Community Outshines Competition at Breaking for Gold USA National Championship

Austin event warmed up for the sport’s debut at Paris 2024 Olympics

Co-host Romeo Navarro takes a turn on the floor, as the crowd at Parish cheers him on (Photo by Wayne Lim)

Though a pulsing bass, syncopated breakbeats, and brassy trills echoed through the walls of Parish for more than nine hours on Saturday, no band occupied the stage.

Instead, all eyes in the live music venue turned to the floor. Crowding around a white vinyl mat, breakers – not breakdancers – in oversized T-shirts, beanies, and baggy trousers showed off their shuffles, sweeps, and spins. Making its first appearance in Austin, this year’s Breaking for Gold USA National Championship brought in more than 60 top competing breakers from across the country.

Stakes proved high, as the top two adult b-boys and b-girls would represent the country at the World DanceSport Federation 2023 World Championship in September. There, the highest placed male and female breakers will qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics, set to debut breaking as an Olympic sport. Despite the pressure, a familial warmth permeated the air.

Houston breaker Benjamin “Blu” Castillo, 8, strikes a cheeky pose during the youth quarterfinals (Photo by Wayne Lim)

“You guys have one obligation: Make sure everything remains positive all throughout the day,” said Roger Davis, co-host alongside Romeo Navarro, as he opened the event. The longtime Austin-based organizers also host the annual BBoy City series, happening at Parish and Waterloo Park this September 24 and 25.

The crowd hardly needed that reminder. In fact, breakers greeted one another with handshakes, fist bumps, and hugs, even before entering the arena. With competitors, aged 8 to 65, cheering each other on, the competition became a massive family gathering.

Even for 65-year-old Ben “Benihana” Hart, the breaking community never felt hostile.

“I’m immune to embarrassment, which is what you have to be to start this at age 54 and go into your first event,” said Hart, who picked up the dancesport after asking another breaker to be his fitness trainer. “But once you get past that, once you find out everybody’s friendly and nice, it’s great.”

Ben “Benihana” Hart, 65, freezes in a headstand during the adult b-boys preliminary round (Photo by Wayne Lim)

At 4pm, Davis and Navarro summoned 29 adult b-boys to the floor for the preliminary round. While the b-boys launched into floats, freezes, and frenetic footwork, the co-founders of local community-building collective Hope 4 Hip Hop supplied encouraging exclamations. Disappointed by the crowd’s energy, the co-hosts channeled their inner Russell Crowe, repeatedly questioning, “Are you not entertained?”

The question proved best answered whenever the co-hosts announced a break. Interpreting the word differently, the audience always broke immediately into an open dance circle to fill the time. The youth and teen breakers showed no clumsiness, leaving their all on the floor during their one-on-one battles.

In the third round of the teens semifinals, Zakhele “Swazi” Grabowski clutched his left shoulder instead of busting out a final set of moves. Despite conceding the round to seek medical attention, the 16-year-old still advanced to the finals. Later reappearing with his left arm in a makeshift sling, Grabowski took home the silver medal without a final faceoff.

Zakhele “Swazi” Grabowski, 16, receives the teens silver medal in a makeshift arm sling (Photo by Wayne Lim)

Despite dislocating his shoulder, Grabowski remains a hopeful member of the teen national team.

“Breaking is my lifestyle,” said the New York breaker, who quickly rejoined the cypher as a spectator. “Getting up, practicing before I go to school, after school, practicing. It’s just a constant grind for me.”

After the remaining showdowns between the adult breakers, the event abruptly ended at 11:05pm, leaving only a few in a smaller, still enthusiastic dance circle after the winners received their medals.

“My hopes are that more of the city gets behind the actual culture itself,” shared Davis, seated on a curb outside Parish after the event.

“We know it will be in the Olympics in 2024, so we just hope we do a good job in representing the culture and appeasing the powers that have been here before us, the legends, the leaders. If you can't participate and actually say that you're going to Paris to be there for the first one, there's no reason that you can't help prepare for 2028 and just make sure that it's viewed, it's seen, it's expressed, and it's shared in a positive expression, to where people are more accepting of what it is.”

Victor Montalvo’s final power moves win him the adult b-boy gold medal (Photo by Wayne Lim)

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