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History of Breakdance


Breakdancing, known formally 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. 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. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakdancing [Dec 2004]


The B-Boy -- or beat boy, break boy, Bronx boy -- loved the breaks of Kool Herc, and as a result soon created break dancing.

" ...I cut off all anticipation and played the beats. I'd find out where the break in the record was at and prolong it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion-wise ..."

Because these breaks were relatively short, he learned to extend them indefinitely by using an audio mixer and two identical records in which he continuously replaced the desired segment.

From the Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine

(A considered opinion by Fluent-C, Suspense, Toze, and Zia)

From The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine Issue #46 (April/May 1996)

B-Boy crews received top billing at Hip-Hop jams and block parties, but that was long ago and far-away. The time was the very late 60's and early 70's. The place was New York. Between then and now a lot has happened to Hip-Hop, B-Boys and Breaking. All have wanned and waxed in popularity during the past quarter century, especially breaking. But now Breaking is back and itıs time to remind ourselves of its roots in the United States and its chequered history in Britain.

The Seventies

Whether it began on the left or right side of America remains open to debate. Here in the U.K. we prefer to think both Los Angeles and New York contributed to its development. In New York, it was Kool DJ Herc, the very first Hip-Hop DJ, who coined the phrase B-Boy in 1969. The Jamaican-born performer had developed a technique of mixing records so that the dancing sounds never stopped. His particular skill, later copies by legions of others, was to meld the percussion breaks from two identical records, playing the break over and over, switching from one deck to the other. Kool Herc called these 'Cutting Breaks'.

When he performed to Breaks[?] at crowded venues, such as the Hervalo in the Bronx, he would shout loudly 'B-Boys go down!' and this was the cue for dancers to cut and jump their gymnastics. Even today nobody is quite clear what Kool Herc meant by his phrase. Some suggest B-Boys stands for 'Boogie Boy' while others insist it means 'Break Boy'. The later has become the favored choice. But who were the original B-Boys and where had they learned their skillz? Again the answer is fairly straight-forward. They had simply adapted what they had been doing on the ghetto streets.

The pioneers were members of New York and L.A. street gangs who had taught themselves martial arts - in particular a Brazilian style - to defend themselves from attacks by rivals. Because of this many dance moves appeared aggressive and extremely violent during the early years. For instance, 'Uprock', performed correctly, can look very much like a scene snatched from a old Kung-Fu movie. 'Uprock' was probably the first form of Breaking. From it springs many other moves to continue the dance on the floor as a single rhythmic activity. It was so convincing that many over-zealous night club managers and their bouncers interpreted the dance as a real fight in the making. The fact is that sometimes is was.

While many youngsters learned quickly that it was easier as B-Boys to receive approbation from their peers and often earn large amounts of money as well from their performances, others still preferred to risk their lives and limbs on the streets in the needless pursuit of becoming gangstas. As a consequence some dancers remained committed gang members, determined to settle old scores and so sometimes battles did erupt on the dance-floors. Understandably the media reported these incidents and very soon Hip-Hop came to mean violence, crime and general trouble-making in the public's eye, although these negative qualities were found in other entertainment areas as well.

Over on the West Coast, meanwhile, many L.A. gangs were dancing in the streets too, but each was trying to out-do the others by showing off more complex and dynamic performances, still influences by Kung-Fu. What 'Uprock' was to New Yorkers, 'Locking' had become to the Electro-Boogie-loving La-La youth. It had been started by Lockatron Jon and Shabba-Doo. Shabba was also responsible for introducing New Yorkers to 'Popping', which many claim to be the first, real hip-hop dance. They even go as far as to say they were performing it in 1969.

In New York local dancers added waves and smoother movements to the 'Popping', and that's the style which exists today. Soon it was very popular in discos and part of the 70's mainstream. At that time it was known as 'The Robot' and a early exponent was Charlie Robot who used to appear on American TV's 'Soul Train' program. He took his style and added the pops and lock we recognize today. 'Locking', too, became part of the broad disco culture and many dancers adopted Breaking moves to expand their dance-floor routines. We need to look no further than the movie musicals of the 70's to underline the point. Remember John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever, 'Roller Boogie' and even the anodyne Xanadu which starred the sweeter than sweet Olivia Newton John, an Australian export impossible to associate with Hip-Hop?

