‘Breaking means I express myself through music’

Houston was first drawn to the station wagon as a teenager
Venue: Manchester Date: Sunday 6 November 17:00-19:30 GMT
Cover: Live on the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website and app.

There will be many magical moments that will “go viral” during the Paris 2024 Olympics, but a sport with the potential to generate a lot of engagement is breaking down.

The sport, stemming from break dancing and hip hop culture of the 1970s, will make its big Olympic Games in Paris, six years after a dazzling debut at the 2018 YOG.

Emma Houston – former Falkirk Ladies footballer turned tele-hook dancer – and now non-binary breakup star known as ‘Shortbread’ – has worked with some of the world’s biggest commercial brands like Nike, Levi’s, Adidas and Virgin.

Shortbread, who uses the pronouns they/them, is also one of Britain’s top hopes for a place at Paris 2024 and the 31-year-old Scot will be looking to make a step towards that goal via the European Breaking Championships in Manchester this week-end.

“It feels like we’re on the edge of something because this movement is starting to take the world by storm,” they told BBC Sport.

“I really believe it’s going to blow people away at the Olympics.”

The “natural battler” inspired to dance by a movie

Shortbread said they were a “very competitive” kid who “wanted to win it all” and for the “diehard Rangers fan” football was undoubtedly a first love.

Watching the 2004 film You Got Served – which follows a group of dancers who engage in street dancing competitions, or “battles” – opened their eyes to a whole new form of individual expressionism. The youngster was addicted.

“Obviously at this age [aged 15] everyone goes through a lot and i was definitely [in terms of identity] and I found this opportunity to express myself through music in a way that I had never thought of before,” they revealed.

“It was that marriage of music, movement and expression that I had longed for all my life.

“Individual choice is really emphasized and encouraged in hip hop culture. To have that autonomy and choice over how I moved and expressed my gender was really liberating.”

The young breaker took on the name Shortbread after his mum revealed it was his nickname before he was born and was drawn to the fact that it “was gender neutral and pays homage” to his Scottish roots.

Talent shows and commercial successes

Shortly after moving from their home in Stirling to London to study contemporary dance at Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance, they became finalists in the Sky TV show ‘Got to Dance’ with the Boadicea team in 2012 .

They lead the Houston Dance Collective which “focuses on hip hop and queer storytelling” and not only has a dazzling but highly desirable skill set.

This has seen them recruited by several high-profile brands to perform and choreograph adverts, most recently playing a starring role in Virgin’s new uniform promotion, which allows staff to choose outfits that best suit their expression. of gender.

Experiences and opportunities like this, combined with traveling the world as a rising star competing in Red Bull BC events, often seem “breathtaking” for Shortbread, but they admit there are plenty of challenges. .

“It is still difficult to make a living as a breaker because there are still stigmas and stereotypes,” they said.

“For decades breakers have almost been mocked or ridiculed, people saying ‘oh, you’re just spinning on your head’, but now it’s a thriving global movement and it’s time for athletes to earn the respect that they deserve.”

Will Olympic history await you?

The shortbreads said they were a “natural fighter” and clearly had to show a real fight outside of competition, but that trait could still help them secure a historic Olympic spot.

Canadian footballer Quinn and American skateboarder Alana Smith have become the first athletes who identify as non-binary to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

If Shortbread reached Paris 2024, he would likely become the first non-binary member of Team GB, but the circuit breaker insists that’s only part of their story.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating to talk about what I represent because I want to be known as an artist, as an athlete and for my profession, but I understand that it is important that I talk about who I am. am because it can make things easier for the next generation,” they said.

The breaker explains that she would be happy to participate in the women’s competition at Paris 2024, as she currently competes in the “Bgirl” category at major events, but hopes it will spark wider discussions about inclusivity.

“I know there’s a lot of talk about it right now, but for me, I understand that with the Olympics, it’s gender-based categories and not really gender-based categories and gender. ‘identity,’ they said.

“For me, it’s about having a broader and more inclusive language for people in these categories and recognizing skills that are free from gender bias.

“Remember, the reason the ‘Bgirl’ categories were created in the first place was to create a place where people who weren’t ‘Bboys’ could be seen and have the opportunity to shine.

“Hopefully it gets to a point where we can have these mixed categories and it’s not based on your gender because at the end of the day we want people to just be who they are and valued for that. what they can do.”

Bringing breaking to new UK fans

The shortbreads, who finished in the top 10 in the world, will then have the opportunity to show exactly what they can do when they ‘focus’ on their opponents at the European Breaking Championships in Manchester.

“I love the conversation that takes place in a battle and it’s so exciting to be able to bring that to the UK,” they said.

“We want to show what the legacy of hip hop culture is and right now with the Europeans and then the Olympics coming up, we feel like we’re on the edge of something really huge and amazing.

“They are a great opportunity for us to show what breaking is all about and I know there will be so much energy and support!”

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