Staff Sgt. Brianna Pritchard currently trains for breaking at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. Photo courtesy of Brianna Pritchard.
There’s a new sport coming to the 2024 Olympics, and Brianna Pritchard is working hard to make it to Paris for the first Olympic break dancing — or just breaking — competition. But all that hard work currently takes place at the al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. Staff Sgt. Pritchard is an Alaska Army National Guard helicopter mechanic and flight instructor when she’s not one of the nation’s top competitive breakers.
Pritchard was drawn to the military as a child, because she saw serving her country as a higher purpose. She enlisted as military police as soon as she graduated high school but quickly realized it wasn’t the job for her. “I wanted to kick down doors and be GI Jane,” she said in a conversation with Coffee or Die Magazine. But it was 2011, and women were not allowed to be infantry at the time.
“I was fixing my truck one day, and I realized that I like to get dirty and use my hands working for a living,” she explained. “My cousin was a helicopter mechanic at the time, and I thought that would be pretty rad.”
So she switched her military occupational specialty code and began working on Blackhawk helicopters as a technical inspector. She also now works on Lakotas. And she didn’t stop there. She also became the first female Alaska National Guard soldier to attend flight instructor school, graduating with honors.
But throughout it all, Pritchard pursued a passion from her teen years — breaking. Her father had done some breaking when he was in high school, so she was always aware of it. She started practicing in her garage, then moved to a community rec center, where she met other kids and formed a crew.
An avid hockey and softball player in her youth, she made the choice in high school to devote all her free time to breaking instead. “I chose to stick with breaking, because deep down that’s what my passion was,” Pritchard said. “It gave me thrills that I had never felt before, all these things I’m able to do with just my body. It’s a craft, it’s an art form, it’s a dance.”
Pritchard breaks in what is known as a blowup style, with many explosive movements, freezes, and power combinations. She grew up breaking around young men who were doing difficult power moves, and she felt like she needed to keep up. “I was influenced by this very masculine environment,” she said. “Not many females are very keen on throwing themselves down on the concrete.”
Pritchard is used to being in a masculine environment, as one of very few female Blackhawk mechanics or flight instructors. “The military just reinforces my drive and discipline. It gives you the grit to not give up and keep pushing harder.”
Training is difficult and takes up all her time when she isn’t working. She’ll integrate high-intensity interval training into her breaking two to three times a day. “It’s like being a gymnast. You have to be strong and have endurance,” she said.
But it’s not just about being strong in her case. “A lot of guys muscle through moves, they’re just strong enough to do it, whereas a B-girl has to kind of break it down and understand the dynamics of the movement, all the little details of the techniques.”
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Pritchard competes under the name Snap1. “I have won two qualifiers and I’m ranked No. 1 right now in the USA breaking point system,” she said. “My name is definitely in the forefront of USA breaking committee’s minds.”
Nothing would make her happier than to solely be a professional athlete, training all the time, but having just deployed in February, she has a little while longer left to split her attention. She hopes the road to the Olympic team will be better established when she gets home. She and her husband plan to leave Alaska and move to one of the lower 48 states to be closer to training and competition opportunities.
Her time in the National Guard has had a valuable impact on her mindset, giving her a perspective many other B-girls don’t have. “I try to push myself to the max limits, because being in the military I always remind myself that people have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” she said. “Any time I’m suffering physically from my training, that always runs through my mind — I shouldn’t be complaining because someone else has suffered more.”
But her heart is devoted to breaking, and having the Olympics as a goal drives her every day. “It would be a dream come true.”
Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!
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