eh. Parang hindi pa nga tayo recognized as a sport," he admits.
 
"Kumbaga," he adds, "Saling-pusa. 'Yun 'yung dating natin."

For Pinoy breaking community, long road to 2024 Paris Olympics lies ahead 1
People attend a press conference put together by organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics to announce on February 21, 2019, in Paris that breakdancing, skateboarding, climbing and surfing have been invited to join the games. Lionel Bonaventure, AFP/file

COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH DANCESPORT

Breaking doesn't have its own national sports association (NSA) in the Philippines. Globally, there is no recognized international federation (IF) for it as well. Instead, breaking is considered a discipline of dance sport, with the WDSF — an organization recognized by the IOC — as its governing body. In the Philippines, this means that breaking is a division of the DSCPI.

It makes for a complicated, if interesting, dynamic. As Ang says, they are the "saling-pusa" — a division that's new to the game compared to the other more established divisions of the federation — Latin American and Standard. One major issue, he says, is that they have virtually nothing in common with those other divisions.

"'Yun 'yung medyo critical, kasi we have to work with ballroom, eh sobrang layo ng ano namin," he says. "We don't share anything in common at all except for the dance. Not even the music."

In the SEA Games, where the Philippines won 10 golds in the Latin American and Standard events, they shared a dance floor at Royce Hotel and Casino in Pampanga. Other than that? Everything was different, says Ang, from the presentation to the judging, even to how the competition itself was organized.

"Para mong pinagsama 'yung soccer tsaka 'yung (American) football, tapos you're sharing the field together, pero hindi mo talaga pwedeng i-merge kasi sobrang ibang-iba," he explains. "'Yun 'yung scenario namin."

This also means that breaking doesn't have any budget of its own. Whatever funding the dance sport federation receives from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) is shared by all divisions, be it breaking or Standard or Latin American. Unsurprisingly, this has become a source of headaches and frustrations for Ang as he tries to put together a pool of dancers who can represent the Philippines in international competitions.

"Dance sport is the one liaisoning us to them. So kung humihingi sila, siyempre budget ng buong dance sport," he notes. "Eh malay ba ni PSC kung foxtrot ba 'yan or Latin ba 'yan or modern ba 'yan or breaking ba 'yan. Parang it's a general (budget)."

"Wala kaming direct communication with PSC," he adds. "Starting with the Youth Olympic Games, when I stepped in and (started) working with different government agencies, nakita ko na 'yung, ang daming problema sa mga atleta natin. Sobrang kawawa sila. Allowances are being delayed, mga training facilities, hindi kumpleto. Talagang kanya-kanya lang."

"If we want to really be at a competitive level, 'no, especially on this . . . eh paano 'yun, 'di ba?"

Ang believes that at least some of their problems will be solved if he can sit down with PSC officials and discuss what they need as athletes, their plans for the program, and the future of breaking in the Philippines. But this is much easier said than done.

"Hindi ko nga alam kung alam ng PSC na we're existing eh," he says.

ONE FOOT FORWARD

Becky Garcia, president of the DSCPI, wasn't surprised when breaking was included in the Olympic program. In fact, she's been expecting it for some years now, ever since the discipline was included in the Youth Olympic Games.

"Parang we already knew that breaking would be in the Olympics," she says. "Every year kasi, we have the annual general meeting of the member-countries of the World DanceSport Federation."

"So, when we were in Lausanne, the last time we were in Lausanne, I think that was three years ago, they were already mentioning (it)," she reveals.

She may not have been surprised, but this doesn't mean that Garcia doesn't have some questions as to why breaking — of all the disciplines under dance sport — is the first to become an Olympic sport. Their other events — Latin and Standard — are more established, whereas breaking only recently became part of various dance sport federations in the world.

She admits that it's a question that's asked during their general meetings.

"Why was breaking ahead of the Latin and the Standard events?" she says. "Yes, it's still dancesport, but it's breaking. It's not the dancing."
Garcia says they didn't receive a satisfactory answer to those questions, but she has some theories as to breaking's inclusion in the Olympic Games.

