B-boying or breaking, also called breakdancing, is a style of street dance that originated among Black and Puerto Rican youths in New York City during the early 1970s. The dance spread worldwide due to popularity in the media, especially in regions such as South Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Japan. While diverse in the amount of variation available in the dance, b-boying consists of four kinds of movement: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes. B-boying is typically danced to hip-hop, funk music, and especially breakbeats, although modern trends allow for much wider varieties of music along certain ranges of tempo and beat patterns.
A practitioner of this dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, or breaker. Although the term "breakdance" is frequently used to refer to the dance, "b-boying" and "breaking" are the original terms. These terms are preferred by the majority of the pioneers and most notable practitioners.
The terminology used to refer to b-boying (break-boying) changed after promotion by the mainstream media. Although widespread, the term "breakdancing" is looked down upon by those immersed in hip-hop culture. Purists consider "breakdancing" an ignorant term invented by the media that connotes exploitation of the art and is used to sensationalize breaking. The term "breakdancing" is also problematic because it has become a diluted umbrella term that incorrectly includes popping, locking, and electric boogaloo, which are not styles of "breakdance", but are funk styles that were developed separately from breaking in California. The dance itself is properly called "breaking" according to rappers such as KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC.
The terms "b-boy" (break-boy), "b-girl" (break-girl), and "breaker" are the original terms used to describe the dancers. The original terms arose to describe the dancers who performed to DJ Kool Herc's breakbeats. DJ Kool Herc is a Jamaican-American DJ who is responsible for developing the foundational aspects of hip-hop music. The obvious connection of the term "breaking" is to the word "breakbeat", but DJ Kool Herc has commented that the term "breaking" was slang at the time for "getting excited", "acting energetically" or "causing a disturbance". Most breaking pioneers and practitioners prefer the terms "b-boy", "b-girl", and/or "breaker" when referring to these dancers. For those immersed in hip-hop culture, the term "breakdancer" may be used to disparage those who learn the dance for personal gain rather than for commitment to the culture. B-boy London of the New York City Breakers and filmmaker Michael Holman refer to these dancers as "breakers". Frosty Freeze of the Rock Steady Crew says, "we were known as b-boys", and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa says, "b-boys, [are] what you call break boys... or b-girls, what you call break girls." In addition, co-founder of Rock Steady Crew Santiago "Jo Jo" Torres, Rock Steady Crew member Marc "Mr. Freeze" Lemberger, hip-hop historian Fab 5 Freddy, and rappers Big Daddy Kane and Tech N9ne. use the term "b-boy".
Many elements of b-boying can be seen in other antecedent cultures prior to the 1970s. B-boy pioneers Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon and Kenneth "Ken Swift" Gabbert, both of Rock Steady Crew, cite James Brown and Kung Fu films as influences to b-boying. Many of b-boying's more acrobatic moves, such as the flare, show clear connections to gymnastics. An Arab street dancer performing acrobatic headspins was recorded by Thomas Edison in 1898. However, it was not until the 1970s that b-boying developed as a defined dance style in the United States.
Beginning with DJ Kool Herc, Bronx-based DJs would take the rhythmic breakdown sections (also known as the "breaks") of dance records and prolong them by looping them successively. The breakbeat provided a rhythmic base that allowed dancers to display their improvisational skills during the duration of the break. This led to the first battles--turn-based dance competitions between two individuals or dance crews judged with respect to creativity, skill, and musicality. These battles occurred in cyphers--circles of people gathered around the breakers. Though at its inception the earliest b-boys were "close to 90 percent African-American", dance crews such as "SalSoul" and "Rockwell Association" were populated almost entirely by Puerto Rican-Americans.
A separate but related dance form which influenced b-boying is uprock also called rocking or Brooklyn rock. Uprock is an aggressive dance that involves two dancers who mimic ways of fighting each other using mimed weaponry in rhythm with the music. Uprock as a dance style of its own never gained the same widespread popularity as b-boying, except for some very specific moves adopted by breakers who use it as a variation for their toprock. When used in a b-boy battle, opponents often respond by performing similar uprock moves, supposedly creating a short uprock battle. Some b-boys argue that because uprock was originally a separate dance style it should never be mixed with b-boying and that the uprock moves performed by breakers today are not the original moves but imitations that only show a small part of the original uprock style.
It has been stated that b-boying replaced fighting between street gangs. On the contrary, some believe it a misconception that b-boying ever played a part in mediating gang rivalry. Both viewpoints have some truth. Uprock has its roots in gangs. Whenever there was an issue over turf, the two warlords of the feuding gangs would uprock. Whoever won this preliminary battle would decide where the real fight would be.
Ismael Toledo was one of the first b-boys in Brazil. In 1984, he moved to the United States to study dance. While in the U.S. he discovered b-boying and ended up meeting b-boy Crazy Legs who personally mentored him for the four years that followed. After becoming proficient in b-boying, he moved back to SÃ£o Paulo and started to organize b-boys crews and enter international competitions. He eventually opened a hip-hop dance studio called the Hip-Hop Street College.
