HOW IT STARTED
“B-boying is the bastard child of hip hop, Graffiti is the black sheep. DJing is the loyal child who always does what he’s told. Rap is the spoilt brat who is actually the youngest of the four.” – Robert ‘Crazy Legs’ Colon.
Breakdancing is a unique style of dancing that was formed in the early 1970’s during the rise of the hip hop cultural movement in the South ‘Boogie-Down’ Bronx and became an integral part of the genre itself. It is one of the four original elements of hip hop culture. An extraordinarily difficult body movement, b-boying is a very acrobatic and creative way of contorting the body in time with the beat of music. Started at house parties while DJ’s made instrumental music from turntables, affectionately dubbed ‘B-Boying’ by DJ Kool Herc, it is now regarded as a highly respected dance movement made popular by the original crews who came up in the game alongside the original emcees and deejays.
Breakdancing was never a term used by the original practitioners. There are several different explanations to the origins of this terminology. One theory is, breakdancing is described as being an adaptation of the Break, a dance made popular before being replaced by the Freak, deriving from Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ in 1978 but revived by Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew. However DJ Kool Herc insists the term breaking was from the slang term, ‘break’, meaning someone going ‘crazy’ or ‘off’ as dancers would emulate to the beat of the music. Others claim the term originates from the break of the song which was considered the best time to dance to. Breakdancing is still a term widely used by the media, whereas the term preferred by urban-style dancers and those in the hip hop culture itself has always been ‘B-Boy’. The ‘B’ in b-boy doesn’t specifically stand for any one word, but may be abbreviated for Bronx, Boogie or Break. Today a female breakdancer is called a ‘B-Girl’
During the formative years of the hip hop culture, the founding father of the movement, DJ Kool Herc was the first person to dub the dance move as ‘b-boy’ in 1969. During a show Herc would toast the dancers and yell out “B-boys go down!” which would cue the dancers to perform breakdancing. That same year James Brown recorded the song, ‘Get On The Good Foot’ which promoted the highly-energetic, acrobatic dance style. Afrika Bambaataa claims this is the inspiration for breakdancing. The old school pioneers insist on being referred to as b-boys. The ‘B’ in b-boy does not refer to ‘Boogaloo’ which is a West Coast dance style developed as more of a general funk style, but often mistaken as breakdancing as they intermingled through the same hip hop scene. This is one of the first cases that displayed the different cultures between the East and West coasts of the American hip hop scene.
‘Footwork’ or ‘downrock’ is a term used by b-boys for any dance movements that take place on the ground, as opposed to ‘uprock’ or ‘toprock’. The rest of the dance envelops around these basic moves. Dancers will usually begin by ‘toprocking’ and continue the move with a ‘6-step’ down on the floor. This has the freedom of variation in many ways. Certain power moves can be formed with combinations thus making each individuals style unique. Almost in a signature move, the dancer will end his repertoire with a ‘freeze’ which is when the dancer contorts the body to a strange acrobatic position and literally freezes, holding position with no dance motion. A successful b-boys is considered to have the ultimate style in his/her moves, it is one thing to learn the fundamentals but this style leaves a lot of individuality to it, and a dancer must deviate from the set moves to provide a dancer with their own style. This creates the competition of a Battle.
Breakdancing battles were as common to the culture as emcee and deejay battles. This is when dancers form a circle, called ‘ciphering’ and take turns at jumping into the centre to showcase their style of b-boying, showing each other up with their own unique styles, more complex move combinations, or tougher moves. Usually, breakdancing battles would take place between two opposing breakdancing crews. Today as this dance is now a recognized art form, they are usually held at organized tournaments displaying their performances in a competition for prizes and money while still holding onto the traditions of the Boogie-Down battles. A ‘Jam’ is where a spontaneous head to head battle ensues between two rival crews with most of their members participating and often consisted of several hours of ciphering, followed by the main battle event.
Despite mainstream belief, b-boys do not necessarily breakdance exclusively to hip hop. Original breaks from DJ Kool Herc, Bambaataa were taken from old soul and funk records therefore these dance moves were developed over this genre of music. If not this type, b-boys will prefer most break beats from ‘80s tracks. Modern main-stream hip hop is generally not designed for breakdancing with no specific break sessions to move around. Music is of the utmost importance to a b-boy. A true artist finds it imperative to have sound knowledge of breaking music in order to understand and carry the ability to dance to it. This concentrated knowledge of the music is displayed with moves as a b-boy highlights specific focal points in each song, narrating with their motions perhaps with a freeze, which is often humorous as well as impressive. (Although the term breakbeats sounds like a name for what b-boys break to, it is mostly used to refer to certain genres in electronica.)