|Origin||New York City|
Breaking, also called breakdancing or b-boying/b-girling, is an athletic style of street dance originating from the African American community in the United States. While diverse in the amount of variation available in the dance, breakdancing mainly consists of four kinds of movement: toprock, downrock, power moves and freezes. Breakdancing is typically set to songs containing drum breaks, especially in hip-hop, funk, soul music and breakbeat music, although modern trends allow for much wider varieties of music along certain ranges of tempo and beat patterns.
The modern dance elements of breakdancing originated among the poor youth of New York during the early 1970s, where it was introduced as breaking. It is closely attributed to the birth of hip-hop, as DJs developed rhythmic breaks for dancers. The dance form has since expanded globally, with an array of organizations and independent competitions supporting its growth. Breaking will now be featured as an Olympic sport, making its debut in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
A practitioner of this dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, breakdancer or breaker. Although the term "breakdance" is frequently used to refer to the dance in popular culture and in the mainstream entertainment industry, "b-boying" and "breaking" were the original terms and are preferred by the majority of the pioneers and most notable practitioners.
Claims that the term "Breakdance" was a creation of the media or of Rock Steady Crew manager Ruza "Kool Lady" Blue are belied by its use by Hip Hop pioneer Kurtis Blow in a 1980 profile by Bill Adler in the New York Daily News, prior to any other media coverage, and prior to Blue's 1981 arrival in New York.
Some enthusiasts consider "breakdancing" an ignorant, and even pejorative, term, due to the media's exploitation of the art form, while others use it to derogatorily refer to studio-trained dancers that can perform the moves but who do not live a "b-boy lifestyle",: 61 and accuse the media of displaying a simplified version of the dance that focused on "tricks" instead of culture. The term "breakdancing" has become an umbrella term that includes California-based dance styles such as popping, locking, and electric boogaloo, in addition to the New York-based b-boying.: 60  The dance itself is called "breaking."
The terms "b-boy" ("break-boy"), "b-girl" ("break-girl"), and "breaker" were the original terms used to describe the dancers who performed to DJ Kool Herc's breakbeats. The obvious connection of the term "breaking" is to the word "breakbeat". DJ Kool Herc has commented that the term "breaking" was 1970s slang for "getting excited", "acting energetically" or "causing a disturbance". Most breakdancing pioneers and practitioners prefer the terms "b-boy", "b-girl", and/or "breaker" when referring to these dancers. For those immersed in hip-hop culture, the term "breakdancer" may be used to disparage those who learn the dance for personal gain rather than for commitment to the culture.: 61 B-boy London of the New York City Breakers and filmmaker Michael Holman refer to these dancers as "breakers". Frosty Freeze of the Rock Steady Crew says, "we were known as b-boys", and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa says, "b-boys, [are] what you call break boys... or b-girls, what you call break girls." In addition, co-founder of Rock Steady Crew Santiago "Jo Jo" Torres, Rock Steady Crew member Marc "Mr. Freeze" Lemberger, hip-hop historian Fab 5 Freddy, and rappers Big Daddy Kane and Tech N9ne use the term "b-boy".
