The Man Who Broke Breaking

Breaking (aka breakdancing) is making its Olympic debut in Paris this summer. For Victor Montalvo, the top American competitor, a gold medal will mean bringing his sport one step closer to the mainstream.
Published: 21 June 2024

When Victor Montalvo’s shoulders hit the floor, they glide. He’s a whirlpool, spinning round and round, pulling you closer with every impossible rotation. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the floor—not Victor—was revolving. He pivots from his back to standing on his head to a full 360 degree spin on the palm of his left hand.

This is the world-champion breaker’s signature move: the Super Montalvo. It’s cheeky, cocky, and a downright nuclear weapon that has made Montalvo the face of breaking (or breakdancing—the sport has enjoyed a rebrand since you originally watched You Got Served). In August, the 30-year-old will represent Team USA at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

“I honestly don’t have rivals,” Montalvo tells me in a video interview a few months before he takes the global stage. And there’s not a hint of ego in his voice. The man hardly blinks, and his head is perpetually tilted ever so slightly to the side, sizing me up as if I were his next opponent. Pity the poor schmucks who have to face him in the Olympics.

Montalvo has earned his unmitigated confidence. In his career, he’s won every major international breaking competition in the world. He is the reigning gold medallist at the World Games, a two-time champion of Red Bull BC One, and the most recent winner of the WDSF World Breaking Championship. Quite simply, he broke breaking.

After a while, though, even winning felt repetitive. Montalvo lost the love of the sport . . . but that didn’t last long. “I already did everything I wanted to do in my breaking career,” he says. “I just got bored of it. It felt like a never-ending cycle. Same events each year, every year. Like, man, I want something new.”

When Montalvo heard that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had added breaking to the slate, his passion was instantly reinvigorated. Another mountain to climb. Another nation to conquer. He remembers thinking, Perfect. That’s another goal I can achieve. His chances of taking home the gold medal are extremely good.

David “Kid David” Schreibman, a breaking legend and Red Bull commentator, recently told Rolling Stone, “[There’s not] another competitive breaker who is as consistent and has the full package.” Montalvo blends the Tasmanian Devil’s unhinged energy with Allen Iverson’s creativity. But for all of his aplomb, a win in Paris would mean more than just another hearty chuckle from his throne. He’s fighting for the survival of the sport itself.

Breaking is a little different today from what it was in its ’80s heyday. B-boys no longer crowd the street corners of the Bronx, where the sport originated. In the early aughts, Red Bull provided an upgrade by organising a competition among eight elite crews, who were fighting for a $4,000 grand prize. That paved the way for the global BC One event that Montalvo has won twice. Now the energy-drink company sponsors him.

Modern contests feature one-on-one battles on a dance floor—with each breaker taking roughly one-minute turns, trying to outperform their opponent. As in rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating, judges score their performances and announce a winner. In Paris, Montalvo will compete against 15 other international B-boys, all likely just as revved up as him. “It’s new, evolved, refreshed, and refined. I just can’t wait to showcase it at the Olympics,” Montalvo says of his sport. “They thought it was stuck in the ’80s. Hopefully we’ll change that.”

Montalvo first found breaking-world success in 2011, conquering a Red Bull cypher event in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was just 17 years old. LAUREL GOLIO

At the 2024 Olympics, breaking will be featured alongside surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding—four events that IOC president Thomas Bach hopes will bring in Gen Z viewers. Still, breaking is only a guest in Paris. It won’t appear in the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles—the IOC made the decision before Montalvo could showcase his talents this summer. But if anyone can capitalise on this opportunity to convince the IOC to bring breaking to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, Montalvo believes it’s him. Serving as an ambassador for his sport is a calling. “This is something that I never would’ve thought I would be, but I have to,” he says.

Breaking is in Montalvo’s DNA. In the ’80s, his father and uncle, Victor and Hector Bermudez, were big-time B-boys. The Bermudez twins helped popularise the dance trend throughout Mexico, performing across the country before giving it up and moving to the United States. Back then, you couldn’t make much money in the breaking world.

For Montalvo, it’s a whole new ball game. When he was just six years old, his father pointed at the screen as the family watched the breaking film Beat Street and said, “Look, I used to do this back in the day.” Montalvo burst out laughing. Bermudez wasn’t joking; he put on a hoodie and started “busting out head spins and windmills,” Montalvo recalls. “We thought, Wow, this is amazing.

As the story goes, Montalvo and his cousin, who goes by Static, joined a crew in Kissimmee, Florida, at a time when breakdancing was big in the state. “I would sneak out of my house to go to different events around Florida, sometimes out of state, and [my father] would let me get away with that because I was doing something positive,” Montalvo remembers. “My dad was always on the sidelines. He supported me 100 percent. He tells me all the time, ‘I’m living my dreams through you.’ ”

The Olympics is an event in which tradition meets innovation, and according to Montalvo, that’s exactly what sets him apart from the competition. “I love keeping the tradition of breaking alive,” he says. “Your body is the instrument, and you’re bringing that instrument out.” He adds, “I love seeing people’s faces after they watch me dance. Like, God, this is so incredible.

Speaking to Montalvo, you can tell that standing still is a burden. It’s easier for him to spin—to point his feet to the sky, stopping only to taunt his opponents with picture-perfect freezes. At the moment, he’s all smiles. More often, he’s smirking. “I understand the formula now,” Montalvo says of the road ahead. “Beat the system.”

Photographs By Laurel Golio


Three classics of the genre to watch before the sport’s Olympic throw-down.

Style Wars (1983)


Style Wars is a graffiti documentary, but it’s really dope because it talks about the culture of breaking and just hip-hop in general.”

The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy (2002)


The Freshest Kids is a documentary about the origins of breaking and what it means to be a breaker. Hopefully, after the Olympics, they’ll have a little breaking documentary. We need a new one for this day and age.”

Wild Style (1983)


That’s a movie,” Montalvo says about the hip-hop film starring the famous Rock Steady Crew. “Watch that one.”

Originally published on Esquire US

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