Break dancing comes of age in China

By CHEN NAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-09-26 07:32
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Dancer Yang Kai  [Photo provided to China Daily]

Solid techniques

In 2020, dancer Yang Kai, 34, won the third season of Street Dance of China, impressing audiences with his solid techniques and his portrayal of Ne Zha, a Chinese mythological figure. He was the first B-boy dancer to compete in the final stages of the variety show.

Asked why he wanted to join the show, Yang said: "I was just blown away by its energy and competitive nature. Many people have no idea about break dancing, and I wanted to do something to show them how exciting it is."

Like Long, Yang felt proud and excited about the IOC's decision to include break dancing in the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 and for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Last year, when the 14th National Games were held in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi, Yang led the province's break dancing team. He said the ultimate goal is to send more talented dancers to the 2024 Olympics.

Born in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, Yang fell in love with break dancing in 2002, when he watched a neighbor performing a handstand — a break dancing technique known as a "freeze".

"It was so cool. I practiced the move myself, which is very difficult. It kindled my love for break dancing," said Yang, who practiced every day with his friends at a small park near his home. He added that it was a relaxing and happy time when they practiced together.

"Our parents were against the idea of street dance, because the clothes we wore were usually loose and oversized," Yang said. "We had lots of furious and intense arguments. However, we couldn't convince our parents, but we couldn't be dissuaded against break dance. It only made me more determined to practice harder."

But Yang gained his parents' trust and confidence when he started to win awards. When he opened his own dance studio, his parents felt assured that he could make a living from dancing.

"I will turn 36 in 2024, but I will devote myself to training young dancers in Sichuan for the 2024 Paris Olympics," said Yang, adding that when he was a child, he watched the Olympic Games with his parents on TV. They love table tennis, and are big fans of former Olympic champion Deng Yaping.

"I cannot believe that break dancers can now compete for China at the Olympics, just like the legendary Deng," Yang added.

Break dancing first became popular in China in the 1980s and '90s, when movies themed on street dance were screened nationwide. Some of the nation's first street dancers became as well known as pop stars, including the late dancer-choreographer Tao Jin, known for his performance in the break dancing movie Rock Kids (1988), directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang.

Wu Jiukun, who was born and raised in Xinyu, Jiangxi province, was among the nation's first break dancers.

In 1984, Wu, then a primary school student in Xinyu, watched the movie Breakin', directed by Joel Silberg, which tells the story of a struggling young jazz dancer who meets with two break dancers. Wu loved the movie so much that he watched it 67 times at a local cinema.

For Wu, who was thin and small as a child, imitating the dancers' moves in the movie gave him confidence. However, his parents were opposed to break dancing, as it was considered "unhealthy" and associated with a "bad boy" image, so Wu had to practice secretly after school.

In 1988, when he was 18, he became a celebrity in his hometown after winning a street dance competition, and in the early 1990s, he opened his own dance club.

"What I want to do now is pass down my techniques and inspire young people to dance," he said. "I am glad to see parents encouraging their children to learn street dance, as it's considered a good way to improve body strength, balance, and also to gain confidence," Wu said.

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