The Eighties

Everywhere new moves were being added to the form and to popularize them Broadway choreographers were sanding the raw edges and trying to format moves into a style which would not be out of place in 'Come Dancing'. Mainstream pop artists were blatantly stealing the B-Boy moves, claiming props for originality, and offering themselves to the suburban middle-classes as the ultimate in street cred. Sanitized and safe, of course. The ultimate 'lift' was probably used by Michael Jackson in the 80's when he did the 'Moonwalk', thrilling pre-teens and their parents, but the underground knew that the man owed a debt to veteran funksta James Brown. Brown had hatched the 'Goodfoot' dance-style which led to 'Floating' which led, yes, to the 'Moonwalk'.

'Popping', too, has been lost to its originator and become part of the credit list of Jeffrey Daniels, once with the hit-making group Shalamar, while countless others assume Tik & Tok invented 'Robotics'. Yet both moves had been performed brilliantly by street kids a decade earlier. Yet, without commerce kicking its resources into Breaking, would it have crossed the Atlantic and could it have survived? We'll never know the answer, but many underground crews earned a healthy crust from show-business during the early 80's. Record execs had found many of their artists incapable of mastering the B-Boys moves and decided instead to hire proper dance crews to front pop records, made by session singers and musicians to tease the public into believing it was receiving the Coke of Hip-Hop, the real thing. Rocksteady Crew, Breakmachine, Uprock and the Motor City Crew were some who sold their names and services for fronting these releases.

Britain's first real sample of B-Boys and Breaking came around 1982. It was handed out by the last person anybody would have expected, Malcolm Maclaren, who fathered Punk and gave birth to the Sex Pistols. It arrived as the full fourŠ DJing, MCing, B-Boying, and Graf-Writing. A former art student and today a shrewd money-maker, Maclaren had released The Buffalo Girls. The disc's video featured Breaking by none other than The Rocksteady Crew, comprising Crazy Legs and Frosty Freeze, a New York duo who worked out in Central Park throwing new shapes and often battling the likes of the Incredible Breakers and Magnificent Force.

A bit later, The Rocksteady Crew appeared in 'Flashdance', the smash-hit movie of '83. They also visited Britain and so impressed a bunch of kids in Manchester that those kids decided to become part of the Hip-Hop Culture and call themselves Kaliphz, All this, coupled with the label Street Sounds bringing out electro-compilations, nourished the underground and B-Boys began to pop their heads above the sewer-covers to test the climate. All seemed good. Crews like The Furious Five had made a hit with 'The Message' and Break Machine was reaching out to the public at large via 'Top of the Pops'. Jeff Daniels, dressed as his alter-ego Colonel Pop, exposed Breaking through the same show and his 'Popping' astonished the home audience. At clubs, his movements became the ones to copy if a man wanted to impress his partner. It wasnıt easy, but in south London, there were enough devotees to fill a club whose members were only Hip-Hop dancers. The club called itself The Breakers Yard. 'Rap' and 'Breaking' became familiar terms, if not always used correctly - even by so-called Hip-Hop experts at record companies (note: So nothing changes?).

Young school kids - Black and White - throughout the country were taking Breaking to their hearts. Any chance to escape classes and perfect moves was taken. Truancy was the order of the day. For those who couldnıt escape, school playgrounds were used to practice. On the way home or downtown, it was usual to see at least five other crews in action. Sometimes youıd end up battling one of them in a shopping center, only to be chucked out for causing a disturbance if you were caught by security staff. Later youıd chill with your new-found friends, chat topics of mutual interest and transcend the bull-shit barriers.

It all seemed so positive here in those days of the mid-80's. If you were young, everybody appeared to be involved in the Culture, either as a Breaker, a Writer, Rapper, Beatboxer or DJ. Perhaps you were a mixture of all. Hip-Hop brought out the best in us. We saw no reason why we could fail at anything if we had the commitment. We would be able to move our interest forward, improve them, overtake what the mainstream offered. We'd delve deep into Hip-Hop's history and give respect to its creators. British crews were receiving long overdue exposure on television. There was Broken Glass on 'Get Fresh' and The B-Boys on 'Saturday Superstore'. 'Blue Peter' featured The London All-Stars and, in 'Rock Around the Clock', Rock City were caught in the spotlight, breaking on chairs at the word-of-mouth jam held in the Town & Country Club.

