An Australian academic is about to leap from the lecture theatre to the dance floor at the 2024 Olympics. Senior writer Mike Osborne gets a front-row seat.
University academic Rachael Gunn is just a beat away from making history as Australia’s first competitor in the new Olympic sport of breakdancing.
The African-American and Puerto-Rican dance form, known competitively as breaking, makes its Olympic debut when the Paris Games start in a year’s time.
And Gunn, a 35-year-old lecturer at Sydney’s Macquarie University, is the country’s leading female breakdancer, or B-Girl.
Known in the sport as Raygun, the B-Girl has represented Australia at the World Breaking Championships in Paris 2021 and Seoul 2022.
But she never expected to add Olympian to her long list of dancing and academic achievements.
“None of us got into this to be at an Olympics,” she said at an event to mark one year until the Paris Opening ceremony on July 26, 2024.
“It’s certainly not something that I ever expected. This is a huge once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it will be phenomenal for me to go to Paris.”
Although breakdancing originated in the 1980s in New York’s South Bronx region as a way for opposing gang members to get even without fighting, it has evolved into an art and an international sport.
“It’s not just from the disco to the Olympics,” says Gunn – whose work at Macquarie’s Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies includes research on breaking .
“The sport of breaking has a long history of international global competitions.
“Breaking came to Australia in the early 1980s when it exploded internationally with Hollywood films.
“Then everyone thought it died but it went underground and it just kept building.”
Gunn, a former jazz and ballroom dancer, admits most people won’t know what to expect from breaking.
“But once they see how dynamic and exciting it is they are going to be totally blown away,” she says. “It’s an exciting sport to watch.
“We don’t know what music is playing until we are out there, so we have to adapt our movements to the music.
“We have to show originality as well as an ability to be spontaneous and improvise in the moment.”
Gunn says it took a long time to build the upper-body strength required for breaking and she hopes to make the most of her experience in Olympic qualifying.
“Australia hopes to secure one B-Girl and one B-Boy through the Oceania qualifying process and they would then go straight to Paris,” she says.
“If we don’t get that Oceania qualifying place, we’ll have to go to the Olympic qualifier series.
“We’ll be up against 40 other athletes from around the world and that will be a street fight.”
Just the way breaking began.
Michael Osborne has been a journalist for more than four decades including 35 years with the national news agency Australian Associated Press, rising from junior reporter to Editor.
He was AAP Editor for 11 years and served four years as Head of Sport and Racing. He was also posted to London and Beijing as AAP’s Bureau Chief and Foreign Correspondent.