Breakdancing is a street-style dance that originated in New York City. Its conception started in the 1970s among the Black youths of NYC. You can trace its origin in South Bronx, where black people use dance as a form of self-expression.
The street dance evolved on a massive scale. The mainstream media popularized breaking, too. Before its worldwide recognition, the term breakdancing underwent a process. It did not initially term as ‘breakdancing’ right away.
The pioneers of this street-style dance would often call it b-boying or breaking. Breakdancing was not the original term used for this sport. The media coined the term ‘breakdancing’ to describe the art form gaining traction in the 70s.
The term ‘breakdancing’ overshadowed ‘breaking’ and ‘b-boying’ due to the media’s broader reach. The use of breakdancing as a word for this new dance became widespread. The media’s promotion of the word had a lasting impact until now.
For those in hip-hop, culture breakdancing is an offensive term. The pioneers looked down the term ‘breakdancing,’ as they prefer breaking better.
Some artists find the term ‘breakdancing’ offensive because it sensationalizes the dance form. It entails ignorance of the sport without even knowing everything about it. The term breaking is preferable and less offensive for breakers and dancers themselves.
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Why was breakdancing created?
Breakdancing happened because of the growing discontent among the black people community. In the 70s, black youth involved in violence channeled their energy into dancing. Instead of getting into a street fight and violence, the youth of NYC chose to be more creative.
The creation of breakdancing happens because people were finding ways to avoid violence. Breaking was the perfect alternative to violent street gang fights in South Bronx. It combines the element of freestyle street dance, hip hop, and gymnastics.
It is a discipline that incorporates athletic dance skills, hip-hop culture, and music. B-boying became a great activity to channel violent energy into creative dance form. You would see that youth became more motivated and inspired to improve their skills.
Since then, the dance form took off on a colossal scale. Plenty of iconic figures popularized breakdancing. It was always associated with the famous music trend of a particular year. The ‘Freak Out’ of Mothers of Invention band helps breakdancing increase its popularity.
The success and popularity of breaking grew because of the group called the Rock Steady Crew. Aside from the original freestyle movement, the crew introduces acrobatic moves. The sequence incorporated headspins, hand glides, and backspin. These are some of the foundational moves of b-boying that you see even today.
Music icons like Michael Jackson in the 1980s helped to the worldwide expansion of the dance. MJ’s moonwalk associated with breakdancing moves became a global sensation.
Then, other prominent figures in the music industry followed through. Many recording artists created music that transforms into breakdance moves. Dancers put style, beats, and moves to the music while breakdancing.
What influenced breakdancing?
Breakdancing underwent evolution before it became a global sensation. There are plenty of musical influences that made breaking possible and appealing.
Before its expansion, breaking was first inspired by the performances of James Brown. Bambaataa and Rock Steady Crew also influenced this street-style dance form. Aside from music, elements of gymnastics, the Lindy Hop, Capoeira, and disco are present.
DJ Kool Herc – the father of hip hop, DJ Kool Herc had the most significant influence on breakdancing.
He is a Jamaican DJ affiliated with hip hop music in the Bronx, NY. DJ Kool Herc was the originator of breakbeat DJing and which is the very essence of hip hop.
He mixed percussion breaks from music records to form music for breakdance. The breaks are being repeated in a back, and forth movement called ‘cutting breaks.’
James Brown – another critical figure in breakdancing is James Brown. He was a singer, producer, writer, musician, and bandleader. He is the Godfather of Soul. He is often referred to at Mr. Dynamite. Brown recorded the ‘Get on the Good Foot’ song. It inspired high-energy acrobatic moves in the break.
Afrika Bambaataa – this music icon formed the earliest dance crews in breakdancing. He called it Zulu Kings. The crew became one of the significant forces of breaking and gave way to other crews in break history.
Rock Steady Crew – is a breaking and hip hop group created in the Bronx, New York.
It is the number one breakdancing group during that time. Jimmy Dee and Jimmy Lee, both breakers, formed the group in 1977.
Music is also a significant influencer of breakdancing. Through music, breakers can incorporate moves and create a flow to the dance. Hip hop is the number one music used for breakdancing. But other genres can be part, as well. The DJs are usually the ones who mix the music for breakdancing. They divide the music into breaks and make an impactful sequence.
Most DJs would mix different genres. They include funk, jazz, disco, soul, and electro. Sometimes, R&B can be part of the remixes. As long as the breakers can dance to the beat of the music and incorporate moves, the music is good to go. Regardless of the music used, the essential part is that the dancer can move to its beat and tempo and break.