Breaking was dictating the clothes people wore, with name-brands thriving on the craze. It began appearing on TV, not just in music shows, but in soaps as well. There it was in the 'Eastenders' and in 'Grange Hill', not to overlook the commercials for Carling Black Label. Movie-makers were in on the act, churning out their stuff, from 'Wild Style' through 'Beat Street' to 'Breakdance'. There were Electro Rock jams at London's Hippodrome, Free-style '85 in Covent Garden and UK Fresh '86 in the Wembley Arena. And yet... Even the Royals were getting into the act, although they may have misunderstood the term 'Breaking' as subsequent divorces suggest. The Buck House Band had commanded The Rocksteady Crew to entertain them at their annual hop, The Royal Variety Show held in the company of their friends, the enormously rich and famous.

Newspapers and magazines suddenly made Hip-Hop respectable and so did the advertising between the features. Everybody that thought themselves sociological commentators scratched and scribbed their thoughts, leading to many futile intellectual debates where experts circled themselves until they disappeared up their bum-holes. The whole thing had become blunted. There was no sharp cutting edge left to the form. There was no quicker way to kill an exciting street movement than to have the Establishment join. Using hindsight it's easy to see now that the whole thing became too big, too quickly, and, as a consequence, too loose. It became a source for making easy money and no golden goose can survive if it's force-fed to lay too many eggs, too fast. In less than five years the bubble had burst. Its mass appeal was lost. Once more it went underground, kept alive only by a hardcore minority. Before anything could happen again, Hip-Hop and the British B-Boys would have to get real.

The Nineties

A new generation took up the torch, Puma States and Kappa track-suits. They studied the culture and discovered groups like Brooklynıs Stetsasonic, Eric B. & Rakim, a duo from Queens who promoted a unity between Rap, Rock and Jazz. 'I hold the microphone like a grudge,' Rakim rapped, 'Eric B. hold the record so the needle donıt budge.' They were out to put the Funk back in Hip-Hop.

And then there was Public Enemy. For the Brits, here was a breathtaking crew, who showed no mercy, took no prisoners. No wonder they were dubbed The Black Sex Pistols. Material by these groups was the kind of stuff that stirred the hearts of young rebels, but more was needed if the 90's were to see a return of the B-Boys in strength with their Breaking in the United Kingdom. Ironically it wasn't an explosion of Rap and Hip-Hop that was to do it.

It was sparked by the likes of Britain's Take That, Euro-Poppers, Dr. Alban and Germany's Snap who shot up the UK charts with 'The Power', a clear case of hijacking Chill Rob Gıs version. Snapıs video though, along with those of the others, captured a lot of Breaking and so raised its appeal once again.

This 'new look' included new moves. 'The Wop' and '2-Hype' free-styles became part of the scene, popularized by the happy-go-luckly Kid-n-Play in their 'Getting Funky' video and the 'House Party' series of movies. True Hip-Hop headz, however, were still turning their backs on Breaking or, worse, abusing the dancers. At some jams they even poured beer on the floor to stop Breaking, claiming crews were taking up their space and looking ridiculous in their tracksuits. The breakers persevered.

Now, in the decaying 90's, B-Boys are back. There's massive interest in the dance form within the context of British Hip-Hop culture. The revival here is led by crews such as Born To Rock, U.K. Rocksteady, Second To None and others who have been featured regularly at Hip-Hop jams up and down the country. These days it's quite common to see B-Boys advertised on flyers promoting Rap and DJ acts.

Slowly the media has picked up these stories, asked the right questions and reminded readers, listeners and viewers how the scene used to be. Some of the original Breakers have been remembered and encouraged to re-emerge from the underground to resume their busting moves on Rap artists' videos.