B-boying was first introduced to South Korea by American soldiers shortly after its surge of popularity in the U.S. during the 1980s, but it was not until the late 1990s that the culture and dance really took hold. 1997 is known as the "Year Zero of Korean breaking". A Korean-American hip hop promoter named John Jay Chon was visiting his family in Seoul and while he was there, he met a crew named Expression Crew in a club. He gave them a VHS tape of a Los Angeles b-boying competition called Radiotron. A year later when he returned, Chon found that his video and others like his had been copied and dubbed numerous times, and were feeding an ever-growing b-boy community.
In 2002, Korea's Expression Crew won the prestigious international b-boying competition Battle of the Year, exposing the skill of the country's b-boys to the rest of the world. Since then, the Korean government has capitalized on the popularity of the dance and has promoted it alongside Korean culture. R-16 Korea is the most well-known government-sponsored b-boy event, and is hosted by the Korean Tourism Organization and supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
Shortly after the Rock Steady Crew came to Japan, b-boying within Japan began to thrive. Each Sunday b-boys would perform b-boying in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park. One of the first and most influential Japanese breakers was Crazy-A, who is now the leader of the Tokyo chapter of Rock Steady Crew. He also organizes the yearly B-Boy Park which draws upwards of 10,000 fans a year and attempts to expose a wider audience to the culture.
Born in Thailand and raised in the United States, Tuy "KK" Sobil started a community center called Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2005 where he uses b-boying, hip-hop music, and art to teach Cambodian youth language skills, computer skills, and life skills (hygiene, sex education, counseling). His orgranization helps roughly 5,000 youths a year. One of these youths include Diamond, who is regarded as Cambodia's first b-girl.
Gravity Benders crew showcasing the four elements of b-boying -- toprock, downrock, freezes, and power moves -- some crew choreography, and a short battle.
There are four primary elements that form b-boying. These include toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes.
Toprock generally refers to any string of steps performed from a standing position. It is usually the first and foremost opening display of style, though dancers often transition from other aspects of b-boying to toprock and back. Toprock has a variety of steps which can each be varied according to the dancer's expression (ie. aggressive, calm, excited). A great deal of freedom is allowed in the definition of toprock: as long as the dancer maintains cleanliness, form, and the b-boy attitude, theoretically anything can be toprock. Toprock can draw upon many other dance styles such as popping, locking, tap dance, Lindy hop, or house dance. Transitions from toprock to downrock and power moves are called "drops".
Downrock (also known as "footwork" or "floorwork") is used to describe any movement on the floor with the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet. Downrock includes moves such as the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step. The most basic of downrock is done entirely on feet and hands but more complex variations can involve the knees when threading limbs through each other.
Power moves are acrobatic moves that require momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control to execute. The breaker is generally supported by his upper body while the rest of his body creates circular momentum. Some examples are the windmill, swipe, back spin, and head spin. Some power moves are borrowed from gymnastics and martial arts. An example of a power move taken from gymnastics is the Thomas Flair which is shortened and spelled flare in b-boying.
Freezes are stylish poses that require the breaker to suspend himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses such as the pike. They are used to emphasize strong beats in the music and often signal the end of a b-boy set. Freezes can be linked into chains or "stacks" where breakers go from freeze to freeze to freeze in order to hit the beats of the music which displays musicality and physical strength.
There are many different individual styles used in b-boying. Individual styles often stem from a dancer's region of origin and influences. However, some people such as b-boy Jacob "Kujo" Lyons feel that the Internet inhibits individual style. In an 2012 interview with B-Boy Magazine he expressed his frustration.
... because everybody watches the same videos online, everybody ends up looking very similar. The differences between individual b-boys, between crews, between cities/states/countries/continents, have largely disappeared. It used to be that you could tell what city a b-boy was from by the way he danced. Not anymore. But I've been saying these things for almost a decade, and most people don't listen, but continue watching the same videos and dancing the same way. It's what I call the "international style," or the "Youtube style."
B-boy Luis "Alien Ness" Martinez, the president of Mighty Zulu Kings, expressed a similar frustration in a separate interview three years earlier with "The Super B-Beat Show" about the top five things he hates in b-boying:
Oh yeah, the last thing I hate in breakin'... Yo, all y'all mother f*ckin' Internet b-boys... I'm an Internet b-boy too, but I'm real about my sh*t. Everybody knows who I am, I'm out at every f*cking jam, I'm in a different country every week. I tell my story dancing... I've been all around the world, y'all been all around the world wide web... [my friend] Bebe once said that sh*t, and I co-sign that, Bebe said that. That wasn't me but that's the realist sh*t I ever heard anybody say. I've been all around the world, you've been all around the world wide web.