"I think it was more the audience. Mas popular, the appeal (is there)," she says. "Kasi, like dancesport, parang selective ang audience, 'd iba. I think that's one of the reasons why breaking was chosen."
Garcia is not losing hope that with breaking already considered an Olympic sport, their other disciplines will break through in the future as well. It's something that they're constantly lobbying for, she says; it just so happened that breaking is the first to make it.

"At least," she says, "We have one foot forward, already."

In the meantime, Garcia says they are ready to support Ang and the breaking division. Because they are now part of the dance sport federation, breaking is supported by the government, says Garcia, and their competitions are now recognized.

"Whenever we ask for financial assistance, kasama na ang breaking," she says.

"When breaking was included in the SEA Games, we brought them into the SEA Games, and they were supported, and they brought in their own judges. So nag-compete sila," she adds.

But with breaking now an official Olympic sport — and with just one Olympic cycle before it makes its debut in Paris — Ang is now the one who is lobbying for more.

For Pinoy breaking community, long road to 2024 Paris Olympics lies ahead 2
Melvin Ang, chief of the breaking division of the Dance Sport Council of the Philippines Inc., hopes that with the Olympic development in his sport its practitioners would get more government assistance. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

WHAT'S NEEDED

Recognition from the PSC and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) — that, for Ang, is just the first of many steps that have to be taken for breaking to develop as a sport. Once that comes, then Ang is hopeful that the proper funding will follow, and they can put together a solid plan that will pave the way for the Philippines' qualification to the Olympic Games in Paris.

"I hope that ngayon na legitimate sport na kami, eh ma-recognize, mapansin tayo ng PSC, ng POC, with the fundings and everything," he says, admitting that he has yet to receive word from either organization even after breaking was formally named an Olympic sport by the IOC.

"Definitely, they would communicate with dance sport, and from dance sport, doon pa lang ika-cascade sa akin," he explains. "Hindi ko rin alam kung nagmi-meeting ba sila ngayon o hindi, kasi I never… Hindi naman ako natatawag sa mga meetings, mostly. Bibihira."

He notes that the pandemic has likely made it difficult for the stakeholders to meet, as well. What's certain is that the only communication he received is an e-mail from the IOC.

If he meets with officials of the PSC and the POC, Ang already knows what he has to tell them, the information he needs to share.

"I really want to present what is needed, before we start ulit. Kasi kung uulitin lang natin kung ano 'yung nangyari in the past, medyo it's not gonna work. Kawawa lang 'yung mga athletes natin," he says.

Ang is referring to what happened ahead of the 2019 SEA Games: he was only informed in late 2018 that their sport would be included in the SEA Games program, giving him barely a year to not only organize the competition, but also form a national team. Clearly, they will need more than a year's worth of preparation to be ready to compete in the Olympics in Paris.

"Sana, magkaroon na ng dialogue, magkaroon kami ng opportunity to present our program, and our need," Ang says.

The program that Ang has in mind includes grassroots development. Ang wants to scout for talent in other provinces, in other regions. He wants to categorize the athletes, so they can determine who needs further development, and who are ready to participate in professional and international competitions. He wants to have local breaking events, to raise awareness of the sport, and he wants it to be included in the Palarong Pambansa and Batang Pinoy. He hopes that it may even be included in schools' Physical Education programs.

"We have to have new sets of judges and trainors, and then activate the local scene, na, 'yung mga meron na diyan, existing na, magkaroon kayo ng separate funding niyo so that you can build your own. Para pag nagtawag tayo ng regionals at nationals, ready na lahat," he says.

For the elite program, Ang wants to start by early 2021, once restrictions are eased and they can again organize competitions among the local b-boys and b-girls. For the SEA Games in 2019, qualifiers were held in March. The journey to Paris will take much longer than that.

"I'm hoping na by next year, kung mag-open na, we start the journey. Three years, 2021, three years in the making sana," he says. "I think that's time para maka-ano tayo, into that competition level, worldwide. Kasi ang taas na ng competition ngayon, grabe."

