How breakdancing broke through 2019 SEA Games

Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 22 2019 06:30 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2019 05:57 PM

Filipino breakers practice before they officially vie for a spot to represent the country in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games during the qualifiers at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City on March 16, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Danielle Jade "Badd" Napadao vies to represent the country in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games during the qualifiers at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City on March 16, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Debbie "Bgirl Hate" Mahinay vies for a spot to represent the country in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games during the qualifiers at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City on March 16, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Jesse "Bboy Reflex" Gotangco vies for a spot to represent the country in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games during a qualifier in Pasig City on March 16, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Gabriel Jose "Bboy Gabster" Leviste vies for a spot to represent the country in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games during the qualifiers at the Valle Verde Country Club in Pasig City on March 16, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Scenes from the recent breaking qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News.

Scenes from the recent breaking qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News.

Scenes from the recent breaking qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News.

Scenes from the recent breaking qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Scenes from the recent breaking qualifiers for the Southeast Asian Games. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


MANILA -- After a sea of dancesport aspirants in dresses and coats finished their run in a ballroom in Pasig City, a young group in casual athletic clothes took center stage and danced unlike the rest in the room.

As the music dropped, the dancers spun on their backs, flew in the air, and contorted their bodies in unimaginable stances to the surprise and delight of the crowd.

At the end of the night, 6 of the dancers -- 3 boys and 3 girls -- were entrusted to represent the Philippines on a stage that no one has imagined possible.

Breaking, or more commonly known as breakdancing, is one of the many disciplines recently included in the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to be held in the country in late November to early December. For the first time ever, breaking representatives for the SEA Games were recently chosen in a qualifier held last March 16.

Gabriel Jose "Gabster' Leviste, Yer Lord Ilyvm "Dudut" Gabriel, Paul Samuel Laurente "Awesam" Uy came out on top against 12 other bboys or break boys, while Alyanna "Yani" Talam, Debbie "Hate" Mahinay, and Danielle Jade "Badd" Napadao beat 3 other bgirls or break girls as the first breakers to wear the Philippine colors in the biennial event.

Long road to recognition

Breaking's recent inclusion to the SEA Games came after it was included in the 2018 World Youth Games in Buenos Aires and subsequently proposed by 2024 Olympics host Paris as one of the new disciplines.

Internationally, breaking is represented by the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF), more associated with the discipline of ballroom dancing. This was met with mixed reactions from the international breaking community, including some of the living pioneers of the dance.

“Because there is always that pull between it being a sport and a culture and an art form,” 2018 World Youth Games Philippine Team coach Jesse "Reflex" Gotangco said of the reaction of the community. “It's slowly becoming accepted in the community. Slowly the bboys are supporting it. But there is always that resistance initially, especially for it being branded as a sport.”

Dance Sport Council of the Philippines Inc. breaking division head and 2019 SEA Games breaking chairman Melvin Ang explained: “Dancesport is actually the official governing body that the Olympics recognize because breaking has no organizing body, we don't have that international committee yet. What happened is dancesport is the one who pitched breaking. So when breaking made it to the Olympics, we have to be under dancesport.”

According to the Olympics website, for a sport or event to be included in the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee must recognize a governing body or an international dederation -- in breaking’s case the WDSF. 

Fil-Canadian breaking veteran and qualifiers judge Karl Oliver "Dyzee" Alba was elated when he first heard the recent developments, as he has been a vocal advocate for breaking to reach the Olympics for a long time and knows the long process of recognition by the IOC.

“I think it was great. This was the chance because I know about the overall benefits and I know that the only way this could happen is through World Dance Sport Federation. It is the only honest way.”

If breaking would be approved by the IOC, it would be the first dance discipline to make it to the Olympics.

With such developments, the DSCPI also pushed for breaking's inclusion in the upcoming SEA Games.

Despite working with a small budget and poor information-dissemination of the inclusion of the event, it is a giant step for the dance that deserves recognition, support, and government funding, according to Ang.

Great timing for the community

For some members of the breaking community, the qualifiers may have been a lifeline to a waning passion.

Flying all the way from Bacolod for the qualifiers, Debbie "Hate" Mahinay said the qualifiers was a blessing after the sacrifices she has made for 9 years of breaking, such as forgoing practicing her Education degree and dancing full time.

"Nawalan ako ng gana sa breaking because opportunities medyo maliit kasi pa probinsya," Mahinay said. "Pero nung dumating 'yung SEA Games breaking, as in super blessing para sa 'min. It gives me a chance to represent myself, to inspire especially mga students namin, na ang breaking hindi lang hobby-hobby, puwede siyang maging lifetime profession and passion din. 

(I lost the drive to do breaking because opportunities were slim especially in the province. But with the arrival of breaking in SEA Games, it was such a blessing for us. It gives me a chance to represent myself, to inspire especially our students, that breaking is not just a hobby, but it can be a lifetime profession and passion.)

