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Breakdance: Breakdance Historical Outline

Breakdance Historical Outline
Breakdancing started in 1969. That was the year that James Brown recorded "Get on the Good Foot," a song that inspired an acrobatic dance based on the high energy moves that Brown performed on stage. Soon, kids in New York were doing the Good Foot -better known as B-Boy(short for Break Boy)- which was the direct precursor to the sort of breakdancing we know today.

1969 was also the year that Afrika Bambaataa started organizing ghetto youth into one of the first breakdance crews: The Zulu Kings. The Zulu Kings won contests and talent shows. They performed their moves at dance clubs. Bambaataa recognized the potential for acrobatic dancing, and he encouraged young people to stick with it. But most people thought the Zulu Kings were just another gang.

When the Zulu Kings were challenged by a rival street gang, Bambaataa, they called for a break in the usual street warfare and suggested that the two groups fight with steps rather than weapons. Sure enough, the rival gang was just as ready to square off with dance steps as they were with knives and chains. Afrika Bambaataa's followers grew into the Zulu Nation which was 5000 strong. The kids in the Zulu Nation would rather dance than fight, and breakdancing (a term invented by Afrika Bambaataa) became an integral part of hip-hop.

These dance battles gradually evolved into a highly stylized form of mock combat called "Uprock". In an uprock battle, a dancer would lose if he actually touched his opponent. A B-Boy named Rubberband is credited with developing Uprock. Breakin' was originally known as "Rocking". "Old Style" breakin' and B-Boy'n consisted only of floor work ("Floor Rock" or "down rock") and "top rock" (dancing on two feet, like the Moonwalk). Acrobatic moves such as the headspin had yet to emerge. Floor Rock involved complicated leg moves. Athletic young men found it was a good way to win dance contests. B-Boy'n was especially popular in the South Bronx, where rival gangs would battle over turf, or just to gain each others' respect.

Breakin' remained popular until 1977, when a dance called the Freak took over.
Meanwhile, another dance was catching which would lead to the development of the Electric Boogie. This dance was called the Robot. People started doing the Robot as early as 1969, but the dance really took off after Michael Jackson danced the Robot while singing "Dancin' Machine" on national TV.

In 1979, a new breakdance crew was organized called Rock Steady Crew. These dancers were very talented, but breakin' wasn't as popular anymore. People said that Rock Steady were old fashioned. One person who encouraged Rock Steady Crew was Afrika Bambaataa. The kids in Rock Steady Crew were all original members of Bambaataa's Zulu Nation. Bambaataa told them to stick with it. Rock Steady Crew invented many of the "power moves" that made breakdancing famous. Crazy Legs and Frosty Freeze (who specialized in "freeze" moves) practiced in Central Park, New York and on the streets until they had perfected their routine. They added a lot of acrobatic moves such as the headspin, handglides, backspins, and "The Continuous Backspin" (better known as the Windmill).

Breakdancing has always been an integral part of our underground dance culture, but not many know of it roots and past.


B-Boying began in a recreation center in the South Bronx of New York City in the early 1970's. Street gangs and violence was at an all time high but was about to start its decline, mainly due to the introduction of a new culture that would later be dubbed "Hip Hop" by Afrikaa Bambaataa. This Hip Hop culture would give inner city youth a way to make a name for themselves and escape the anonymity of urban life, by battling other youth with creativity and style instead of violence.

It was a young Jamaican immigrant named Clive Campbell (aka Kool DJ Herc) who was primarily responsible for the birth of this culture. Kool Herc developed a revolutionary new way of spinning records using two identical records. Instead of playing the entire the song on a record, he would only play the very upbeat and percussive breaksection of a song, known as the "breaks." Since the breaksection of a song is only seconds long, after the breaksection was through playing on the first record he would start playing the same section on the second record while managing to match the beat seamlessly . By repeating this process, he was able to play a continuous song of nothing but breaksections.

