A Canadian soccer star and his underground origins as a b-boy named Timex in the Toronto subway
One level below the bus bay at Kennedy Station in Toronto's eastern borough of Scarborough, and a level above the subway platform, is a concourse that connects all the pedestrian entrances.
The eastern terminus of Line 2 on Toronto's subway network (TTC) is virtually identical to when it opened in 1980. The same dull yellow tile walls and brown brick floors remain the backdrop for people traveling through this transit hub.
In the years before the proliferation of online communication and cell phones, it was a gathering place for area youths, so much so that by 1998, the TTC mandated orchestral music be played over the public-address intercom in order to keep kids moving, instead of loitering.
Several breaking crews, Bag of Trix, Paranormal and SuperNaturalz, may have been a big part of the impetus for this since-removed measure. However, they weren't loitering, not by a long shot.
They were breaking, an energetic and gymnastic-like dance form which could be the breakout event at next summer's Paris Olympics. Its debut at the Games brings mainstream validation, but it has always been taken seriously.
Dwayne De Rosario knows that inherently. Though the son of Scarborough is renowned for soccer, where he blossomed into MLS stardom under the mononym DeRo, his origin story includes the persona of Timex, a b-boy (break boy) training to enter the cypher (breaking circle).
Originated in New York City
"I gravitated to the whole art," says De Rosario, 44. "No one wanted to be commercial, we all embraced everything underground. The freedom to express ourselves, it was through breaking, we were rebels but it made us feel important."
Widely cited as originating on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, this infectious Black and Latino youth-driven dance culture blasted forth from the Bronx. Its root was tapped by ethnic communities across the globe and it subsequently came into vogue in mainstream media.
By the early 1980s, Toronto caught the wave.
SuperNaturalz crew formed in 1993. De Rosario's eldest brother, Paul, was a principal member in this squad of high school students that ranged in age from 14-19.
I gravitated to the whole art. No one wanted to be commercial, we all embraced everything underground. The freedom to express ourselves, it was through breaking, we were rebels but it made us feel important. - Dwayne De Rosario
Paul went by the b-boy name Pace. Along with NightCrawler, Lego, Stripes, Revere, Taffy, Jedi and a few others, they were some of the city's finest breakers.
By that stage, Dwayne was clearly the most promising soccer player in a family where their Guyanese-born dad, Tony, had raised them on the sport.
When it came to breaking, it was a role reversal in applying his athleticism, not only in comparison to his brother, but to the rest of SuperNaturalz as well.
"I would dabble on the side but I'd get frustrated," De Rosario recalls. "My competitive self wanted me to be just as good as them, my bro had crazy shuffles. Jedi had all the power moves, crabs, flares and windmills."
Idolized early stars
In the 1980s and '90s, the De Rosarios would often visit family in New York City. They inevitably returned stocked with rap cassettes and VHS tapes like Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo and Beat Street. They were fixated on Crazy Legs and Rock Steady Crew — the first international stars of breaking and anything else that showcased this radiant foundational element of hip hop culture. It was everything Dwayne and his brothers needed to emulate the style and fashion they saw.
With a regimented daily schedule consisting of elite level basketball and soccer practices, De Rosario found time to break, either right after his classes were dismissed at Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute or by skipping them outright.
"I was a sports guy, I would come and see these guys breaking, they were so dope, so fly," he says. "When the sound comes on, I'm always the first one in, I'd do my thing, then I moved back and let the other guys go."
His forte was the shuffle, not surprising given its heavy reliance on footwork. Almost like running in place, it would be natural for a soccer player, save for the one-hand plant.
He also felt confident about his backspins. The windmills and flares, not so much. Being original was the key. It could work for him, or it didn't.
It was a time where even the most welcoming places were reluctant to allow breaking on their premises. Youngsters spinning on their heads and walking like crustaceans was assumed to be a major injury liability.
Competitions began to spring up around globe
"We weren't allowed in community centres — now they hire us to teach there." says Chris (Jedi) Chaboyer. "They didn't want a lawsuit. We had to find places. We'd break in front of the arcade on the concrete or at the subway stations."
