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When 18-year old Manizha Talash joined a small but ardent breakdancing community in Afghanistan a few months ago, she was the only woman. In that short time, however, she’s already set her sights on representing her country in one of the latest sports to be added to the program for the Summer Olympics.

Dressed in black from head to ankle head for training, Talash wouldn’t look out of place in a dance studio anywhere in the world. But in Afghanistan’s conservative, Islamic society, she stands out for being courageous enough to pursue her dream.

“I want to be different,” Talash told Reuters as she waited for the start of a session at a mixed martial arts center in Kabul. “I want to become a good role model in Afghanistan.”

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

Talash says she has received death threats, but she’s still dancing.

Just being female can be dangerous in Afghanistan. Schools for girls were frequently targeted by militants during the past two decades. In May 2020, 24 people, including 16 mothers, were killed in a horrific attack on a maternity ward.

Progressive-minded Afghans fear gains in women’s rights — achieved since a Taliban government was ousted in 2001 — may be at risk as their government engages in peace talks that could end up giving the Taliban more say in the country’s future as the United States prepares to withdraw its last remaining troops.

“When I think about the possible return of the Taliban and that maybe I cannot continue practicing breakdancing, I become very upset,” Talash said. “I want to be a role model, a person who has achieved her dreams.”

The club she belongs to was founded a year ago in Kabul and now has over 30 members, including six females. They gather three times a week to practice the acrobatic moves — including headspins — that are the hallmarks of breakdancing.

“I think it is very good that women can do such a sport like breakdancing,” breakdancer and instructor Sajad Temurian said.

“We have four years to train more girls in Afghanistan to introduce at least one or two of them as breakdancing athletes to the international community (at the Olympics).”

Breakdancing, an art form born on the streets of New York in the 1970s, was among four sports, along with skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing, that the International Olympic Committee added to the Paris Games in 2024 in an effort to attract a younger, more urban audience.

“This (sport) is very tough, and you have to have a strong physique to learn and do it….it isn’t easy, but nothing is easy, you can learn and achieve the goal,” Talash said.

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