Karam Singh’s liminal state was summed up in late December 2020 when he appeared on Sky Sports news while also employed by Sky to work at their call centre.
The 23-year-old – known as Kid Karam – is both your average recent graduate making ends meet and a hopeful for a brand-new Olympic category for 2024: that of breaking, the competitive form of breakdancing.
If, for some, breakdancing is still associated with headbands, boomboxes and doing the worm on bits of old vinyl, Singh and other British hopefuls like Sunni Brumfitt, are part of a new wave. They compete in Red Bull BC One, the biggest breaking tournament in the world, and post videos on Tik Tok.
“When people call it breakdancing it gives it that stereotype of busking in the streets or dancing in the nightclubs,” says Singh gently, over Zoom. “It’s called breaking because it’s gone into the sports industry.”
Singh has nailed the art of the alpha Zoom backdrop – with countless certificates and trophies dotting the bedroom walls and shelves behind him – and his achievements are numerous. He competed at Red Bull last year, as only the third person from the UK to do so. While he didn’t win, getting to the quarterfinals mean he’s a candidate for that Olympic spot.
It’s arguably something the Derby native has been training for since he was seven years old when he watched a Justin Timberlake video with dancers doing headspins. “I made a massive joke to my family ‘I’ll do that one day’,” he says. The next week, he spotted a crew at a local funfair demonstrating breaking. He joined their classes as soon as he was old enough.
Singh says he stood out from his friends in classes through natural ability but also work ethic. He wanted it more. See: the moment when he first cracked that classic move, the windmill.
“My friends were all breaking a lot longer than me and I was younger than all of them but my family used to buy me these breakdancing DVDs,” he explains. “I would watch the tutorials so I got the windmill before everyone else. I just remember going to the park and I could do it, and everyone was going mad because it was the [move] everyone wanted to do.”
He credits his family – and particularly his dad who he lives with and who would take him to events when he was a child – as crucial to his success.
“They take care of me at home and make sure I have everything I need to do well,” he says. Dance and sport runs in the family. Singh’s dad “used to do jazz-funk, the Charleston, stuff like that, back in the days”, performing in clubs up and down the county in the eighties.
His uncle, meanwhile, has a black belt in martial arts while his grandad was a wrestler in India before moving to the UK in the sixties.
Singh is keen to put breaking on the radar of a new generation. His Tik Tok videos range from dancing in the custom-made practice space in his garage to routines carried out while crisp shopping, and he coaches young people in Normanton, the area of Derby where he lives.
“I try to get all the youngsters who are really up and coming and we practice in the garage for hours,” he says. “And if they can’t get there or back, I’ll get them the taxis. I’m just trying to make sure everyone is elevating or pushing.”
“Normanton is a very multicultural place, there are different kids from Eastern Europe, Asia,” he continues. “They’re so talented but people don’t see what they can do because there’s nobody looking,” says Singh. “In the summer we went to [the park] to make some videos and practice. Within five minutes, there was a whole crowd of people around us. They brought their speakers, they were all playing music for us, and about five or six of them could do flips and tricks.”
Role model status seems inevitable. He already has a star on the Derby Walk of Fame, along with “people I learnt about in primary school”, such as Elizabethan it girl Bess of Hardwick, weightlifter Louis Martin and Brian Clough. Like his hero Marcus Rashford, Singh gives back to his community.
He volunteers every summer at a camp for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds — one that he attended when he was a child — with no exceptions. “There are a couple of events that people are surprised I have never been to, just because in that time I am [at the camp],” he says.
Singh’s average day features three-hour dance practice, 30 minute runs, filming those videos, a shift at the call centre and watching his team, Man United. He is also partial to shopping.
“I am quite guilty for spending money on clothes and stuff like that,” he smirks, sheepishly. “It’s quite expensive…I have just bought a Fendi jumper. It’s my birthday next weekend, so I was like ‘yeah I’m going to that myself and when things open [after lockdown] I can wear it.’” (Anyone who follows Singh on Instagram can attest that he did just that.)
He’s set to make an impact on fashion as well as sport, having already worked with Nike, Adidas and Puma, and performed at a Fendi party. His ultimate collaboration would be with Dior, he says, describing the brand as “so nice, so neat, luxurious”.
Singh says the only time he was properly starstruck was meeting Usain Bolt when he was a teenager. “I was doing a show on Sky called Got to Dance and we were staying in a hotel where there were so many celebrities,” he remembers. “Miley Cyrus, Tinashe, Shaggy, quite a few people. There were always paparazzi waiting for them to come out. I just remember hearing the rumour that Usain Bolt was in the hotel and he was having dinner in the canteen. As soon as I heard that, I just ran there with my friends.”
He seems slightly embarrassed now, adding “I was really young and he’s Usain Bolt and he was smashing records at the time” by way of an explanation. Fast-forward three years, and his likely moment in Paris 2024, and Singh can expect his own moment of Olympic glory – or certainly his own set of starstruck teenagers dropping everything to interrupt his dinner.