|Kurtis Blow||But it was in his secret identity as a B-boy (B for Beat) during after-school hours that Kurtis really shined. "I was the best dancer at the school " he claimed. "When I was 15 I used to go down to Nell Gwinn's[sic] and do that frantic Breakdance- the fancy, fancy footwork to the funky, funky music- and I would have the crowd in the palm of my hand."|||
|Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon;
Rock Steady Crew
|"When I first learned about the dance in 1977 it was called b-boying... by the time the media got a hold of it in like '81, '82, it became 'break-dancing' and I even got caught up calling it break-dancing too."|||
|Michael Holman, New York City Breakers||"Maybe what Legs is doing is saying "I want to reeducate the marketplace and make them see that everything that came before was 'breakdancing' and what's going on now is 'b-boying.' And it's all under my control and auspices and whim and whatever." And so it's a cleansing; it's like an etymological purging....But it's smart, because it's a paradigm shift in which he now is not just a player but is a kingmaker. A kingpin."||: 62|
|Adriano Pappalardo, Author & bboy||"Breakdancing should be called Breakin', spelled with the apostrophe like with Rock'n'roll. The reason I say this is simply because the roots and preface actually come out of Rock, black-rock to be specific. Original bboys/bgirls will use the term rockin'and goin'off, not to be confused with rockdance. Some of the influential foundations of Toprock do infact come from rockdance steps. Its also not correct to mention only African American roots in its birth when in essence its first american origins were from black and brown, meaning latino/hispanic aswell as African American pioneers. If you really do your research you will find the origins of the American pioneering years to be influenced by the African dance company that worked in the bronx from 1971 to 1974 and on their student list was the creator of the American Zulu nation to prove and timestamp the African influence."|||
|Mandalit del Barco, journalist||"Breakdancing may have died, but the b-boy, one of four original elements of hip hop (also included: the MC, the DJ, and the graffiti artist) lives on. To those who knew it before it was tagged with the name breakdancing, to those still involved in the scene that they will always know as b-boying, the tradition is alive and, well, spinning."|||
|Foundation, by Joseph Schloss||"In addition to its general association with commercialism, the term breakdancing is also problematic on a more practical level. Unlike b-boying, which refers to a specific dance form that developed in New York City in the '70s, breakdancing is often used as an umbrella term that includes not only b-boying, but also popping, locking, boogalooing, and other so-called funk-style dances that originated in California."||: 60|
|The Electric Boogaloos||"In the 80's when streetdancing [sic] blew up, the media often incorrectly used the term 'breakdancing' as an umbrella term for most the streetdancing [sic] styles that they saw. What many people didn't know was [that] within these styles, other sub-cultures existed, each with their own identities. Breakdancing, or b-boying as it is more appropriately known as, is known to have its roots in the east coast and was heavily influenced by break beats and hip hop."|||
|Timothy "Popin' Pete" Solomon;
|"An important thing to clarify is that the term 'Break dancing' is wrong, I read that in many magazines but that is a media term. The correct term is 'Breakin', people who do it are B-Boys and B-Girls. The term 'Break dancing' has to be thrown out of the dance vocabulary."|||
|Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory||"Breaking or b-boying is generally misconstrued or incorrectly termed as 'breakdancing'. Breakdancing is a term spawned from the loins of the media's philistinism, sciolism, and naïveté at that time. With no true knowledge of the hip-hop diaspora but with an ineradicable need to define it for the nescient masses, the term breakdancing was born. Most breakers take great offense to the term."|||
|Jeff Chang||"During the 1970s, an array of dances practiced by black and Latino kids sprang up in the inner cities of New York and California. The styles had a dizzying list of names: 'uprock' in Brooklyn, 'locking' in Los Angeles, 'boogaloo' and 'popping' in Fresno, and 'strutting' in San Francisco and Oakland. When these dances gained notice in the mid-'80s outside of their geographic contexts, the diverse styles were lumped together under the tag 'break dancing'.|||
|American Heritage Dictionary||
See also: History of hip hop dance
Many elements of breaking can be seen in other antecedent cultures prior to the 1970s. B-boy pioneers Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon and Kenneth "Ken Swift" Gabbert, both of Rock Steady Crew, cite James Brown and Kung Fu films (notably Bruce Lee films) as influences. Many of the acrobatic moves, such as the flare, show clear connections to gymnastics. In the 1877 book Rob Roy on the Baltic, John MacGregor describes seeing near Norrköping a '...young man quite alone, who was practicing over and over the most inexplicable leap in the air...he swung himself up, and then round on his hand for a point, when his upper leg described a great circle...'. The engraving shows a young man apparently breakdancing. The dance was called the Giesse Harad Polska or 'salmon district dance'. In 1894 Thomas Edison filmed Walter Wilkins, Denny Toliver and Joe Rastus dancing and performing a "breakdown". Then in 1898 he filmed a young street dancer performing acrobatic headspins. However, it was not until the 1970s that breakdancing developed as a defined dance style in the United States. There is also evidence of this style of dancing in Kaduna, Nigeria in 1959.