Breakdancing came from different sources. When you observe the dance well, you see elements of gymnastics, tap dance, and Capoeira. Yet, the most significant is gymnastics because of the acrobatic nature of the dance.
Gymnastics – breakdancing and gymnastics movements are very identical. You would often see Jackhammers, hand hops, flares, and boomerang in both styles. Like gymnastics, breaking also incorporates music into the routine. The moves are smooth and continuous. Yet, unlike gymnastics, breaking is more fluid and fast. Also, you will not see props like beams, bars, and bouncy floors when b-boying. It is more of a freestyle movement that does not incorporate too many props to execute the dance.
Capoeira – another element that you would see when breaking are capoeira steps. Breakdancing and Capoeira have similarities in movements.
Both also incorporate footwork, groundwork, and upside-downside moves. They borrow moves from each other. Yet, even modern-day breakdancing would often go into a circle with powermoves. This kind of routine is very much the same with Capoeira.
Kung fu – Breakdancing and Kung Fu also share similar moves and even techniques. You see headspins, windmills, flips, kicks, and jumps in both sports. Other animal movements and stances present in Kung Fu are also found in breaking. They were breakdancing, modified these moves, and created something new. Yet, you would not see meditation in breaking, unlike in Kung Fu. This element makes b-boying different from Kung Fu in one way.
Tap danc e – tap dance was the original street dance. You would see many elements in breakdancing present in tap dance, as well. Both dance forms are rooted in percussion and made into breaks through music. Also, people gathering in the street to display dance skills started from tap dance. In the 1930s, tap dancers would meet on the street and trade steps and battle one another. This kind of activity is present in breakdancing, especially during its early years. Tap dancers first did the b-boy battles in the street.
How did breakdancing spread?
Since its conception in the 70s, breakdancing has made a worldwide expansion. Music icons like Michael Jackson helped the dance form get popularized even more in the 80s. The moonwalk step of MJ reached the world, where people imitated the dance moves with the beat of the music.
From street-style dance, a wider audience embraced breakdancing into their culture. It spread massively with musical recordings, signed artists, producers reaching mainstream audiences. It did spread on a global scale. Many cultures are also accepted.
- South Korea
- Soviet Union
In the 1980s, breakdancing came to Brazil through Ismael Toledo. He studied dance in the US and discovered breaking along the way. He met with Crazy Legs, a breaker, and mentored Toledo for more than four years. When we went back to Brazil, he introduced the dance form to his crew in São Paulo. Then, he opened a hip-hop dance studio in Brazil called Hip Hop Street College.
Cambodia also fell in love with breakdancing. Through Tuy ‘KK’ Sobel, raised in the United States, he introduced the dance in Phnom Penh. He helped the youth in the country to learn dance skills, like hip hop and breakdance. He established Tiny Toones for the dance form alone.
Breakdancing came to Canada very early. Movies like Breakin and Beat Street introduced this style to the country. Also, the migration of people from different parts of the United States helped. Migrants taught dance styles to the Canadian community.
The dance form took off in France as early as the 1980s. The introduction of Paris City Breakers made breaking known in France. The country also had a broadcast television show solely dedicated to Hip Hop. In this manner, breaking became widespread in France, too.
In 1983, the release of the movie Wild Style initiated the expansion of b-boying in Japan. During that time, the Rock Steady Crew also made a tour in the country, introducing the dance form to the people. Then, other movies followed through, like Flashdance. Formation of groups also happened like Tokyo B-boys, B-5 Crew, and Mystic Movers.
B-boying spread in South Korea too. The American soldiers introduced the dance in the 1980s. In 1997, John Jay Chon, Korean-American, introduced the dance to the country using a VHS tape. The moves seen in the recording were copied and played plenty of times and imitated by South Koreans.
Copies of breakdancing videos reached China, and youth tried to imitate the movements. During that time, breaking was still an underground culture in China with restrictions. In 2013, the dance form grew massively and was also recognized in the mainland. Much Chinese youth today have an idea of what breaking is and can execute some break moves.
In the Soviet Union, b-boying spread across the country through movies and films. The Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, and Beat Street reached the Soviet Union in 1984. The dance moves seen in the movies became popular in Moscow, Leningrad, and the Baltics. The cultural exchange between the US and Russia allowed the dance to permeate in the Soviet.
It is breakdancing evolved through time. From street style dance form to globally recognized type of dance, it advanced on a massive scale. It is a product of people recognizing the importance of the dance itself.
The name ‘breakdancing’ may be offensive to some, especially to those who knew its history. But it also gave way to why breakdancing was able to accept and embraced by a larger audience. Now, breakdancing is not a street dance form; it is also an official entry to Olympics 2024 in Paris.