Japan’s D. League emphasizes sports dance ahead of Paris 2024 debut

Breaking is one of four new events approved for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Burgeoning interest in dance is on the rise in Japan, in part fueled by the January start of the D. League. professional break dance in the country. The contests attract sponsorship from large companies and the events, both on-site and streaming, generate a lot of excitement. This article examines the popularity of the station wagon with young people and its potential as an Olympic event for wider appeal.

Listening to a group of teenagers talk excitedly, I am puzzled by their jokes. “It doesn’t matter J or B, it’s D you should watch out for,” one of them exclaims. “Did you watch the D. League yesterday?” Another asks. “Yeah! Wasn’t Issei great? Offered a third.

Young people are overflowing with enthusiasm, the expression on their faces as they speak makes the topic of conversation all the more fascinating. Everyone in Japan knows that the J. League is synonymous with football and the B. League of basketball. But League D? And who is Issei? What is it, anyway?

Growing trend of sports dance

The D. League is Japan’s professional break competition that kicked off in January this year. Most people have heard of break dancing, and break dancing is actually the media presentation of the dance style. And Issei? As one of the stars of the league, he is unique in being both the director and the dancer of Kosé 8Rocks, a leading break-up team.

The league is made up of nine teams of eight members each who compete against each other in regular competitions. Fans can follow the action live via a public app or on a smartphone.

Teams perform their dance routines and are ranked based on their scores. Points are awarded for technical difficulty, choreography and performance, as well as for expressiveness. Where things get interesting is when spectators participate in the scoring. This aspect is a major attraction for the audience and helps to attract fans beyond those who attend the performances.

Having gained ground with younger audiences, the breakup is drawing attention from another perspective as well. The International Olympic Committee decided in December 2020 to include sport in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. It’s not just about the popularity of the D. League in Japan. Breaking is now becoming truly international.

So how did this happen?

The station wagon is a form of street dancing that first appeared in New York City in the 1970s. It developed its own distinct culture, and as it gained prominence it was featured in popular films by era, including iconic hits such as Lightning dance and Free of any tie.

In the competitive form of the break, individuals or teams compete in “battles”, with competitors, known as b-boys and b-girls, pitting their skills against other dancers at events. with high octane number.

The Fullcast Raiserz Dance Team, a men’s “muscle fighting style” team, led the D. League by the end of the tenth round of the competition. (© Ligue D. 20-21)

Company interest

The breakout format in Paris will likely consist of one-on-one and mixed-team fights. However, it remains to be seen why the IOC decided to introduce a seemingly niche dance sport to the Games as a new competition. The answer to this lies in the great potential for disruption.

“Even before it was included in the Parisian program, I was sure that the break would become an Olympic sport,” said Kanda Kantarō, senior executive of the firm that manages the D. League. A dancer himself, Kanda was keenly aware of the potential for rupture and created a professional league, describing the style as an “artistic sport”.

“If you look at the history of the Olympics,” says Kanda, “you can see that it was originally an arts and sports festival, with a clear dividing line between the two. On the sporting side, there is an obvious demarcation between winning and losing, whereas with artistic events the evaluation is more interpretative. Breaking is a fusion of arts and sports, a combination of the two.

When we talk about artistic sports, we think of figure skating. Sport has traditionally combined technical prowess and expressiveness. While some fans are drawn to technical skills such as jumping, others appreciate the expressiveness and beauty of the performance. These different aspects have broadened the appeal of figure skating and contributed to the development of this sport.

With the station wagon, too, there are people who are drawn to the incredible techniques of the dancers as well as fans who revel in the sport’s elegance and beauty. This dualism characterizes art-sport.

There are also people who are drawn to the fact that the breakup offers a whole new cultural construct. The dancers all have original stage names, usually something they’ve found themselves or a nickname they’ve been given, that represent their identity. This aspect has been anchored in station wagon culture since its inception.

Another attraction of the station wagon is that no equipment is needed to dance.

