Break dancer Sunny Choi competes at the World Games, and hopes for the 2024 Olympics
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The World Game started in Birmingham, Ala., this week. Athletes from dozens of countries compete in an array of sports - hockey, powerlifting, gymnastics, also bowling, tug of war and breakdancing. Competing later today in that last category is Sunny Choi, a New York corporate professional by day, a top-ranked B-girl off the clock. As Kyra Miles from member station WBHM reports, Sunny Choi also has her eyes on the Paris Olympics of 2024.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Here comes Sunny.
KYRA MILES, BYLINE: In a video from a regional championship event earlier this year, Sunny Choi wears baggy clothes and a baseball cap as she performs dizzying spins and flips.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let's get down. Let's see it.
MILES: She won gold at that event and ranked eighth for B-girls internationally at last year's world breaking championships in Paris. This year, she's representing the U.S. at the World Games. But growing up in Kentucky, Choi says she never would have imagined herself breaking on a world stage.
SUNNY CHOI: Being this little Asian girl, super shy, super timid - like, my family listened to classical music growing up.
MILES: She didn't start breakdancing until her freshman year of college in Philadelphia and stumbled into it kind of by accident.
CHOI: I was out really late at night one night, and some guys were dancing outside on the street. And they were just, like, waving people down like, oh, hey, come, you know, to one of our free classes. And I was like, OK, why not?
MILES: She fell in love with it right away, and almost 15 years later, she's still devoted. At a floor test yesterday for the World Games, break dancers from all over the world crowded around a small square on a wood floor, taking turns trying it out.
Sweat, she says, can make it hard to dance on. To stay in shape for competitions, Choi practices four times a week in addition to weightlifting, yoga and sprint training, all on top of her day job. She works as a creative operations director at Estee Lauder in New York, managing marketing and productivity. And in some ways, she says, it's like having an alter ego. She trades in her baggy performance clothes for business casual.
CHOI: I've had people reintroduce themselves to me when I've changed, yeah, because they just didn't realize it was me. It's pretty funny.
MILES: But now she may have to get used to a higher profile. In 2020, the International Olympic Committee announced that break dancing will be included in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Choi says she hopes to get there. When she was a kid, she had dreams of competing at the Olympics as a gymnast. But after a sport-related knee injury, she decided to hang up her leotard and that dream.
CHOI: And here I am in my 30s thinking, can I go to the Olympics now? It's so cool to now have that opportunity as an adult again and then this time actually be able to make that decision and potentially see it through.
MILES: She says breaking will be a great addition to the Olympics, and she hopes it'll get more people interested in it.
CHOI: There's so many elements that someone can gravitate toward, whether it's the music, whether it's just, like, creativity, whether it's the fashion, which is crazy in breaking, or the - like, the physicality, you know, and, like, the acrobatics. There's just so many different elements that someone can latch onto.
MILES: Choi's injured knee still gives her problems when dancing. She self-manages using a compression brace and icing it when it's painful. But she says it's worth it because breaking gives her the freedom to create and move.
For NPR News, I'm Kyra Miles in Birmingham.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.