The inside of a shopping centre isn’t normally where you would find an athlete training for the Olympics.
It’s cold and the concrete is unforgiving but Melbourne B-girl Fauntine Lariba AKA ‘Fontz’ boosts the volume on her portable speaker, puts her hoodie on and dances with her crew.
“It makes me feel alive and like a child. You get this feeling that comes over you of just pure joy and excitement when you get something right,” the long-time breaker explains.
An osteopath by day, and a B-girl — or breakdancer — by night, Fontz is breaking for gold, using public spaces to work on her craft as part of a rigorous training regimen.
“There’s the Olympics coming up and I would love to be a part of that and represent, and bring what this city and country has to the table to the world stage. That would be a huge honour,” Fontz said.
“It’s a dream. Being a professional athlete is something I’ve always wanted and so this is a great reason to really go for it.”
Breaking is a style of dance that originated in the US in the 1970s.
It’s making its Olympic debut in Paris 2024, as part of a push to broaden the appeal of the games.
“It is absolutely huge that breaking is going to be in the Olympics for the first time,” says Dr Rachael Gunn, Australia’s top-ranked female B-girl.
“It’s not something that breakers ever expected because of course it was put forward by the World Dancesport Federation, which is a ballroom organisation.”
“In Australia it’s significant because I think that many people still think that breaking is a bit of a joke… and this is something that people dedicate hours and hours of their work for 10, 20 years. They are athletes, they are artists.
“So having breaking in the Olympics really gives an opportunity for some legitimisation around the dance and hopefully some respect.”
Australia wants to send a B-boy and a B-girl.
Sydney’s Dr Gunn, who is known by the breaking name ‘Raygunn’, is going head-to-head with Fontz for a spot.
“I am training hard with the hope of representing Australia in Paris at the Olympics next year,” says Raygunn, who researches breaking and street dance culture at Sydney’s Macquarie University.
“My training schedule is pretty intense. It’s a mix of actual breaking … but it’s also conditioning, stamina training, flexibility, cardio, it’s a whole regime and I don’t think people really understand the level, the dedication it takes to excel in breaking.
“My journey to Paris is I’m just going to continue to work as hard as I can and rep as hard as I can at every competition I get the chance to but we just don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of this region,” she says.
Fontz and Raygunn’s hard work might be in vain.
The problem is money. Local organisers need more cash to host a championship event in Sydney for the Oceania region.
Without that, Australia’s chances of qualifying for Paris are slim to none.
“Our rough budget for the Oceania event is around the 200k mark,” says Australian Breaking Association President Lowe Napalan, who is spearheading the country’s quest to send breakers to Paris.
“I guess from a maybe business or corporate perspective it’s not really much but from our perspective, that is a lot of money.”
Their hopes hinge on a corporate sponsor stepping in to provide a lifeline.
“If we simply don’t have the funds we won’t be able to run it,” he says.
“I’d say I’m definitely overworked in trying to organise this Olympic Games stuff with the breaking community but I am loving it.
I did take this position knowing it was going to be more than a handful … but I did want to try.”
Breakers say they would be devastated to miss out on a golden opportunity.
“We really need support in order to hold an Oceania qualifier. It’s going to cost a lot of money. We have to fly a number of international judges over to Australia,” Raygunn says.
“Breaking requires a complex judging system.”
“I’d be gutted if we weren’t able to hold the qualifier … Australia hasn’t historically had a lot of respect for breakers, for dancers and so I think this would be just another punch in the guts.”
Even if Australia makes it to Paris its breakers face an even bigger battle to gain respect and recognition, as the fledgling sport tries to establish itself.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has provided a small amount of funding to Australia’s breakers and has encouraged them to apply for help from sporting bodies.
The AOC said it had lobbied the Federal Government on behalf of smaller sports like breaking that receive no cash.
“I do think it is great that they do have a minimum funding support for all sports. Without it we would struggle more than we are now,” Napalan says.
Fontz says they need more support from the community in general.
“Being taken seriously would be nice. We’re outside in a public space. We’re still training on the concrete,” Fontz said.
“It would be nice to have a dance studio. It would be nice to be recognised and not just laughed at. Taken seriously would be great.
“I think the Olympics is a really great step in recognising breaking as a professional sport/art.
“I think more positive publicity as well and I think we’re going to see that most likely over the next year as we ramp up to the Olympics.
“It’s in schools now, it’s already starting to happen and it’s just going to evolve. It’s a little bit like Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“That started off as a raw thing that happened as brawls in the back of pubs and now look at it.”