Battles have resumed. The annual 'Battle of the Year', for example, is an international event held in Germany that is growing from strength to strength. Recent contests have had crews from several parts of Europe showing off their skills. Last years battle was videod and there are two versions on sale. In the 1996 Battle of the Year to be held September 6&7, Born to Rock expect to find a place in the finals, supported by DJ First Rate who works with them at the jams. He rocks the house with his cutting and Blemmer leads the 'Popping' routines.

After the wilderness years, Breaking is back, again growing in respect as an integral part of the Hip-Hop scene. Rap is no longer the only representative of the culture upon which the whole is judged. In south London, for instance, the Ghetto Grammar Workshop has introduced Breaking and Writing to its study courses, alongside the existing Rap and DJing classes.

What's strange is that while the majority of the best jams are held in London, the elite Breakers come from outside the capital. For example, at a battle recently staged at the Subterrania, both crews were from out of town. Born To Rock was one, the other, Second To None from Bournemouth. But it's B-Boys like them who are taking the dance to new levels and becoming more and more in demand to perform at shows and Hip-Hop jams. Once again they're the focus of attention, making Hip-Hop more exciting and complete. How long will the latest trend last? Nobody knows, but weıre gonna enjoy it while it does.

This article originally appeared in Downlow Magazine issue #11.

Breakdancing with Mr.Fresh & The Supreme Rockers

Breakdancing seems so different from all other kinds of dancing that the first question people ask when they see it is: "Where did these kids learn to dance like that?" To many people, this dance seems to have come out of nowhere. But like everything else, Breakdance did come from somewhere, something and someone. In the case of Breakdancing, the someone is the great superstar, James Brown, and the something is the dance, the Good Foot. In 1969, when James Brown was getting down with his big hit "Get on the Good Foot" the Hustle was the big dance style of the day. If you've ever seen JamesBrown live in concert or on TV, then you know he can really get down. And when he preformed his hit, he did the kind of dance you'd expect James Brown to do. High Energy. This almost acrobatic dance was appropriately enough known as the lot of kids around New York City.

By the time the Good Foot became the new dance style, the tradition of dance battle was well established. Dancers would gather at places like Harlem World on 116th Street in Harlem and Battle-dancewise. Battles are covered in more detail in the section on battles, challanges, and contests, but the important thing as fas as the history of Breakdancing is concerned is that Breakdancing was particularly well-suited for competition. And not only was the Good Foot well- suited for dance battles, it appealed to certain young men who were very athletic.

The Good Foot, which was soon to be called B-Boy and shortly after that Breakdancing, or Breaking, was very different from the Breaking we see today. In some ways it was simpler. There were no Headspind. No Windmill. No Handglides or Backspins. It was what is now called old-style Breaking. Old-Style Breaking consisted only of floor work, or Floor Rock, and in a way it was more complex than modern Breaking. There may be some small variations on the Headspin and a Backspin, but basically, a Headspin is a head spin and a Backspin is a back spin. But Floor Rock can involve som extremely complicated leg moves, and it is done very fast. And it did not take long before where were a lot of Breakdancing battles happening.

Among those for whom old-style Breaking was especially popular were many of the youths and street gangs that roamed the South Bronx. And it was in those streets that Breakdancing really started. Often, the best Breakers in opposing gangs would battle dancewise instead of fighting. They would battle over turf. Or because someone stepped on someone else's shoes. They might battle prove that their gang was better than the other gang. Sometimes they would make a contract that the loser would not go around to the winner's neighborhood anymore. Sometimes they battled just to gain each other's respect. Unfortunately, these Breaking battles did not always stop fight. In fact, they often would cause a fight, since dancers would sometimes get physical when they couldn't win dancewise.No one likes to lose. But today Breaking battles have, to a large extent, replaced fighting in the Bronx.

In this way Breakdancing crews-groups of dancers who practice and preform together-were formed. And soon formal crews organized, who not only practiced and preformed together, but who also developed their own dance routines. Some of these crewws became very dedicated to their dancing, and since they had nothing better to do, would spend hours a day praticing, developing more and more complex moves, improving their form, and increasing their speed. And then Afrika bambaataa came along. Bambaataa is the legendary grand master D.J. who is the individual most responsible for the successful growth of Breakdancing. He is a record producer and member of the Soul Sonic Force, whose "Looking For The Perfect Beat" was chosen as the No.4 best single in the 1983 Jazz and pop Critics' Poll. Afrika Bambaataa is also the leader of the Zulu Nation in the Bronx.

