DANCERS executing backflips and freezes, gyros and headspins with gravity-defying agility in front of an adoring audience - welcome to the world breakdance championships. The staple of urban street culture is set to make a splash on its Olympic debut at the Paris 2024 Games.
Last Saturday night, a 4,000-strong crowd came to be mesmerised by the moves performed by some of the most skilled exponents of 'breaking' at Battle Pro in the French capital.
One of the breakdancers, Stephane Sabotinov, took time out before going on stage to celebrate last Thursday's announcement by Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet that breaking was set to become "a future Olympic sport".
"Breakdance is impressive," Sabotinov, kitted out in white and black and baseball cap, told AFP. "There's the battle side of it, we're here to engage, but with respect. We bump fists at the end even if we're going to war."
Sabotinov, one of 120 dancers competing on Saturday evening, hopes breaking's elevation to the Olympics will erase any "negative sterotypes" surrounding it. "We come from the street so we're linked to violence. And because we wear baseball caps we're clearly delinquents! But it's the opposite, we put all our aggression into dance," he says.
There's a family atmosphere at Battle Pro, parents and children mingling with tracksuited teenagers. Deborah Lombo, a 29-year-old bank customer relations manager who turned up with her nine-year-old daughter, Cassie, said: "This is the first time we've come to watch breakdancing. There's a warm side, it's not like classical dance. I think my eyes are going to be opened. The boys are watching football back home so we're on a girls' night out."
As the music pounded out, one father takes a precautionary measure and fits his two little daughters with ear plugs.
"The DJ is really important, he's the one who dictates the tempo and rhythm for the dancers. Almost 80 per cent of DJs are former dancers," recounts Zoubir, founder of Battle Pro 19 years ago.
One spectator on hand to watch RedBull All Stars win the team competition was Brahim Zaibat. A celebrity French dancer/choreographer who performed alongside Madonna at halftime at the 2012 SuperBowl, Zaibat gave a cautious welcome to breaking's Olympic admission. "It's good for the dancers, it's progress, but we'll have to see how it's staged, how it's judged. We're waiting to see."
Last Thursday, Mr Estanguet, the head of the Paris 2024 local organising committee, said skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, which have already been added to the programme for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, have been invited to return in Paris four years later - with breakdancing joining them.
"Right from the beginning, our aim was to offer Games that would have an impact and the element of surprise," said Mr Estanguet, a former Olympic gold medallist in canoeing. "This is why we have chosen to present the IOC with four sports that are as creative as spectacular, geared towards youth and completely in line with our vision."
The choice of the four sports still needs to be rubberstamped by the International Olympic Committee. Breakdancing, known as breaking, appeared at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, in the form of head-to-head "battles". Russia's Sergei Chernyshev, competing under the nickname Bumblebee, won the first breakdancing gold medal for boys in that event, while Japan's Ramu Kawai won the girls' title. AFP