AST had the honor of interviewing Mounir Biba; 13x Breaking World Champion 🥇 & Head Coach of the Chinese National Breaking Team to dive deeper into the rise of urban sports in the country.
He has recently worked alongside Tony Estanguet, the president of Paris 2024, to have the sport successfully added to the Olympic programme.
Co-founder, board member and Breaking referent of ON2H, the National Hip -Hop Organization, Mounir works actively with the French Ministry of Culture on training issues and the question of the future state diplomas in order to open up professional paths for dancers and guarantee the quality of education for future generations
AST: What is the current situation of urban sports in China? What can you share about the development of breakdancing?
Mounir: Urban Sport, or we called Urban Sports is a new type of sport worldwide, which is growing rapidly in China as well. We have seen that the development of skateboarding and BMX with the national team, and now comes to break dancing.
So, the future of the Olympics is “Urban”, in other words, the urban sports will be the future of the Olympic Games. China understood it fast and started to develop international programs to become the best in those sports.
Some traditional sports like soccer and basketball, To China, it seems much harder to become No. 1 in the field of some traditional sports such as soccer and basketball, because European countries and US had such a long history through the sport, which takes a long time to catch up. But with the new sport coming up, it’s easier for China to put themselves as a major nation in those new areas, and breaking is just a part of this process.
Breaking is rapidly growing in China. I came to China in 2007, for 16 years I’ve seen the rapid development pace of breaking, especially the last 10 years. Back in the 2000s, the scale of breaking was very low, with very few break dancers worldwide like in China, but since the 2010s, we saw a lot of kids getting involved in breaking.
We saw the rise of a new generation. The number of dancers taking classes, as well as the number of dance studios around the country just kept growing. Now we have thousands of dancers across China, and I could say that braking is now one of the most growing sports to the youth.
AST: Some people say that breakdancing is just a sport for “young generations”, to what extent do you agree with this statement?
Mounir: It is true that a lot of young kids start breaking but actually we can see worldwide that the majority of the audience are adults.
For example, in France not only myself, my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles will also come and watch competitions. Of course, there is a lot of teenagers, a lot of kids, but also many adults.
So, it means that breaking is really open to all. It’s very spectacular. And the music makes also the difference and let the older generation enjoy the show. So breaking is definitely not just for the young generation but for everybody. But it is true that actively the dancers are getting younger and younger.
AST: Compared to traditional sports (football/basketball) and other urban sports (skateboarding/BMX/rock climbing), what are the key differences between breakdancing/street dancing in capturing people’s attention?
Mounir: Well, there is many key differences between breaking and traditional sports or even the other urban sports. The first element is music. There is no other sport where music is as much important as in breaking. In breaking, without music, there is no sport actually. So that’s typically what defined breaking is the music, and especially, the music played by the DJ, also considers as a part of the competition. It’s totally part of the dancer’s performance.
Without the music, they just cannot perform. The music is unknown for the dancers. It’s the DJs responsibility to play the music he wants, or he feels. And sometime the athletes never heard the music. It’s brand new. So, they have to adapt themselves all the time. The breaking competition is totally unpredictable because of the music and the fact that the dancers have to follow the music, have to match with the music and that they don’t know the music before. Thus, it’s a total adaptation of it.
Another major key difference, which for me is the most important is how much breaking involve everybody. In breaking, there is no age difference nor sex difference. Breaking doesn’t separate people. The kids compete against the adults, the boys and the girls can compete each other. People with handicap compete with valid people. So, there is absolutely no barrier within breaking and, for me, it is one of the most important key differences.
We can have such things in some urban sports, but definitely not in traditional sports. They separate sexes, separate ages, which breaking doesn’t do at all. Of course, there has some categories, such as the B-boy category, but every girl can compete in it. We also have kids’ category, but every kid can compete in the adult’s category. So that’s the thing. Also at the Olympic Games, we won’t have, and we will never have breaking at the Paralympics because it’s totally against breaking values.
There are many other key differences to mention. One more I would say is the definition of performance. In traditional sports, the winners are those who scored the most or those who ran faster, jump longer or higher, It’s a performance measure. But in braking, performance is totally defined differently. The winner is not the one who spin the most on his hand or his head, not the one who jumps higher.
It’s a complete composition and a combination of performance with creativity. One competitor could do a long spin on his head or back or hand and the opponent may make the exact same move while spinning a lot less, but including more creative processes within, and then the victory will go to him. So, creativity, relation with the music are key elements which take place in breaking and or more important than the technical performance.
AST: In Hangzhou 2023 and Paris 2024, we have seen that breakdancing has been included into the main competitive events, to what extent do you see these moves contributing to the growth of the sport in China and beyond?
Mounir: Both Paris 2024 and Hangzhou 2023 play vital roles in the development of breaking in China. I think that without Paris 2024, we might witness a huge development, but maybe with less media covering, less interests from brands and corporate entities. So of course, the Olympic Games came at the right time for China, because the scene has well-grown, and started to be matured enough to be able to be competitive for the Olympic Games.
What we had was a lack of international experience, most of the national team members never competing outside China until last year. That’s a huge a disadvantage in the breaking scene, but the potential and the talent of this team, and the work that has been done by the CDSF, the team management, coaches and everybody, helped the team to catch up with the other major nations.
Also, since Paris 2024 has been confirmed in 2019, China started to develop international events. They organized the very first WDSF World Championship, as well as the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023, we could see that China is very active and ambitious with the Olympic project.
AST: What is your opinion about the future growth of the urban/urban sports market? What are the main challenges you think that the sport will face in the future development?
Mounir: I believe that we are at the very first page of the Urban Sport story. We start almost from a blank page and we still at the very beginning of it. So, the potential is very huge. And I expect the market to explode after 2024.
A lot of people questioned why and how breaking went to the Olympics, but soon after that, we saw how much people were very interested to watch breaking, and this is one of the very first sports in Paris 2024 that got sold out within few minutes. So, we know that everybody want to see breaking at the Olympics, and I can confirm that everybody will be amazed about breaking at the Olympic. In 2018 at the Youth Olympic Game in Buenos Aires, Argentina it was a massive success for breaking that everybody talked about it and came to see the match. It was the most crowded area. That’s one of the reasons why Paris 2024 could not deny breaking and started to show interest with breaking, it attracts people because it’s so spectacular, because of the music and other elements.
I truly believe that we are at the very beginning of it and that the market can just grow. I think many corporate entities and governments are now just waiting until they can see the result of breaking and to confirm and make sure that breaking is here for now and the future, and I think it’s pretty much the same for the other urban sports.
Of course, there is a lot of challenges that the sport will face in the future. Though I truly believe that breaking is mature enough, the community is still not ready for what’s coming. We don’t have resources to reach the demand of breaking learning or competition organizing, thus it needs more people from the community, or the people who know how to deliver it, to get involved in such area and organize events.
I think the biggest challenge that the sport will face is that people within the sport have not ready yet for the massive demand in different areas, thus, we also need to educate people to learn new skills, let them be able to adapt themselves and help the sport keep growing.
If you want to learn more about the Urban sports market and get involved in supporting its growth, reach out to AST today!