These precursing elements began to take form in the early 1970s, as breaking began to grow at parties featuring DJs and instrumental records. It was at these parties that DJ Kool Herc, a Bronx based DJ pioneer, developed rhythmic breakdown sections by simultaneously switching between two copies of the same record, creating “breaks”. By looping the records and their simultaneous breaks, he was able to prolong the break and provide a rhythmic and improvisational base for dancers: Herc tells Jeff Chang in his book Can't Stop Won't Stop (2005), “And once they heard that, that was it, wasn't no turning back. They always wanted to hear breaks after breaks after breaks after breaks."
The onset of breaking prompted dance battles, and dance sessions known as cyphers, competitive circles in which participants took turns dancing while surrounded by onlookers. The term cypher and its use in hip-hop culture originates from the Five-Percent Nation, who utilized the term “cypher” to denote circles of people. Cyphers are environments in which breakers battle for dancing reputation, express cultural pride, and integrate elements such as toprocking or floor work to innovate one's set. Crews including the Rock Steady Crew or Mighty Zulu Kingz began to form, in response to the growth of competitive cyphers which sometimes featured cash-prizes, titles, and bragging rights.
Breaking started as toprock, footwork-oriented dance moves performed standing up, but as dance crews began to experiment, a separate dance form known as uprock further influenced breaking. Uprock, also known as Brooklyn uprock, is a more aggressive dance style commonly performed between two partners that feature intricate footwork and hitting motions, mimicking a fight. As a separate dance style, it never gained the same widespread popularity as breakdancing, except for some very specific moves adopted by breakers who use it as a variation for their toprock. Uprock is also stated to have roots in gangs, as an expressive medium used to settle turf disputes, with the winner deciding the location of a future battle. Although some disagree that breakdancing ever played a part in mediating gang rivalry, the early growth of breaking still primarily served to assist the poor youth of the Bronx to stray away from gang violence and rather expel their time towards an artistic dance. One example is former gang leader Afrika Bambaataa, who hosted hip-hop parties and vowed to specifically use hip-hop to support children away from gang violence. He would eventually form the Universal Zulu Nation to further his message.
Some breakers argue that because uprock was originally a separate dance style it should never be mixed with breakdancing and that the uprock moves performed by breakers today are not the original moves but imitations that only show a small part of the original uprock style. In the music video for 1985's hit single "I Wonder If I Take You Home", Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's drummer Mike Hughes can be seen "rocking" (doing uprock) at 1:24 when viewed on YouTube.
This section describes the development of breakdancing throughout the world. Countries are sorted alphabetically.
Ismael Toledo was one of the first breakers in Brazil. In 1984, he moved to the United States to study dance. While in the U.S. he discovered breakdancing and ended up meeting breaker Crazy Legs who personally mentored him for the four years that followed. After becoming proficient in breakdancing, he moved back to São Paulo and started to organize crews and enter international competitions. He eventually opened a hip-hop dance studio called the Hip-Hop Street College.
Born in Thailand and raised in the United States, Tuy "KK" Sobil started a community center called Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2005 where he uses dancing, hip-hop music, and art to teach Cambodian youth language skills, computer skills, and life skills (hygiene, sex education, counseling). His organization helps roughly 5,000 youths each year. One of these youths include Diamond, who is regarded as Cambodia's first b-girl.
There are several ways breakdancing came to Canada. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, films such as Breakin' (1984), Beat Street (1984), and the immigration of people from Chicago, New York, Detroit, Seattle, and Los Angeles introduced dance styles from the United States. Breakdancing expanded in Canada from there, with crews like Canadian Floormasters taking over the 80's scene, and New Energy opening for James Brown in 1984 at the Paladium in Montreal. Leading into the 90's, crews like Bag of Trix, Rakunz, Intrikit, Contents Under Pressure, Supernaturalz, Boogie Brats, and Red Power Squad, led the scene throughout the rest of the past two decades and counting.
