From favelas to the Olympics: the Brazilian breakdancer determined to make her country proud

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SCENES shines the spotlight on young people around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven shorts will inspire and amaze as these young changemakers tell their remarkable stories.

It’s Wednesday night at Casa Do Hip Hop in downtown São Paulo. It’s practice night here. A band gathers and breakbeat music begins to play. Of the six people, there is a woman, B-Girl Toquinha. In baggy pants and designer sneakers, the 20-year-old arrives on time and dances nonstop for two hours to the beat.

“I don’t think about anything when I’m dancing, about anything. It’s a moment when I turn off my mind and I stop thinking about absolutely everything, about problems, about everything,” says B-Girl Toquinha, of her real name Naiara Xavier Santos.

The Brazilian breakdancer

B-Girl Toquinha is one of Brazil’s leading breakdancers today. She started her journey in 2015 by enrolling in local dance classes. “In this social project called Mais Educação, there was futsal, capoeira, graffiti and breakdancing and me being me, I took all the classes, but breakdancing won my heart and my life”, says Naiara at Scenes.

Breaking up battles

Breakdancing is a style of hip-hop dance that began in the 1960s on the streets of New York City and exploded into the mainstream soon after. Breakdancing combines elements of dance and acrobatics and often involves dance battles, adding to its competitive reputation.

B-Girl Toquinha loves breakout fights, where she pits her dancing skills against a single opponent to see who has the best moves. “I’ve always loved fighting, the energy that battle gives me, the moments that battles give me,” she explains.

After three months of break-in, at only 14 years old, Naiara won her first competition. She has since won many battles across the country. In 2021, she earned a spot on Brazil’s national breakdance team after winning the biggest individual competition between B-Girls and B-Boys in Brazil, the Red Bull BC One Cypher. Judges award points to practitioners for their creativity.

Breaking at the Olympics

Breakdancing was announced as an official sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December 2020. It will make its Olympic debut at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. The Breakup Contest will consist of two elements, one for women and one for men, where 16 B-Girls and 16 B-Boys will compete in solo battles.

Urban sport joins the likes of skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing in IOC’s pursuit to attract younger audiences to the historic competition. Naiara is determined to represent Brazil at the Games. “For the 2024 Olympics, I believe I’m on the right track. I’m training a lot. I have everything and I really want to be there, get the medal and represent Brazil in the best way,” says- she.

Olympic dreams

Naiara lives in a favela, in the Recanto dos Humildes community in São Paulo. Her father, a bricklayer and her mother, a cleaning lady, fully support her Olympic dance ambitions.

“I think that determination came from my parents seeing them always working hard and expecting nothing from anyone. The rat race is much crazier for those who are not privileged in life,” she recalls.

From the favelas of Brazil to the international status of her country, B-Girl Toquinha fights to cross everything. “Representing Brazil means so much to me because I come from a favela. I come from a modest family and I have always pursued my dreams. Today, being where I am, in the Brazilian first team in the story, I have no words.”

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