Twenty years ago, Nick Robinson and his friend Karl Loos walked into a breakdancing (breaking) class in Whitehorse, Yukon, led by Andrea Simpson Fowler. Within the year, Nick and Karl were teaching the class.
Since then, Nick’s breaking journey has taken him across the globe, through countless competitions and performances, and most recently into his role as a strength and conditioning coach for Breaking Canada.
Now, as a coach and seasoned crew leader who has worked with amateur and professional breakers, including potential Olympians on the international stage, Nick hopes to amplify his philosophy of breaking as a gateway to skills like leadership, creativity, and working across barriers. And as breaking makes its debut as an Olympic sport in Paris 2024, Nick sees a golden opportunity to spread awareness of the positive impact that breaking has on individuals and communities on a national, perhaps even global, scale.
According to Robinson, a common theme within hip hop, of which breaking is one of the four elements, is to create something out of nothing. Nick’s journey, and breaking’s journey to Olympic sport, is an illustration of that philosophy. Out of nothing, community, creativity, and skills can all flourish.
For Nick, the journey began at home in Whitehorse when his mother encouraged him to branch out from soccer. “She first suggested speed skating, but I was against the spandex,” Nick says. That landed him in Simpson Fowler’s class.
“My mom and Andrea [Simpson Fowler] helped us write a grant that would bring a crew from Toronto to Whitehorse to work with us,” Nick recalls. It was the birth of a breaking scene in Whitehorse and the beginning of Nick’s personal journey from introvert to extrovert. “I used to be a shy kid,” Nick admits. “I don’t really remember this, but my mom said there was a big switch to being more extroverted.”
It was also the start of Nick’s career in breaking. As his crew Groundworks Sessions (GWS) brought competitions and shows to Whitehorse, Robinson played a key role in building the crew into one that was ready to travel and take on competition worldwide. By the time Robinson moved south to study kinesiology at the University of Toronto, the crew was ready. In his fourth year of undergrad, Robinson took an estimated 40 flights around North America to perform and compete.
“That might not have been the best thing to juggle with studying…I ended up getting pretty sick,” Nick says, but the experience was its own education in the breaking mindset.
“Breaking is one of the four elements of hip hop [along with DJing, graffiti, and MCing],” Nick says. “So the overwhelming theme is peace, love, unity, and a common shared interest and culture where people want to show you what they love about breaking and their city.”
With a foundation in creativity, spontaneity, and the universal language of music, breaking is fertile ground for building skills like critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills, all while overcoming cultural barriers. “You have people from all different backgrounds interacting and you get to build connections and create something together. The creativity aspect is massive in teaching people to think in different ways,” Nick says.
Paris 2024 will present an incredible opportunity for both Nick and the breaking community when the sport is featured in the Olympics for the first time.
“Breaking Canada is similar to an organization like Skate Canada, and it’s here to support the dancers and work between them and organizations like Own the Podium to provide support on the way to the Olympics,” Nick says. As Breaking Canada’s strength and conditioning coach, Nick draws on his experience in breaking and his degree in kinesiology, as well as an MSc in Exercise Science & Kinesiology, to “support the athletes to be stronger, faster, and less injury prone.”
While Breaking Canada has a competitive mandate, Nick hopes his role will help the discipline of breaking in Canada to maintain a spirit of artistry, community, and skill building, not just competing. And if the Olympics bring breaking more mainstream appeal, more artists like Nick might also find themselves in a place to forge new career paths as leaders, mentors, and instructors who can further the discipline’s impact, especially for youth.
“Professional skateboarders can make a living through their sport, so there’s a conversation about why historically it’s been more challenging in breaking,” Nick says. “I hope to see the culture and community grow, and I anticipate there’ll be a larger influx of young kids getting into it for the right reasons and for our top dancers to secure more sponsorships and higher pay to perform and lead workshops.”
If skills like creativity, collaboration, finding solutions, and working across cultures are expected to be more and more valued in the workplace of the future, then the spaces where those skills are cultivated, like the breaking community, need to be valued as well.
In Whitehorse, Robinson’s brother Alex, along with Simpson Fowler, continue to promote these skills and support arts and creativity among Whitehorse’s youth at the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre, where they serve as Executive Director and Operations Manager respectively. Though Nick’s career has taken him a long way from Whitehorse, he still takes inspiration from the Heart of Riverdale’s stated mission of “teaching skilled artistic expression…with a goal of nurturing community-minded artists and guiding them to realize their limitless potential in art and life.”
Places like the Heart of Riverdale demonstrate that creative communities and spaces are essential to the growth and development of individuals, and can empower them with the skills they need to succeed in fields as diverse as performing to banking. “I have a friend who is a project manager at a bank and he talks about bringing in the creativity and problem solving that he learned in breaking,” Nick says.
The Heart of Riverdale now includes classes in drama, sound engineering and more, potentially launching future leaders like Nick who not only make an impact in their profession, but pay it forward by empowering more creativity and growth through their chosen fields.