Breakdancing took off in France in the early 1980s with the creation of groups such as the Paris City Breakers (who styled themselves after the well-known New York City Breakers). In 1984, France became the first country in the world to have a regularly and nationally broadcast television show about Hip Hop—hosted by Sidney Duteil—with a focus on Hip Hop dance. This show led to the explosion of Hip Hop dance in France, with many new crews appearing on the scene.
Breakdancing in Japan was introduced in 1983 following the release of the movie Wild Style. The release of the movie was accompanied by a tour by the Rock Steady Crew and many Japanese were captivated. Other movies such as Flashdance followed and furthered the breakdance craze. Crazy-A, the leader of the Tokyo chapter of the Rock Steady Crew, was dragged to see Flashdance by his then girlfriend and walked out captivated by the dance form and became one its earliest and one of the most influential breakers in Japanese history. Groups began to spring up as well, with early groups such as Tokyo B-Boys, Dynamic Rock Force (American kids from Yokota AB), B-5 Crew, and Mystic Movers popping up in Harajuku. The breakdancing community in Japan found a home in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park in Harajuku, which still remains an active area for breakdancers and hip-hop enthusiasts. As hip-hop continued to grow in Japan, so did breakdancing and the breakdancing communities. Following the introduction of international breakdancing competitions, Japan began to compete and were praised for their agility and precision, yet they were criticized in the beginning for lacking originality. The Japanese began to truly flourish on the international stage following the breakdancing career of Taisuke Nonaka, known simply as Taisuke. Taisuke began to dominate the international scene and led the Japanese team Floorriorz to win the BOTY in 2015 against crew Kienjuice from Belarus. Despite Taisuke's successful career in group competitions, he failed to win the solo Red Bull BC One competition, an individual breakdancing championship that had continued to evade Japanese bboys. The first Japanese to win the BC One competition became Bboy Issei in 2016. Issei is widely regarded by many as the best Japanese breakdancer currently and in the eyes of some, the best worldwide. Female bboys, or "bgirls", are also prevalent in Japan and following the introduction of a female BC One competition in 2018, Japanese bgirl Ami Yuasa became the first female champion. Notable Japanese bboy crews include FoundNation, Body Carnival, and the Floorriorz. Notable Japanese bgirl crews include Queen of Queens, Body Carnival, and Nishikasai.
Breakdancing was first introduced to South Korea by American soldiers shortly after its surge of popularity in the U.S. during the 1980s, but it was not until the late 1990s that the culture and dance took hold. 1997 is known as the "Year Zero of Korean breaking". A Korean-American hip hop promoter named John Jay Chon was visiting his family in Seoul and while he was there, he met a crew named Expression Crew in a club. He gave them a VHS tape of a Los Angeles breakdancing competition called Radiotron. A year later when he returned, Chon found that his video and others like his had been copied and dubbed numerous times, and were feeding an ever-growing breaker community.
In 2002, Korea's Expression Crew won the prestigious international breakdancing competition Battle of the Year, exposing the skill of the country's breakers to the rest of the world. Since then, the Korean government has capitalized on the popularity of the dance and has promoted it alongside Korean culture. R-16 Korea is the most well-known government-sponsored breakdancing event, and is hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
Famous breakdancing crews from Korea include Morning of Owl, Jinjo Crew, Rivers Crew and Gamblerz.
In the 1980s the Soviet Union was in a state of the Cold War with the countries of the Western Bloc. Soviet people lived behind the Iron Curtain, so they usually learned the new fashion trends emerging in the capitalist countries with some delay. The Soviet Union first learned of breakdancing in 1984, when videotapes of the films Breakin', Breakin' 2 and Beat Street got into the country. In the USSR these movies were not released officially. They were brought home by Soviet citizens who had the opportunity to travel to Western countries (for example, by diplomats). Originally, the dance became popular in big cities: Moscow and Leningrad, as well as in the Baltic republics (some citizens of these Soviet republics had the opportunity to watch Western television). The attitude of the authorities to the new dance that came from the West was negative.