In 1969, Afrika Bambaataa saw Breakdancing as more than just dancing. He saw it as a way to achieve something. He saw the potential of Breakdancing, and encouraged the dancers to keep at it. To work hard, and to believe that if they stuck with it, something good would come of it. Bambaataa then started one of the first Breakdance crews, the Zulu Kings. The Zulu Kings won a lot of battles and talent shows and preformed in various clubs in New York. At the same time they won a lot of adherents for the Zulu Nation.

Old-style Breaking remained popular untill about 1977, when the Freak took over, based on the hit record "Freak Out" by the Shieks. Then around 1979 and early 1980 a new Breakdance crew was organized-Rock Steady Crew. Even though Rock Steady Crew was especially talented, a lot of people put them down being old-fashioned. But Bambataa encouraged them. He told them that if they stuck with it, something good would happen. He took them on, and soon they were performing at the Mudd Club, the Ritz, and other Punk rock clubs around New York. When Rock Steady performed for Malcom McLaren and Bow Wow Wow at the Ritz people started taking them seriously. Breakdancing Was In Again.

But the new-style Breaking was different from the old. Rock Steady added a lot of acrobatic moves. Breaking now included not only Floor Rock but Headspins, Backspins, Handglides, and Windmills. In 1981, Charles Ahearn made his Hip-Hop movie, Wild Style, a raw vision of rap singing, graffiti, scratching, and Breakdancing in the Bronx. Ahearn called on Rock Steady to do the Breaking and Rock Steady became the preeminent Breakdance crew and new-style Breaking became even more popular. When the spring of 1982 rolled around the Roxy was a well-established New York roller-skating rink. But the popularity of roller skating quickly began to fade, and in June of '82, Pat Fuji turned the Roxy into a dance club on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. The Roxy quickly became the Hip Hop center. It was here that rappers, D.J.'s, and Breakdancers would perform and hang out.

If you wanted to discover a Breakdancer for your show or video, you would come to the Roxy. Or if you just wanted to watch or learn some new moves, you would come to the Roxy. And the Roxy started to sponsor Breakdance contests, which would help the winners get more recognition. In June, 1983, Pat Fuji hired professional Jazz dancer Rosanne Hoare to run the Street Arts Consortium, whish was a house Breakdancing, rapping, and graffiti art. Rosy was going to officially establish a home for Hip Hop Culture. While the Street Art Consorium never really happened as envisioned, Rosy did provide a home for Breakdancers. She not only provided a place where they could feel at home, but she worked with them as a choreographer, helping to extend their dance possibilities. She also helped many dancer find commercial and performing dance work. Most importanly, Rosy was-and is-always there as a friend whom they can count on. She herself has taken up Breakdancing.

(This Article is taken from"Breakdancing with Mr.Fresh & The Supreme Rockers")

Beat Street (1984) - Stan Lathan

  1. Beat Street (1984) - Stan Lathan [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Of all the breakdancing / hip-hop films released between 1983 and 1986, the 1984 film Beat Street is unquestionably the best one. The story follows a DJ, his younger breakdancing brother, a graffiti artist and a wanna-be showbiz promoter through one winter in which they try to break out of the ghetto using their "street" talent. The acting isn't always up to par and the characters aren't fully drawn out, but they are more than compensated for by down-to-earth dialogue, a plausible story, fantastic dancing sequences and a timeless hip-hop sound track. It should be noted this film was shot in the birthplace of breakdancing ("This ain't New York, this is the Bronx!"), and features appearances by the fathers of breakdancing, dance troupe Rock Steady Crew and rapper Afrika Bambaata. Rock Steady Crew provide the best scene in the film when they dominate a dance battle at the premiere breakdancing club of the early 80's, the Roxy. A must see for hip-hop lovers. --Hermit-2, Chicago for imdb.com

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