Olympics-Afghanistan's first female breakdancer ready for Olympic dream

Afghan refugee and Breaking athlete Manizha Talash practices during a training session for the Paris 2024 Olympics where the sport will make its Olympic debut, in Madrid, Spain, June 11, 2024. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

MADRID (Reuters) - Three years after she fled Afghanistan so she could dedicate her life to the new Olympic sport of breaking, Manizha Talash is preparing to compete in the Paris Games as part of the Refugee Team.

For the 21-year-old 'B-Girl' the prospect is bittersweet.

"I would love to go and compete with the Afghan team alongside other girls, but we all know that's just impossible," Talash told Reuters as she got ready to train in a public square in Madrid's Vallecas neighbourhood.

"I'm very happy because a few months ago it was just a dream but now I'm living inside my dream. I can look at myself and say that I'm here, that I've made it."

Breaking, a competitive form of breakdancing that blends artistry and dance with acrobatic moves, will make its debut in the Paris Olympics in July.

Sixteen 'B-Girls' and 16 'B-Boys' will compete in the dance discipline that has its roots in the New York Bronx of the 1970s, bringing a new dimension to the Olympic movement.

"When I saw a video online of a man just spinning over his head ... I immediately told myself: 'That's what I want to do with my life!' and three months later found a gym in Kabul to start training," Talash told Reuters in an interview.

As the only girl among the 56 members of the Superiors Crew, a small but ardent breaking community in Kabul, Talash said it was not only her family members who disapproved of her new passion. She started receiving death threats as the word spread about Afghanistan's first B-Girl.

Many conservative Afghans frown on dancing of any description, and even more vehemently object to a woman's public participation - some of them violently.

"We received three bomb threats to our club and, after the police came and arrested a man who was planning to attack our club, they ordered us to close it because they said it was a major threat not only to ourselves but for the people in the neighbourhood," Talash said.

And in August 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul, outlawing music and dancing, which it considers un-Islamic.

Since then most girls have been barred from high school and women from universities. The Taliban have also stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women in the absence of a male guardian.

"After the Taliban came I didn't leave Afghanistan because the fear of death. It was because breaking is my life. I'm here now because I have chosen to pursue my dream."

Talash said she spent a year in Pakistan before she was granted refugee status in Spain alongside six other members of her crew who were spread around the country.

She kept training but it wasn't until early 2024 that, thanks to the efforts of friends, the Refugee Olympic Team found Talash, brought her to Madrid and sponsored her six-days-a-week training after securing her a spot in the Paris Olympics.

Around the same time her mother, two brothers and a sister were granted refugee status and joined her in Madrid, giving Talash an extra shot of energy.

"I feel like by doing what I'm doing, I'm doing something for the women in Afghanistan. For my girls there. I don't want to just talk, I want go out there and do something. To walk the walk," she said.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Ros Russell)

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