USOPC BreakingNewsVicki Chang

B-Girl Vicki Chang Left Her Job As A Restoration Ecologist To Pursue Olympic History In Breaking

by Karen Price

(L-R) Sunny Choi and Vicki Chang pose for a photo after competing in the women's breaking competition at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 4, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Mark Reis)

Mention breakdancing to people of a certain age and they’re likely to think of people spinning on broken down cardboard boxes, giant boom boxes and even the Hollywood treatment the phenomenon received in the 1980s.

Now, breakdancing — or breaking — is on the cusp of making its Olympic debut this summer in Paris. It will be the first dance sport ever included in the Olympic Games, and Vicki Chang is hoping to be there as a member of the inaugural U.S. Olympic breaking team.

“It’s an historic moment for anybody to be the first in the sport (to compete at the Olympics), to represent who they are and their community on such a large stage,” said Chang, 33, from San Jose, California. “I think it gives someone a lot of responsibility in how they represent themselves and how they represent their friends and their scene and, of course, their country. Just being able to be one of the best, to represent with integrity who they are and who they came up with, would be really meaningful.”

Chang, who goes by La Vix, didn’t grow up breaking. She didn’t even grow up dancing. She did taekwondo and played volleyball through high school but, she said, was “much too short” to ever think of competing in college. But she wanted to stay active, and after watching Sara Von Gillern break on “So You Think You Can Dance” she decided to check out the open practices on the Cal-Berkeley campus.

“You’d just show up at a practice and ask people to show you the basics, then if people were nice enough they’d teach you some stuff and you’d go practice in a corner,” said Chang, who supplemented her breaking education with YouTube videos. “It was a big community thing where you didn’t really have a teacher in a formal studio setting, you just asked around and watched other people break and then tried it yourself.”

Competing, or battling, has always been part of the breaking culture. Chang herself started doing it regularly at local events about four years after starting, then began traveling the country to battle about 10 years ago. Then in 2021 she decided to leave a job she enjoyed as a restoration ecologist to follow her passion and dedicate herself full-time to breaking.

One of the questions people ask her most often, she said, is how breaking works, what the music is like and how they judge. Judging can be complicated, she said, and the music is up to the DJ. There are no routines; breakers just dance to whatever the DJ puts on, so they have to be adaptable and go with the flow.

Vicki Chang competes during the women's breaking competition at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 3, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

There’s also a lot of stamina involved. The Olympic qualifying events have generally been 18 rounds from preliminaries through finals, with round robins and then best-of-three formats in the later rounds.

“Everything is really in the moment,” she said. “We can prep all we want, but it’s always in the moment, and if it doesn’t happen that day, it doesn’t happen.”

Chang said her breaking style would be considered pretty detailed and intricate.

“It’s a way to be really creative and move my body around, so a lot of my material is unique to me because I created it,” said Chang, who earned her first international podium last year with a bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile. “I don’t do the big power or dynamic moves, but my strength is in the details.”

As is often the case when a sport so closely tied to a culture finds its way to the Olympics, there was some debate among those in the breaking community as to whether or not such a large stage is a good thing. Some felt its inclusion would water down the culture and just wasn’t what breaking was about, Chang said, while others welcomed the opportunity for greater exposure.

“I think in my mind, breaking as a culture and breaking as a sport aren’t mutually exclusive to each other; we can have both,” she said. “It can be in the Olympics and that type of an organized sport, and it can also still be that local community, underground event it’s always been. I think it’s just good to have different avenues and different ways that breaking can grow.”

Chang is now one of two B-girls competing for the second and final spot alongside Sunny Choi on the U.S. team. There are two qualifying events left, she said, and she’ll need to not only finish as the top-ranked American but also average in the top seven between the two events. Chang is currently 27th in the world, and third in the U.S. behind Choi and Logan Edra.

No matter what happens, Chang hopes that with breaking on the Olympic stage people will get to see that as much as it is a sport, it’s also a dance.

“And it’s an expression of oneself, and it’s a conversation,” she said. “We say that battles are conversations, so I hope that people will see that dance is also a way to make a connection with other people. And, of course, with all the moves and hard work and athleticism that goes into it I hope people will see that breaking is something that belongs with the rest of the sports on the Olympic stage.”