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History of breakdancing: A breakdown of important events

Interested in learning how to breakdance? This popular, energetic form of dancing includes everything from spinning on your hands or head to using stylized footwork. Not only does breakdancing involve moves that are more complex and acrobatic than many other forms of dance, but it also has its own unique culture, lingo, and history.

What is breakdancing and when did it start?

Breakdancing is a style of street dancing that incorporates coordination, acrobatic and intricate body movements, style, and aesthetics. It evolved from the hip hop movement during the early 1970s and is the most widely known of all hip hop dance styles.

What came out of it?

Old-style breakdancing was popular until the late 1970s when the Freak took over. This style was based on the debut album “Freak Out!” by the band the Mothers of Invention. In 1979 and 1980, a new breaker crew was formed called the Rock Steady Crew. This crew introduced acrobatic moves that had never been practiced before, such as headspins, hand glides, and backspin. Basically all the moves we know and love today.Breakdancing really started to take off in 1980, when it was adopted by popular artists like Michael Jackson, who made the moonwalk a worldwide sensation. As a result of its growing popularity, record producers signed artists who could breakdance and who also presented a wholesome image that could appeal to broader audiences. This style influenced many modern forms of dance, and you’ll see it today in music videos as well as at live concerts. You’ll even see it performed by famous artists like Britney Spears.

Where did breakdancing start?

Many people believe that breakdancing originated among Latin American and African American youths in the Bronx of New York.

Jazzy Jes poses for a portrait at The Red Bull BC One New York Cypher at the Rock Steady Crew 40th Anniversary in New York, NY, USA on 29 July, 2017.
Jazzy Jes© CARLO CRUZ/RED BULL CONTENT POOL

What inspired breakdancing?

Breakdancing is thought to be inspired by the performances of James Brown. Street corner DJs would take the breaks of dance records and string them together to give dancers a chance to show off their moves. Breakers would choose elements from sports and other dances, including gymnastics, the Lindy Hop, capoeira, and disco.There’s more to the history of breakdancing than just dancing, though, a background story that’s far more interesting. Some say the breaking we know today started as a way for rival street gangs to settle disputes. Dancers from each gang would show off their moves, and the one with the most innovative and complex moves was determined to be the winner.

Where was breakdancing most popular?

Breaking was most popular in New York, and the technique was pioneered by Kool Herc, a Jamaican DJ who mixed percussion breaks from identical records. Kool Herc played the breaks repeatedly, moving back and forth between the identical records in what he called “cutting breaks.” When he was performing for live audiences in dance clubs in New York, he would yell, “B-boys go down.” That was the signal for the b-boys and b-girls to show the crowd what they could do.

Music used in breakdancing

Music is a crucial ingredient for this type of dance. To create music for the b-boys and b-girls, Djs borrowed from other genres, including funk, jazz, soul, disco, electro, and R&B. The most common characteristic is that there are breaks. This music is also made from samples taken from different songs and then looped or strung together by the DJ.While hip hop music is frequently played for breaking, music can be adapted from a variety of different genres, especially if you use remixes. No matter what music you use, the most important component is that the beat pattern and tempo are right.

Who are some notable people in the breakdancing world?

Crazy Legs battles during Red Bull BC One Camp USA in Warehouse Live in Houston, TX, USA on May 19, 2019
Crazy Legs© KIEN QUAN / RED BULL CONTENT POOL

Some of the most notable breakdancers in history include:

  • Crazy Legs
  • Zulu Kings
  • The Rock Steady Crew
  • Mr. Wiggles

Other names these dancers go by

While breakdancing is the most common term for this style of street dance, it’s certainly not the only one. Some other names for it are:

  • Breaking
  • B-girling
  • B-boying

A breakdancer is also known as a:

  • B-boy
  • B-girl
  • Breaker

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