The situation changed in 1985 with Mikhail Gorbachev who came to power and with the beginning of the Perestroika policy. The first to legalize the new dance were dancers from the Baltic republics. They presented this dance as the "protest against the arbitrariness of the capitalists", explaining that the dance was invented by Black Americans from poor neighborhoods. In 1985 the performance of Czech Jiří Korn was shown in the program "Morning Post", and became one of the first official demonstrations of breakdancing on Soviet television. With the support of the Leninist Young Communist League in 1986 breakdance festivals were held in the cities of the Baltic republics (Tallinn, Palanga, Riga). The next step was the spreading of the similar festivals to other Soviet republics. Festivals were held in Donetsk (Ukraine), Vitebsk (Belarus), Gorky (Russia). Breakdancing could be seen in Soviet cinema: Dancing on the Roof (1985), Courier (1986), Publication (1988). By the end of the decade the dance became almost ubiquitous. At almost any disco or school dance one could see a person dancing in the "robot" style.
In the early 1990s the country experienced a severe economic and political crisis. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the breakdance craze was over and breakdancing became dated. The next wave of interest in breakdancing in Russia would only occur in the late 90s.
Although social media such as YouTube cannot be used in China, breakdancing in China has been popular. Many people copy breakdancing videos from abroad and distribute them back to the mainland. Although it is still an underground culture in China because of some restrictions, breakdancing was reported to be a growing presence in 2013.
There are four primary elements that form breakdancing: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes.
There are many individual styles used in breakdancing. Individual styles often stem from a dancer's region of origin and influences. However, some people such as Jacob "Kujo" Lyons believe that the internet inhibits individual style. In a 2012 interview with B-Boy Magazine he expressed his frustration:
… because everybody watches the same videos online, everybody ends up looking very similar. The differences between individual b-boys, between crews, between cities/states/countries/continents, have largely disappeared. It used to be that you could tell what city a b-boy was from by the way he danced. Not anymore. But I've been saying these things for almost a decade, and most people don't listen, but continue watching the same videos and dancing the same way. It's what I call the "international style", or the "Youtube style".
Luis "Alien Ness" Martinez, the president of Mighty Zulu Kings, expressed a similar frustration in a separate interview three years earlier with "The Super B-Beat Show" about the top five things he hates in breakdancing:
Oh yeah, the last thing I hate in breakin'… Yo, all y'all motherfuckin' internet b-boys... I'm an internet b-boy too, but I'm real about my shit. Everybody knows who I am, I'm out at every fucking jam, I'm in a different country every week. I tell my story dancing... I've been all around the world, y'all been all around the world wide web... [my friend] Bebe once said that shit, and I co-sign that, Bebe said that. That wasn't me but that's the realist shit I ever heard anybody say. I've been all around the world, you've been all around the world wide web.
Although there are some generalities in the styles that exist, many dancers combine elements of different styles with their own ideas and knowledge in order to create a unique style of their own. Breakers can therefore be categorized into a broad style which generally showcases the same types of techniques.
In addition to the styles listed above, certain footwork styles have been associated with different areas which popularized them.
The musical selection for breakdancing is not restricted to hip-hop music as long as the tempo and beat pattern conditions are met. Breakdancing can be readily adapted to different music genres with the aid of remixing. The original songs that popularized the dance form borrow significantly from progressive genres of funk, soul, disco, electro, and jazz funk. A musical canon of these traditional b-boy songs have since developed, songs that were once expected to be played at every b-boying event. As the dance form grew, this standardization of classic songs prompted innovation of dance moves and break beats that reimagined the standard melodies. These songs include “Give It Up or Turn It a Loose” by James Brown, “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band, and "The Mexican" by Babe Ruth to name a few.
The most common feature of breakdance music exists in musical breaks, or compilations formed from samples taken from different songs which are then looped and chained together by the DJ. The tempo generally ranges between 110 and 135 beats per minute with shuffled sixteenth and quarter beats in the percussive pattern. History credits DJ Kool Herc for the invention of this concept later termed the break beat.
See also: Hip-hop dance § International competitions, and International B-Boy Championships
Similar to other hip-hop subcultures, such as graffiti writing, rapping, and DJing, breakers are predominantly male, but this is not to say that women breakers, b-girls, are invisible or nonexistent. Female participants, such as Daisy Castro (also known as Baby Love of Rock Steady Crew), attest that females have been breakdancing since its inception. Critics argue that it is unfair to make a sweeping generalization about these inequalities because women have begun to play a larger role in the breakdancing scene.
