B-boy Crazy Legs glad to have a 'seat at the table' as the Olympics brings in breaking
Breaking — also known as breakdancing — is set to spin at the 2024 Paris Games
Richard Colón, better known by his stage name Crazy Legs, never thought breaking would make it out of the Bronx. But now he hopes to be in Paris in 2024 to witness the dance as an Olympic sport.
Crazy Legs is a pioneering b-boy and president of the Rock Steady Crew. Having travelled the world to spread hip-hop culture, he is now advising the Olympics on how to incorporate breaking — also known as breakdancing — as an official competition.
The International Olympic Committee recently confirmed breaking, along with skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, as the latest additions to the 2024 Paris Games. In an effort to appeal to a younger audience, these sports have officially been added as medal events.
Crazy Legs spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about breaking. Here is part of their conversation.
Legs, if someone had told you back in the 1970s on the streets of the Bronx, that breaking would one day be in the Olympics, what would you have said?
At that time, breaking wasn't that big. For me, my thing was actually boxing. My goal was to be in the Junior Olympics, but I was too poor to afford the $14 registration fee. Breaking wasn't really on our radar as something that would go beyond the neighbourhood.
We're talking about breaking, but most people will be more familiar with the term breakdancing. That's not the term that you would use, right?
No, that's not even a term that comes from hip-hop.
That was a term that was used by my former manager back in the early '80s. Since we weren't taking care of our own press releases, and she was handling that, that word started to make its way around. We had no clue that something that was created from within our community was being relabelled and redefined.
I actually don't use the word. I don't go around trying to please people. I just share the information. But it's more for the sake of empowerment and taking back ownership of something that was created by Black and brown people.
When people watch breaking, which is just extraordinary, it's more than just athleticism, isn't it? Can you describe, if you could, what's the soul of breaking?
Oh, wow. The soul of breaking is the pain that we live through, growing up in the Bronx, and the poverty.
That soul of all the funk and soul music created by people like James Brown, Jimmy Castor … the Latin soul scene in salsa, that all is kind of like a gumbo of culture in the Bronx.
All those things that make those moves look so good, especially when they weren't yet athletic, was the passion for continuing to move forward, finding a way to pass the time and coming up with something by default that we were all just deeply into as youth.
Do you worry that by going into the Olympics, it might lose that realness? That its soul would get lumped in with figure skating and gymnastics, where it's very established that there's rules ... the right way to get points?
I don't worry, because I'd rather be a problem solver, have a seat at the table and help guide.
We have three years to get this right, and that's assuming that they allow me to continue dropping in some words, every now and then, of advice. So I'm giving them that slack to get it right.
It's better to have a seat at the table and contribute as opposed to sitting on the outside complaining and just raising concerns.
How do you think it should be judged? I mean, it's not just about the moves, from what you're describing. What are the qualities of good breaking that should be recognized in any kind of judging?
First of all, you have to have an authentic response to music. You have to have foundation, including toprock and footwork. You have to know what blow-ups are. You have to know what your freezes are. You have to know what your power moves are. And you also then have to know how to do those things fluidly, from move to move, and not lose the soul of what you do.
It's totally based on feeling. And I think you get that from a certain amount of years of knowing how to do the dance, but also being deep-rooted within the culture and the music of the dance.
We are working on judging certifications so that those kinds of judges exist. But it's still the Olympics platform. We're going to have to allow for a certain amount of compromise. And that compromise will also mean that whatever we're doing as the "By the people, for the people" kind of events, will also remain the most authentic and legitimate.
Look, basketball is in the Olympics, but the Olympics will never be the NBA. So the Olympics is never going to be what we do as a community, and that's still what makes us special.
We have to also be careful that when we get too critical of what's happening, you're trampling on the future of the young people that are going to be part of this.
The bigger picture is not even who can win, but what can this do for race relations? What can this do for cultural understanding and appreciation? Those are the bigger ticket items that I see.
Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Matt Meuse. Q&A edited for length and clarity.