The SEA Games may be also the needed catalyst to a once-thriving breaking community.

Gotangco describes the breaking community in recent times as going back underground, a slow shift from once having many events and jams, groups called crews, and opportunities to battle internationally. 

Prior to the 2019 SEA Games, Gotangco said, "A lot of crews kinda got old and retired. That's why they kinda went back underground, the community became smaller and just [held] local community jams. So right now, it's slowly building up again because new crews are coming up slowly. I think it's just a cycle.

Hard times

Similar to the roots of breaking in the streets of New York back in the '70s, most bboys and bgirls in the Philippines come from the lower economic classes. Most of them face the dilemma of financial sustainability and economic problems. 

"They'll have to eventually quit one day, go get a job, have kids or something," said Alba after going around the country and helping the Filipino breaking community for more than a decade.

Even for those who have been or are in college, dancers like Leviste, a graduating college student, and Talam, an engineer for a logistics company, acknowledge the struggle of maintaining a job and their passion and probably even falling out from the scene.

“Since graduating ako and prone to reality na din, bina-balance ko siya. Hindi ko siya kayang i-full time yung pag-bboy. Kaya kahit papaano 'pag wala akong ginagawa, or may naisip akong ideas, ilalabas ko sa breaking ko. If time naman for school, 'yung papasok ako at aaral ako and if may exams, quizzes, etc., ipapahinga ko muna yung breaking at mag rereview ako,” Leviste said.

(Since I'm graduating and prone to reality, I just balance. I can't go full time as a bboy. That's why when I'm not doing anything or an idea pops up, I do breaking. If it's time for school, go to class and study, and if there are exams, quizzes, etc. I would take a break from breaking and review.)

On balancing dancing and now work, Talam said, “Kasi ako 'yung tao na kapag hindi sabay 'yung dalawa, hindi ako 'yun e. So ganun ang gusto ko mangyari kasi nasa third world country tayo, sa Pilipinas hindi ka puwedeng walang trabaho. Pupuwedeng wala kang trabaho, pero may business ka tapos meron ka pang ginagawang iba. Ganun kasi sa country natin e, maliban na lang kung galing sa rich family.”

(I'm the type of person that if I don't do both, that's not who I am. I do this because we are in a third world country, a job is a must. It's possible to not have a job, but have a business and do something else on the side. That's the reality here in the country, unless you come from a rich family.

Despite the challenges, bboys like Gabriel, a university discipline officer, are optimistic of the possibilities with the opportunity recently given to them.

"Kung iisipin natin sa future, iispin mo 'yung breaking magiging trabaho mo din. Isipin mo 'yung mahal mong gawa, sumusweldo ka pa. Tapos i-enhance mo 'yung sarili mo tapos makakapag-share ka pa sa ibang tao. Pagiging full time nito, solid," Gabriel mused.

(If we think about the future, think of breaking as a job. Think about doing something that you love and getting paid for it. Then you get to enhance yourself and share your knowledge to other people. It would be great to do this full time. )

Breaking through to the future

The recent developments with breaking internationally and locally have given Alba a positive outlook for the dance.

On the local scene, Alba said: "I realized that dancesport is actually from a really wealthier economic class. The fact that the two are coming together, I think it's great. It's greater for the breaking scene here. I hope it can help make breaking more popular and more professional and help give the opportunities to the young bboys."

The recent inclusion has Ang hopeful, especially with the opportunity to make the dance known on a wider scale.

"Because I've been judging different dance and hip-hop competitions internationally and nationwide, I've seen a lot of homegrown talents in Visayas and Mindanao. Hopefully next year, with the inclusion in Batang Pinoy, we could get the local government to fund and bring up grassroots programs for breaking. It's a good way to bring the kids out of drugs and out of vices and really going to a discipline or sport. I'm also hoping schools will have scholarships as well. "

Acknowledging that the general breaking community would still recognize the dance as a culture, Gotangco, also a professor in a university, sees the opportunity as another platform for greater awareness and recognition to those outside the community to what it is. 

"I think the more awareness, the more curiosity and possibly maybe penetration more in the academic scene. In the future, we might roll with maybe breaking courses, streetdance courses, but as of now more of the recognition."

For the new representatives, it's a unique honor and responsibility to carry the flag.

"Pag SEA Games, atleta ka. Araw-araw kami nagpapalakas, ibig sabihin same kami ng nagbo-boxing, lahat. Ibig sabihin 'yung laban na to, laban na rin namin, laban ng buong Pilipinas," Gabriel said. "Sobrang proud namin na kelangan namin ipush sarili namin to train hard and represent the Philippines para makainspire pa ng iba mag bboy."

(When you're in the SEA Games, you're considered an athlete. We train everyday, similar to boxing and the other sports. Our fight is the Philippines' fight. We are so proud that we need to push ourselves to train hard and represent the Philippines so we can inspire the current and upcoming bboys.) 

2019 SEA Games