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Breaking taboos: Afghanistan's first B-girl lives her Olympic dream

Updated: 2024-06-14 09:28
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Afghan B-girl Manizha Talash works with her coach, David Vento, in Madrid on Tuesday. REUTERS

MADRID — Three years after she fled Afghanistan so she could dedicate her life to the new Olympic sport of breaking, Manizha Talash is preparing to compete at the Paris Games as part of the Refugee Team.

For the 21-year-old "B-girl" the prospect is bittersweet.

"I would love to go and compete with the Afghan team alongside other girls, but we all know that's just impossible," Talash told reporters as she got ready to train in a public square in Madrid's Vallecas neighborhood.

"I'm very happy, because, a few months ago, it was just a dream, but now I'm living it. I can look at myself and say that 'I'm here, I've made it'."

Breaking, a competitive form of street dance that blends artistry and dance with acrobatic moves, will make its debut at the Paris Olympics in July.

Sixteen B-girls and 16 B-boys will compete in the discipline, which has its roots in the New York Bronx of the 1970s, bringing a new dimension to the Olympic movement.

"When I saw a video online of a man just spinning on his head, I immediately told myself: 'That's what I want to do with my life!' And, three months later, I found a gym in Kabul to start training," Talash recalled.

Talash strikes a pose in Madrid on Tuesday, as she prepares for the Paris Games, where breaking will make its Olympic debut. REUTERS

As the only girl among the 56 members of the Superiors Crew, a small but ardent breaking community in Kabul, Talash said it was not only her family members who disapproved of her new passion. She started receiving death threats as the word spread about Afghanistan's first B-girl.

Many conservative Afghans frown on dancing of any kind, and even more vehemently object to a woman's public participation — some of them violently so.

"We received three bomb threats to our club and, after the police came and arrested a man who was planning to attack us, they ordered us to close the club down, because they said it was a major threat not only to ourselves, but for the people in the neighborhood," Talash said.

Then, in August 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul, outlawing music and dancing, which the group considers to be "un-Islamic".

Since then, most girls have been barred from high school and women from universities. The Taliban have also stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women in the absence of a male guardian.

"After the Taliban came, I didn't leave Afghanistan because of the fear of death. It was because breaking is my life. I'm here now because I have chosen to pursue my dream."

Talash practices some of her more acrobatic moves during a training session in Madrid on Tuesday. REUTERS

Talash said that she spent a year in Pakistan before being granted refugee status in Spain, alongside six other members of her crew who were spread around the country.

She kept training, but it wasn't until early 2024 that, thanks to the efforts of friends, the Refugee Olympic Team found Talash, brought her to Madrid and sponsored her six-days-a-week training program after she secured her spot at the Paris Olympics.

Around the same time, her mother, two brothers and sister were granted refugee status, and were able to join her in Madrid, giving Talash an extra shot of energy.

"I feel that, by doing what I'm doing, I'm doing something for the women in Afghanistan. For my girls there. I don't want to just talk, I want to go out there and do something. To walk the walk," she said.


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