The journey to 2024 — it's just one of the things Ang hopes to discuss if and when he gets to meet with the country's sports stakeholders.
"Sana ngayon magkaroon kami ng chance na maka-usap ang PSC, so that we could start the program as early as next year kung mag-open na tayo," he says.

AN AUDIENCE WITH THE PSC

Garcia makes it quite clear that they have plans to ramp up the support of their breaking division. Only, the COVID-19 pandemic has clashed with those plans; they have been unable to hold their usual dancesport events in March, July, and October this year because of the health crisis. She laments that even international competitions are on hold.

What about virtual events? Several sports have gone online because of the pandemic, as athletes find ways to maintain their competitive level while still being stuck at home.

"It's quite difficult," Garcia says of virtual dance-sport events. "We planned sana last November, we wanted to do an online national competition. Hindi rin natuloy. Mahirap eh, it's quite difficult."

Besides, a virtual event cannot quite capture the atmosphere of an actual dance sport competition. Garcia recalls how the audience responded to their event in the SEA Games, wherein Filipino dance sport athletes dominated, winning 10 gold medals.

"That was really very interesting, and they really shined," she says.

A meeting with the country's sports stakeholders can take place virtually, however, and that's what Ang is hoping for at this point. When asked if she can help Ang get a meeting with PSC Chairman William "Butch" Ramirez, Garcia immediately confirms that she can do it.

"Yes, if he wants. He can just talk to me," she says.

"But," Garcia is quick to add, "I don't know if the chairman of PSC, Butch Ramirez will meet with him, kasi what will they talk about? What is the agenda? Support?"

"Well, if he wants to meet with the Chairman Butch, I can organize that. Baka naman si Chairman Butch will say, for what reason, what's the agenda? Wala namang mga competition," she points out.

"But siguro, because they announced that breaking will be in the Olympics, there will be a chance that he will be entertained by Chairman Ramirez and give him support for training," Garcia continues. "'Yun lang hihingin, I'm sure niyan, 'yung training, the support for the training."

"But he has not talked to me about it."

For Pinoy breaking community, long road to 2024 Paris Olympics lies ahead 3
Yer Lord Ilyvm “Dudut” Gabriel (center), a former Philippine national team member for breaking, practices with fellow breakers in Parañaque City last month. Breaking — or breakdancing — was recently included in the 2024 Paris Olympics calendar of events. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

A SMALL SPACE

Ang is aware that the support he seeks is unlikely to come all at once; he understands that there is a process, and it can be a long one. But he also knows that they have to start somewhere.

"The recognition is the first step," Ang stresses.

There are plenty of sports that can serve as a blueprint for breaking. Ang looks to skateboarding as a particular example: it rose to prominence after Margielyn Didal's golden breakthrough in the 2018 Asian Games. Now, she is being supported in her quest to make it to the Tokyo Olympics, and skate parks are being built in the country. More and more people are becoming aware of its potential, too, thanks to the skateboarding team's golden performance in the 2019 SEA Games.

"Nag-gold (si Didal), now they're paying more attention, giving what is due to the athletes," Ang notes.

But the other sport he is looking at is billiards — specifically, how widespread it became, how popular it turned out to be among the Filipinos. And how this popularity translated into success, both locally and internationally, for the country's cue artists.

"Basta may billiards sa bawat kanto, then tatakbo na siya," Ang says.

Breaking can be similar. Here, they won't even need any high-tech equipment — just a space, and a speaker.

"Kahit na maliit na space, and then you can start dancing already. Hindi siya magastos na sports," says Ang.

From there, they can move forward. More and more b-boys and b-girls can be discovered, and they can start competing on local levels to elevate their skills. From there, they can start representing the country internationally, testing themselves against more established athletes, and improving themselves even further. Perhaps, one of these b-boys and b-girls can represent the Philippines in the Paris Games in 2024.

They just have to get started.

"Kahit basic needs muna, hangga't sa mapakita natin na this is gonna be a sport na everyone can join, that it can be popular," says Ang. "And at the same time, we have a chance in getting medals sa mga iba't ibang levels."

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