If there’s one thing the world’s top breakers agree on, it might be this: The newest sport at the Olympics is much more than just a sport.

Breaking is a culture.

Let Jeffrey Louis (aka “B-Boy Jeffro” in the world of breaking) explain.

“Everyone is a part of it,” Louis told NBC Olympics. “If you’re there, you’re a part of it. It’s a party, and that’s what makes it digestible. It’s the whole hip-hop presence.”

That’s right. It’s a party.

“There’s music playing,” Louis continued. “The crowd is dancing to the music. You don’t even have to be a performer. You could be on the side, just grooving. You're making noise. As dancers, we need to feed off of the crowd.”

This summer, that party is coming to the Olympic Games for the first time.

“When I heard the news, I was like, ‘Dang, this is the Olympics,” said Logan Edra (B-Girl Logistx). “It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Indeed, the Olympics provide a life-changing opportunity for individual breakers. Louis is the fifth-ranked b-boy in the world. Edra ranks second among U.S. b-girls. Both have yet to qualify for the Olympics but are considered favorites for the two remaining spots on the U.S. team.

But that opportunity is for more than just the athletes. It’s for the sport, for the culture.

“It’s for the whole breaking scene,” Louis said. “This is a chance for us to grow and educate people on breaking."

“If we get it right, we can create something unstoppable. We can't let it pass us up again because the first time breaking blew up, it fizzled out.” 

As Louis explained, this isn’t the sport’s first moment in the spotlight. Breaking was born in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building in the early 1970s. A legendary DJ named Kool Herc debuted a new technique that centered around percussive “breaks” in songs. During these breaks, the crowd would start dancing, which became known as breaking, or breakdancing.

Before long, the early breakers were trying to one-up each other, which soon morphed into the types of formal battles that will debut on the Olympic stage this summer. Later on, breaking’s techniques began to crystallize, consisting of top rock (standing footwork) and down rock (moves on the floor), power moves (twists and spins) and the freeze, during which breakers hold still for a few moments, using their hands or heads for support.

Breaking spread worldwide like wildfire in the 1980s as the style appeared in movies like “Flashdance” (1983), “Breakin’ the Movie” (1984) and “Beat Street” (1984). Vibrant breaking communities spawned in countries like Japan, France and Mexico. It was a worldwide sensation.

But that boom died out within the next decade, and breaking’s global revival occurred more recently, as emphasis has been placed on the competition side.

We’re still learning about what we are as a culture, as a dance, as an art form, as a community.

Steve Graham, known in the breaking community as Silverback, has become a key player in breaking’s recent renaissance.

“Breaking has become a global scene,” Graham said. “It’s the mass exportation of U.S. hip-hop culture. It’s a small world but also a big scene.”

Graham is a former breaker and now CEO of an investment firm called Graham Partners. He began breaking in 1983 while working as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, often performing in the suit and tie he’d worn to work that day.

For decades after his initial brush with breaking, Graham has fueled the sport with sponsorship dollars, competitive events and showcases through Silverback Bboy Events and the Urban Dance & Educational Foundation (UDEF).

As those initiatives grew, many breakers began to treat themselves as athletes, traveling the world to compete in sanctioned, judged events.

Then, the first dam broke.

“I didn’t really think the Olympic movement would enter the picture,” Graham said. “But in December 2016, I was reading The New York Times and saw that breaking was going into the Youth Olympic Games. It was like getting a showcase on Broadway.”

In 2018, breaking made its Youth Olympic Games debut in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) serving as the sport’s governing body.

Breaking was a smash hit at the Youth Olympics. The WDSF called it an “unmitigated success.” Breaking’s viewership topped one million, dwarfing the audiences generated by many other sports.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was in Buenos Aires and was prepared to study breaking closely. WDSF officials suggested to Bach that he sit just a few feet from the action so that he could soak in breaking's unique energy. 

Two years later, the IOC Executive Board officially added breaking to the Paris 2024 program. Bach’s statement lauded the move as falling in line with making the Olympics “more urban” with “the opportunity to connect with the younger generation.”

With that news, the U.S., breaking’s native home, needed to mobilize.

“From the Olympics spectrum, there wasn't really an infrastructure like you see for other more traditional sports,” said Whitney Carter, director of internally managed sports at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “But the U.S. was behind.”

With Carter and the USOPC’s support, breakers and executives in the space formed Breaking for Gold USA, a group of volunteers dedicated to getting U.S. breakers ready for the Olympic stage.

“It’s important for the U.S. to be a force to be reckoned with, given that this is a sport that started in the Bronx,” Carter added. “There's clearly a lot of pride within this country.”

With history and pride fueling their work, Carter worked feverishly alongside Breaking for Gold USA to bolster the U.S. breaking infrastructure. That included forming a U.S. national breaking team, the first of its kind. 

In October 2023, the group of 15 breakers embarked on the inaugural breaking training camp at the U.S. Olympic Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the camp, athletes went through a rigorous onboarding process, which included testing, media training and more.

An actual “Team USA” of breakers, a training camp, qualifying for the Olympics — these are all elements of breaking in the U.S. that simply didn’t exist at the start of the decade, even in breakers’ dreams.

Now, it’s reality.

Victor Montalvo (B-Boy “Victor”) and Sunny Choi (B-Girl Sunny) have already qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics and will represent the U.S.. Montalvo took gold at the 2023 WDSF World Breaking Championship and is widely considered the gold-medal favorite for Paris.

“Now, the USA is a front-runner at the Olympics,” said Tyquan Hodac, USA Dance breaking communications director. “We’re the powerhouse. Every other country is looking up to us.”

Louis, Edra and a host of others will compete for two more spots. Among their competition is Vicki Chang (B-Girl La Vix), who had been working as an ecological consultant until just after breaking was announced as an Olympic sport. Then, at age 31, she quit her job and went all-in on breaking, committing to the sport full-time.

“It was pretty stressful,” Chang said. It's different when you're dancing as a hobby versus when it's your career. In the back of your mind, you know you have to make it. There’s no safety net. You have to make it. So, in the back of my mind I was like, ‘I can't quit this job and have nothing to show for it.’”

Like her U.S. teammates, Chang sees the long game.

“The Olympics are such a big platform for us to share what we do and bring people into the community that otherwise might not have known breaking even existed,” she said.

As the Olympics approach, the worldwide spotlight is about to illuminate on breaking. Those within the sport just hope the spotlight honors its heritage.

“This is a community that in many ways has been underserved and exploited,” Graham said. “This art form is really important to them. People in the community like the shine but don’t want exploitation."

“Breaking is a subculture. The competitive piece is a part of it, and it isn’t central to everything breaking is about.”

That’s clear to Edra, who grew up in the sport. She started breaking as a 7-year-old and has always been drawn to the hip-hop tradition around it.

“I was brought up in breaking very early, and it's been my outlet for a long time,” Edra said. “I feel like a good advocate, even though I'm young.”

At its core, breaking is one of the four elements of hip-hop, along with DJing, MCing and graffiti. Breakers like Edra, organizers like Carter and donors like Graham all hope that culture is well-represented in Paris.

“Breaking has a freedom of expression through hip-hop culture,” Edra said. “There's a lot of misinterpretation around this being a street or gang thing, but it was actually more of a medicine from that, to get out of whatever darkness someone is going through."

“Now, we can create whatever we want. We’re still learning about what we are as a culture, as a dance, as an art form, as a community. So how can we best present it and define it, not just for us, but for the world?”