SuperNaturalz would battle Bag of Trix and Paranormal on the platforms and entrances to Kennedy Station.
At Warden Station, janitors and maintenance workers would clean a section on the southeast end of the concourse, lay out cardboard and let the crews do their thing. They were a receptive audience, reacting with their own intensity to the funky moves they found most impressive.
Concurrent to these informal battles, major international events began springing up across the globe.
In 1990, Battle of the Year, which is viewed as the "World Cup of Breaking", was launched in Germany. The U.K. B-Boy Championships kicked off in 1996 and Freestyle Session started in the United States one year later.
Breaking is a dance on its own. It was never a sport until two people began competing against each other with a formal winner and loser in a bracket tournament. - Geoff Reyes, Canada DanceSport
The popularity of breaking had spread across the globe and with it came inevitable commodification and marketing.The process became more streamlined and scores had to be recorded by judges. Crews battling crews whittled down to one-on-one, breaker-vs.-breaker. "Sport breaking" was born.
"That's the term I use to describe competition," says Geoff Reyes, breaking sport director of Canada DanceSport (CDS). "Breaking is a dance on its own. It was never a sport until two people began competing against each other with a formal winner and loser in a bracket tournament."
Today the World DanceSport Federation's Breaking for Gold Series is structured similarly to the PGA and ATP tours. Breakers accumulate ranking points in majors and lead-up events.
Reyes is three years younger than DeRo and also grew up in Scarborough. He was drawn to b-boying from what he saw on TV. In his eyes, breaking's athletic component meant it would someday lean toward becoming an Olympic sport.
That path to that actualization germinated in a push for modernization by both the WDSF (DanceSport) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). Founded in 1957, DanceSport had the global infrastructure in place to incorporate breaking under its umbrella. Breaking's contemporary draw fit perfectly into its expansion plans.
In 2015, the street dance became part of the fold along with salsa, joining disciplines such as standard (a high-performance athletic form of ballroom dacing), Latin and Acrobatic rock 'n roll.
A year later the IOC invited the WDSF to produce and govern a breaking competition. It was staged at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. The consensus is that it was a success.
Canadian Phil Wizard a star
In line with DanceSport, the IOC sought to attract a younger audience.
Skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were new entries into the last summer games. Breaking officially became an Olympic sport in December 2020.
"Those discussions started in 2016, 2017," Reyes says. "We assumed with the success of that pilot (Buenos Aires 2018) it was on its way on the sport side."
At Paris 2024, breaking will be contested at Place de La Concorde in the heart of the city, the centre of the French Revolution which saw the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, a magnificent and historic backdrop.
Toronto's early breakers hold subway stations, street corners, basements and long-shuttered venues like Party Centre and Spectrum Nightclub in the same esteem.
"I see where the future is going," says Flex (Gregory Cheeatow) of Bag of Trix. "It's like streetball compared to the NBA."
Vancouver's Phil Wizard is currently fourth in DanceSport's B-Boy World Ranking, and expected to Canada's top podium contender in Paris. His Olympic preparation involves up to four hours of daily practice, which includes training and adhering to a high-performance athletes' diet.
SuperNaturalz may not have focused on eating right, but their work ethic was sound. They practised for hours on end and that extended further if there was a party. It was a daily operation.
DeRo eventually had to put breaking aside to clear his path to become a professional soccer player. But through a 14-year career as a star in the MLS and Canada's men's team, the underground force never left him.
"I loved breaking and soccer equally," he said. "Soccer is an art too."
For him, an attempted bicycle kick exhibits the same flare on the pitch that a breaker would display in a cypher. Even his signature post-goal celebration — the Shake 'n' Bake — derives from popping and locking.
"The first time I did it after a goal, it worked," De Rosario says. "You could say it's modified and evolved over time. It's a tribute to the breaking culture."
Dwayne De Rosario has always felt that he's been a sum of distinct parts. In his enigmatic ethos, Timex lives alongside DeRo.
"I brought street soccer to the national team, I was a groundbreaker," he says, emphasizing the word breaker. "I wanted to rep my community and I didn't want to lose sight of that. I loved b-boy culture and that whole b-boy vibe - 100 percent."