Bgirl Kim-a-kazee, Kim Valente a leading member of the worlds first televised all female breakdance crew is also a well known author. She was on television performing for a seated president Raegan at the 1983 Kennedy centre honors. Her book "A B-Girl in a B-Boy World" A B-Girl, From the Streets of Brooklyn to Breakdancing Stardom " is not only a visual feast for fans of breakdancing, but also an important document of a vibrant and dynamic community history. It offers a unique and intimate look at the world of breakdancing in Brooklyn, and it is a must-have for anyone interested in the culture and history of hip-hop. It is a very rare treat to have a living Hip-Hop Pioneer to be able to tell their story, but it is even more of a rare gem to find the story properly and accurately documented with irrefutable evidence and timepieces | url = https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-b-girl-in-a-b-boy-world-from-the-streets-of-brooklyn-to-breakdancing-stardom-kim-kim-a-kazi-valente/1123004301 |work=Virtualbookworm.com| access-date=10/26/2015))</ref>
Some people have pointed to a lack of promotion as a barrier, as full-time b-girl Firefly stated in a BBC piece: "It's getting more popular. There are a lot more girls involved. The problem is that promoters are not putting on enough female-only battles." Growing interest is being shown in changing the traditional image of females in hip-hop culture (and by extension, breakdance culture) to a more positive, empowered role in the modern hip-hop scene.
In 2018, Japan's B-Girl Ami became the first B-Girl world champion of Red Bull BC One. Although B-Girl Ayumi had been invited as a competitor for the 2017 championship, it was only until 2018 that a 16 B-Girl bracket was featured as part of the main event.
B-girls, such as Honey Rockwell, promote breakdancing through formal instruction ensuring a new generation of breakers.
In the past 50 years, various films have depicted the dance. 1975's (filmed in 1974) Tommy included a breakdancing sequence during the "Sensation" number. Later, in the early 1980s, several films depicted breakdancing including Fame, Wild Style, Flashdance, Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Delivery Boys, Krush Groove, and Beat Street. In 1985, at the height of breakdancing's popularity, Donnie Yen starred in a Hong Kong film called Mismatched Couples in which he performed various b-boy and breakdancing moves.
The 2000s saw a resurgence of films and television series featuring breakdancing that continued into the early 2010s:
Several documentary films have been made about breakdancing:
In the United States, Breakdancing is widely referenced in TV advertising, as well as news, travelogue, and documentary segments, as an indicator of youth/street culture. From a production point of view the style is visually arresting, instantly recognizable and adducible to fast-editing, while the ethos is multi-ethnic, energetic and edgy, but free from the gangster-laden overtones of much rap-culture imagery. Its usability as a visual cliché benefits sponsorship, despite the relatively small following of the genre itself beyond the circle of its practitioners. In 2005, a Volkswagen Golf GTi commercial featured a partly CGI version of Gene Kelly popping and breakdancing to a remix of "Singin' in the Rain" by Mint Royale. The tagline was, "The original, updated." The dance shows So You Think You Can Dance and America's Best Dance Crew arguably brought breakdancing back to the forefront of pop culture in the United States, similar to the popularity it had enjoyed in the 1980s. The American drama television series Step Up: High Water, a series focused on breakdancing and other forms of hip-hop dance, premiered on March 20, 2019.
Since breakdancing's popularity surge in South Korea, it has been featured in various TV dramas and commercials. Break is a 2006 South Korean miniseries about a breakdancing competition. Over the Rainbow is a 2006 South Korean drama series centered on different characters who are brought together by breakdancing. Showdown, a breakdancing competition game show hosted by Jay Park, premiered in South Korea on March 18, 2022.
There have been only few video games created that focus on breakdancing. The main deterrence for attempting to create games like these is the difficulty of translating the dance into something entertaining and fun on a video game console. Most of these attempts had low to average success.
The transition between top and floor rockin' was also important and became known as the 'drop'.
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