Along with DJing, these "breakbeats" laid the foundation for the two more elements of the Hip Hop culture: MCing and B-Boying. It became the MC's (Master of Ceremony) job to amuse, excite, and motivate the crowd to dance by using Rhythmic Accentuated Poetry (RAP) over those breakbeats. B-Boys were the ones who would dance or "freak out," "bust moves," and "go-off" on the dancefloor with their steps and freezes. These three elements along with graffiti art or writing are what make up the hip hop culture.


Most heads consider James Brown's hit "Get on the Good Foot" the starting point for B-Boy culture. After its release, people started mimicking Brown's footworks and began dancing the "Good Foot." Early B-Boying was based largely on an extended version of the Good Foot, also known as Rockin'. So essentially, James Brown was the first B-Boy.

The word (B-)Boying most likely came from the African word "Boioing" which means to hop or jump, and is just one of the indicators of the influence African dance. It was the African people's dance culture which brought the heavy rhythm and the idea of dancing in a circle, but it was definitely a variety of influences that made up early B-Boying including gymnastics, Eastern martial arts, tap dance, Salsa, Afro-Cuban and Native American dances. One of the most influential dances was a South American martial arts/fighting dance known as the Capoeira. Contrary to many rumors, B-Boying didn't originate from the Capoeira but it played a large role in its early development.

The Capoeira originated in the 16th century and was practiced by many of the millions of African slaves brought to Brazil. Since fighting was not allowed but singing and dancing was permitted, the slaves prepared for their resistance by incorporating fighting moves into their dancing. The fight-dance was performed in a circle with a crowd surrounding it, and as soon as a guard or official came close, the fighting would turn into a dance again. Eventually the dancing the Capoeira became forbidden and most of the slaves who practiced the Capoeira died after their five years of service, yet a few managed to escape into the forests of Brazil. The Capoeira lived on in the forest villages of the escaped slaves and Brazilian slums throughout the centuries until it became legal again in the 20th century. When B-Boying started to become popular, a lot of the Capoeira moves, punches, and spins were integrated into B-Boying.


In the early 1970's B-Boying was also referred to as rockin' or breakin'. At first breaking mainly consisted of toprocks, floorrocks (footworks) and other steps that always ended in a freeze (no spins). Different B-Boy crews were formed who would often battle each other--the main point of the battle being to be more creative than the other crew and by doing better and faster moves. Toward the late 70's a lot of the early B-Boys retired and the new generation of B-Boy's combined the early moves with spins and power moves on different parts of the body.

Popping was a west coast dance form in the late 70's that eventually made its way to the east coast around 1980 where it was called Boogaloo or Electric Boogaloo. B-Boying should not be confused with poppin or lockin. The breakers and boogaloo dancers both ended up sharing the B-Boy name, but poppin and lockin are definitely danceforms of their own and should be treated as just that.

Breakin started blowing up in the early 80's as a lot of the top crew rivalries were beginning to attract media attention. Early performances and battles of crews like the Rock Steady Crew and Dynamic Rockers were aired on nationally TV. In 1983, movies like Flashdance and Buffalo Gals which featured the Rock Steady Crew broke the scene wide open when breaking could finally be scene internationally. The media made up the name "Breakdancing" and the world went rap dance crazy.

Over the next few years, breakdancing became the trend. Some of the more famous crews were featured in movies (Wildstyle, Beat Street, Breakin/Breakin 2), commercials (milk, Right Guard, Burger King...) and TV shows (Fame, That's Incredible!, David Letterman, and as regular contestants on Star Search). When the Summer Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984, the closing ceremonies featured a performance by over 100 B-Boys and B-Girls.

In 1987, after years of being gimmicked and ridiculed, "Breakdancing" was completely played out and the media had completely trashed the entire B-Boy culture. Very few dancers continued practicing and dancing seriously, and the one's who did were often met with ridicule when it was revealed that they still breakdance. Today the breakin' name has been cleared and is continuing regain its reputation as a respected dance form. Hopefully this time around people will realize not just a new fad or trend, but something to be appreciated and taken seriously.

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.
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