This USPS stamp depicts an '80s breakdancer and a boombox.
This USPS stamp depicts an '80s breakdancer and a boombox.

Breakdancing, also known as "B-boying" or "B-girling" by its practitioners and followers, is a dynamic style of dance that is part of Hip Hop culture and emerged out of the Hip-Hop movement in the South Bronx of New York City during the late 20th century. Breakdancing is one of the many elements of Hip Hop culture. The unique form of dancing is very acrobatic and creative. Breakdance has been performed in countless shows, music videos on MTV and at dance clubs.



Note: Many stories and ideas surrounding the history behind breaking are popularized media concepts. Breakdancing is probably connected to Urban Street Jazz or more likely capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance. Breakdancing as we know it today developed in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although there is some controversy, many argue that it was also developing in Los Angeles at the same time. However, the majority believes it is strictly of New York origin. The original practitioners (Crazy Legs, Spy, the Nigga Twins, etc.) say that other dances that people commonly associate with b-boying such as capoeira may have influenced b-boys (many b-boys are known to gather influence from old Kung Fu films). However, b-boying does not stem from those dances. See the video documentary "The Freshest Kids" for interviews supporting this claim.

Prototypically the pioneers of breakdancing were young and of a lower socioeconomic class. The majority of these were male, and most were Black or Hispanic, and lived in dense urban areas (mostly New York). Many of them were members of street gangs who taught themselves martial arts (particularly capoeira) for self defense. The style was so full of dance-like moves that it translated well to the nightclub, where breakdancers would battle. Breakdancing, both in the nightclub and on the street is competitive in nature, much like the other elements of hip-hop, as well as capoeira.

One story that is common is that Mestre Jelon Vieira, a widely known master of capoeira, was doing shows in New York City. He then formed the Rock Steady Crew, teaching them movements from capoeira which they then integrated into a form of dance which was to become breakdancing. Whether or not this is true, there is a very strong similarity between many breakdancing moves and many capoeira movements. For example, the movement pictured in the stamp above is very similar to a capoeira movement called queda de rins. Capoeira also has the tradition of a pair of opponents playing a flowing game in which they try to show their mastery inside a circle of onlookers who sing and play music. In any case, the two arts have since diverged sharply.


Breakdancing was never an actual term used by the original practitioners. It was a term coined in the 80's when it became more of a media phenomenon. David Toop (1991) describes breakdancing as being an adaptation of the Break, a dance popular before being replaced by the Freak, fueled by Chic's "Le Freak" in 1978, but that was revived by Crazy Legs, Frosty Freeze, and the Rock Steady Crew. He also explains, ""the word break or breaking is a music and dance term (as well as a proverb) that goes back a long way. Some tunes, like "Buck Dancer's Lament" from early this century, featured a two-bar silence in every eight bars for the break - a quick showcase of improvised dance steps." However, in the documentary "The Freshest Kids" hip hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc insists that the name breaking originated in the slang term "break", meaning someone going "off" or crazy, just as the dancers seemed to do when driven by the right beat. Others claim the term originates in the break of the song, which is the best part to dance to.

In New York, DJ Kool Herc was the first person to coin the term 'b-boy' in 1969. During performances where Herc would be DJing, he would yell out "b-boys go down!" which cued the dancers to begin breakdancing. 1969 was also the year that James Brown recorded "Get on the Good Foot," a song that promoted high-energy, acrobatic dancing and that Afrika Bambaataa claims led to break dancing (Toop, 1991). Many oldschool breakdancers prefer to be referred to as b-boys. "B-boy" was the original term for urban style dancers, while "breakdancer" is better known as it has been used more commonly by the media. The 'B' in b-boy doesn't correspond to a specific word, but most likely means "Boogie", "Bronx" or "Break." Today, the term 'B-Girl' is used as well.

The "b" in b-boying probably DOES NOT mean "Boogaloo". Boogaloo was a style developed in the West Coast and pertains more to the general Funk styles dance scene than to the b-boying and Hip Hop scene although those two cultures did end up intermingling. Funk styling, or Popping, is an entirely different dance with origins in California and the funk scene, not New York and the Hip Hop scene.


In its early form, breakdancing was divided into three distinct forms: Breaking, dancing and Popping. Breakdance is commonly associated with, but distinct from, Popping which is one element of the Funk styles that evolved independently in California during the late 20th century. Today, each body movement has been classified into a distinct style, technique or genre of breaking and is similar in principle to others but characteristically different. Other styles of dance associated with breakdancing include Uprock, Locking, Tutting, Boogaloo and Liquiding. However, these are not the same as breakdancing, although often are incorporated. Breakdance is too new to be considered a folk dance. In particular, street dances are living and evolving dance forms, while folk dances are to a significant degree bound by tradition. Breakdance was in the beginning a social dance but in the later years, mostly beacause of media and television, its goal has been as a performance dance.