If you look at the competitive sports that are popular around the world, soccer and athletics, especially running, come to mind. In the case of football, anything round can serve as a ball, allowing “street football” games to take place anywhere there is open space, such as a town square. Likewise with athletics, any open space can serve as a track and anyone can participate, even without equipment.

The same goes for breaking up. It is not uncommon to see dancers at night practicing moves in the empty courtyard of a mall or other location. The accessibility of braking has helped fuel its popularity globally, especially among young people.

The Avex Royalbrats mixed team is one of the best groups in the D. League.  The team includes b-girl Riehata, who is also the group's producer.  (© Ligue D. 20-21)
The Avex Royalbrats mixed team is one of the best groups in the D. League. The team includes b-girl Riehata, who is also the group’s producer. (© Ligue D. 20-21)

In recent years, the IOC has sought to further develop the Olympic Games by introducing new competitions based on their global reach and recognition, with a particular focus on sports that appeal to young people. Sport climbing and skateboarding, as well as station wagons, are examples of this trend at the Summer Olympics, as is snowboarding at the Winter Games.

Kanda emphasizes the physical expressiveness of the split in its appeal to younger generations, stating that “you don’t need words to communicate. Even when the dancers don’t speak each other’s language, they can connect. The station wagon was undoubtedly chosen for the Olympics because of the high expectations for the sport, and the games in turn will provide an opportunity to further develop the station wagon.

Prospects for gold in Japan

Sports dance has enormous potential for growth in Japan. The country has a number of dancers who have the ability to win gold at the Olympics. As in other sports, a gold medal would propel the dancer in addition to being noticed.

One of the main prospects is Hori Issei, known simply by his Issei breaking grip. A D. League star, in 2016 he won the Red Bull BC One World Final, widely regarded as the biggest award in the station wagon world. Another Japanese competitor is Nakarai Shigeyuki, who is called Shigekix. In 2020, he became the youngest winner of BC One and is ranked among the best dancers in the world. On the b-girls side, Ram, who won gold in the individual and mixed team competitions at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018.

Hori Issei, aka Issei.  The 24-year-old from Fukuoka Prefecture was the first Japanese dancer to win break awards.  (© Ligue D. 20-21)
Hori Issei, aka Issei. The 24-year-old from Fukuoka Prefecture was the first Japanese dancer to win break awards. (© Ligue D. 20-21)

Issei conducts and dances with the D. League Kosé 8Rocks team. Kosé is sponsored by the big cosmetics manufacturer Kose. Other companies investing in the D. League include corporate giant Softbank, the competition’s main partner, and Dai-ichi Life Insurance as the title sponsor. The fact that so many large companies are investing in the booming league reflects the potential for disruption.

Amid the growing excitement, however, there remains the question of how to increase the appeal of sports at the Olympics to the general public. This will require clearly explaining the judging criteria and the different aspects of breakout competitions. Equally difficult is the task of presenting the distinct culture of breaking up, such as the custom of calling dancers’ names, in a way that people can appreciate.

Although formidable, these problems are not insurmountable. If done well, the breaking will reap the rewards, the number of people attracted to the sport after having had the opportunity to observe is certain to continue to increase.

Some people seeing the station wagon for the first time might be taken aback by the street fashion and the behavior of the dancers. However, the top performers already have a conscience and pride that befits the Olympics. Shigekix always wears a costume when attending press conferences and public events out of a desire not to be misunderstood and ignored as “flashy” or unrefined. This reflects a growing awareness among b-boys and b-girls of the growth of the break and their evolving attitude as athletes.

How to further develop the potential of station wagon as a competitive sport in Japan? The launch of the D. League is a major step towards this goal. In July, the league crowned its first champions, the Avex Royalbrats. As more teams compete against each other and fans follow the action more and more, the league will create momentum for dance sports in Japan, helping to ride the wave of recognition offered by the Games. Olympic.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Group Kosé 8Rocks, led by gold medal prospect Issei, perform at a D. League competition. © D. League 20-21. )

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