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).
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 Viera, 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 rijns. 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.
David Toop (1991) describes break dancing 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."
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, 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.
In the 1980s, with the help of pop culture, breakdancing made its way to the suburbs. 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: The Electric Boogaloo also contributed to breakdancing's growing appeal.
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 "Boogaloo" or "Break." Today, the term 'B-Girl' is used as well.
For the breakdancer, fashion is an important aspect of their identity. Many breakdancers dressed wearing Adidas shoes with "fat" (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.
In its early form, breakdancing was divided into three distinct forms of dancing, breaking and popping. Today, each body movement has been classified into a distinct style or genre of breaking and is similar in principle to others but characteristically different. fsc
Other styles of dance associated with breakdancing include Popping, Locking, Tutting, Boogaloo, Uprock, and Liquid. These are not the same as breakdancing, although often are incorporated.
The most basic breakdance moves are the 6-step and toprock. The rest of the dance is founded around these two elements. Dancers usually begin by toprocking, and then continue by going down to the floor and performing a 6-step or 4-step that may be heavily 'teched' (variated). The 6-step provides a base for other more complex moves to be formed, as well as power moves.
After performing a 6-step to begin the dance, and then performing a power move, 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. The breakdancer will usually hold the freeze for a second or two. There are nearly infinite variations on freezes, and coming up with new freezes greatly enhances the breakdancers style.
Breakdancers often call any dancing that takes place on the ground 'downrock' as opposed to uprock or toprock.
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.
Power moves are the breakdancing moves that often require incredible skill and flexibility to complete. The major power moves are:
The Windmill is a move in which the dancer spins from his upper back to his
chest while twirling his legs around his body in a V-shape. There are many
variations to this move such as nutcrackers and handcuffs. Many dancers will
spend anywhere from two to six months learning how to do a basic windmill,
since the motion is quite unorthodox.
Headspins: the dancer spins on his head, often while wearing a stocking cap or handkerchief. When the dancer uses his hands to aid in speeding up the spin, it is called 'tapping.' A dancer may tap for a few rotations and then 'glide' for as many as 15 rotations. Kid Freeze is the b-boy who claims to have invented the headspin.
A Flare is an incredibly difficult move borrowed from gymnastics and resembles the use of a Pommel Horse, but is performed without one.
A Jackhammer is a move performed on the ground, with the dancer balancing on one hand while laying his body on the elbow of the same arm. He then bounces up and down with his hand as he spins around.
Toprock is a simple dance done standing up to initiate breakdancing. Its style is obvious to anyone watching, because it is incredibly unorthodox looking. Breakdancers take pride in having unique toprock that still stays within the definition of what toprock actually is.
Uprock is doing a toprock with someone else, sort of like a fight but without contact and very rhythmic. Uprocking is often confused with toprock, but the two are completely different dances
The basic 6-step resembles walking in a circle on the ground. Only one hand is touching the ground at a time. The 6-step is the building block for the rest of the dance, and is heavily 'teched' or modified to allow for variation and style.
Moonwalk: A move where a dancer slides backward while their legs appear to be walking forward.
The Worm: A move in which a dancer lies on the ground and forms a rippling motion through his body. This can be done if one of two ways, either forward or backwards, either shifting your weight from the upper body to the lower body (backwards) or vice-versa for forwards. Sophie Tucker is recognized as the creator of this move, which goes back to the 1920's.
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