Breakdancers often call any dancing that takes place on the ground 'downrock' as opposed to 'uprock' or 'toprock'. The rest of the dance is founded around these basic moves. Dancers usually begin by toprocking, and then continue by going down to the floor and performing a '6-step' or similar that may be heavily variated. Certain power moves can then be formed with combinations. After performing the techniques, the breakdancer will usually end the dance with a 'freeze' which is when he contorts his body to a strange position and literally freezes, stopping all dance motion.

Much of being a successful breakdancer is about having style. The constant debate between b-boys is a debate of who has the most style. Since anyone can learn to breakdance, the dancers must deviate from the set dances slightly to use their own style. In this way they can show-up other breakdancers during battles, thus winning the battle.


Breakdancing battles were very common. A breakdancing battle is when dancers 'fight' against each other on the dance floor without contact. They form a circle and take turns trying to show each other up through either better style, more complex move combinations, or tougher moves. Usually, breakdancing battles would take place between two opposing breakdancing crews. Some of the major crews are the Zulu Nation, Rock Steady Crew (RSC), Style Elements, Furious Styles Crew, Ichigeki, Team OHH, Fireworks, Havikoro, The Furious Five and Airforce Crew.

Today serious battles are usually held at organized breakdance events. The battles are usually part of a tournament style competition with cash prizes, or they are featured showcase battles, where each crew is paid to dance. It's not uncommon that spontaneous battles will happen at events as well, when rival crews show up with most of their members.

The largest competition each year is probably Battle of the Year (BOTY), held in Germany since 1990, and featuring crews from around the world. Despite its name, BOTY focuses on choreographed routines. After judges rate the routines, the final winner, and de facto world champion crew, is decided in a final battle (along with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places). Recent winners have been from France, Korea, Germany, and Hungary. While crews from the USA have won in the past, the claim is that they are not often winners of BOTY, because competitions in the USA are almost exclusively battles, rather than dance routine competitions as are common in the rest of the world. Nonetheless, this is a good indicator of how widespread the practice and high ability level of this American folk artform has become.


For the breakdancer, fashion is an important aspect of their identity. Many breakdancers dressed wearing Adidas shoes with thick laces. They also wore nylon jumpsuits which were functional as well as fashionable. The slick surface allowed the breakdancer to slide on the floor much easier than if she or he had been wearing a cotton shirt. Also,the popular image of the breakdancer during the 80s always involved a public performance on the street, accompanied of course by a boombox.

Note that b-boys today dress very differently from b-boys in the 80's. T-shirts and sweatshirts with or without street fashion credibilty (Phat Farm, RocaWear, Akademiks, State Property...etc.) were usually worn at two to three sizes larger than would regularly fit its wearer as well as khakis, camouflage pants, jeans or sweatpants also worn at a larger size have long replaced the kangol hats and nylon Adidas and Nike suits from almost two decades ago. (It should be noted that the breakdancing, or bboying, culture no longer holds a stereotypical fashion. Nowadays, bboying has become such a wide-spread and open-minded culture that invites people of all fashions 'valid.' There are several bboying crews that are not sporting what one may expect bboys would be wearing. For example, there are crews that could be labeled 'goth' or 'punk' crews, because they'll wear clothes typical of that to the 'goth' or 'punk' stereotypes I.E. entirely black clothing, tight clothing, bleached hair, make up, etc. )


In the 1980s, with the help of pop culture and MTV, breakdancing made its way from the suburbs to the rest of the world as a new cultural phenomenon. Musicians such as Michael Jackson popularized much of the breakdancing style in their music videos. Movies such as Flashdance, Wild Style, Beat Street, Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo also contributed to breakdancing's growing appeal. Today, many b-boys and former breakers are disappointed by the media hype that watered the dance down into money and overfocus on power moves.

See also


Hip hop
Breakdance - Turntablism - Graffiti - MCing - Hip-Hop Music - Hip hop collaborations - List of Rappers
Fashion - Feuds - Urban slang - Timeline
East Coast - West Coast - South - Gangsta - G-funk - Horrorcore - Jazz rap - Underground - Abstract - Nerdcore - Old Skool - Hardcore
Trip Hop - Freestyle - Hip house - Hip life - Go go - Miami bass - Nu soul - Ghettotech - Electro - Rap metal - Reggaeton - Merenrap - Urban Pasifika - Crunk

fr:Break dance hy:Բրեյք դանս it:Breakdance nl:Breakdance ja:ブレイクダンス pl:Breakdance


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