Although there are some generalities in the styles that exist, many dancers combine elements of different styles with their own ideas and knowledge in order to create a unique style of their own. B-boys can therefore be categorized into a broad style which generally showcases the same types of techniques.
This style of b-boying is what most members of the general public associate with the term "breakdancing". Power moves comprise full-body spins and rotations that give the illusion of defying gravity. Examples of power moves include head spins, back spins, windmills, flares, air tracks/air flares, 1990s, 2000s, jackhammers, crickets, turtles, hand glides, halos, and elbow spins. Those b-boys who use "power moves" almost exclusively in their sets are referred to as "power heads".
A very broad style of b-boying which may include the incorporation of "threading" footwork, freestyle movement to hit beats, house dance, and "circus" styles (tricks, contortion, etc.).
A style of b-boying which focuses on the "wow factor" of certain power moves, freezes, and circus styles. Blowups consist of performing a sequence of as many difficult trick combinations in as quick succession as possible in order to "smack" or exceed the virtuosity of the other b-boy's performance. The names of some of these moves are air baby, hollow backs, solar eclipse, and reverse air baby, among others. The main goal in blow-up style is the rapid transition through a sequence of power moves ending in a skillful freeze or "suicide". Like freezes, a suicide is used to emphasize a strong beat in the music and signal the end to a routine. While freezes draw attention to a controlled final position, suicides draw attention to the motion of falling or losing control. B-boys or b-girls will make it appear that they have lost control and fall onto their backs, stomachs, etc. The more painful the suicide appears, the more impressive it is, but breakers execute them in a way to minimize pain.
A style that is based more on elaborate toprock, downrock, and/or freezes. This style is focused more on the beat and musicality of the song than having to rely on power moves only. B-boys who base their dance on "flavor" or style are known as "style heads".
In addition to the styles listed above, certain footwork styles have been associated with different areas which popularized them.
Traditional New York Style: The original style of b-boying from the Bronx, based around the Russian Tropak dance. This style of downrock focuses on kicks called "CCs" and foundational moves such as 6-steps and variations of it.
Created in the early 90s, this style is very circular, focusing not on steps but more on glide-type moves such as the pretzel, deadlegs, undersweeps and fluid sliding moves.
Created in the late 90s, also known as the 'Toronto thread' style. Based upon the Euro Style, except characterized by elaborate leg threads.
Power Versus Style
Multiple stereotypes have emerged in the breaking community over the give-and-take relationship between technical footwork and physical power. Those who focus on dance steps and fundamental sharpness are labeled as "style heads." Specialists of more gymnastics-oriented technique and form--at the cost of charisma and coordinated footwork--are known as "power heads." Such terms are used colloquially often to classify one's skill, however, the subject has been known to disrupt competitive events where judges tend to favor a certain technique over the other.
This debate however is somewhat of a misnomer. The classification of dancing as "style" in b-boying is inaccurate because every b-boy or b-girl has their own unique style developed both consciously and subconsciously. Each b-boy or b-girl's style is the certain attitude or method in which they execute their movements. A breaker's unique style does not strictly refer to just toprock or downrock. It is a concept which encompasses how a move is executed rather than what move is done.
The musical selection for breaking is not restricted to hip-hop music as long as the tempo and beat pattern conditions are met. Breaking can be readily adapted to different music genres with the aid of remixing. The original songs that popularized the dance form borrow significantly from progressive genres of jazz, soul, funk, electro, and disco. The most common feature of b-boy music exists in musical breaks, or compilations formed from samples taken from different songs which are then looped and chained together by the DJ. The tempo generally ranges between 110 and 135 beats per minute with shuffled sixteenth and quarter beats in the percussive pattern. History credits DJ Kool Herc for the invention of this concept later termed the break beat.
Battle of the Year (BOTY) was founded in 1990 by Thomas HergenrÃ¶ther in Germany. It is the first and largest international breaking competition for b-boy crews. BOTY holds regional qualifying tournaments in several countries such as Zimbabwe, Japan, Israel, Algeria, Indonesia, and the Balkans. Crews who win these tournaments go on to compete in the final championship in Montpellier, France. BOTY was featured in the independent documentary Planet B-Boy (2007) that filmed five b-boy crews training for the 2005 championship. A 3D film Battle of the Year: The Dream Team is scheduled for commercial release in January 2013. It was directed by Benson Lee who also directed Planet B-Boy.
B-Boy Summit is an international four-day conference founded in 1994 by b-girl Nancy "Asia One" Yu in San Diego, California. The B-Boy Summit places a lot of emphasis on the history of hip-hop culture and breakers understanding the roots of where it came from. For this reason, the conference includes a breaking competition, a talent showcase for rappers and DJs, and live paintings by graffiti artists so that "each element of Hip-Hop combine[s] together to make the cipher complete." There's also competitions for lockers and poppers as part of the "Soul Fest" portion of the conference.
The Notorious IBE is a Dutch-based breaking competition founded in 1998. IBE (International Breakdance Event) is not a traditional competition because there are not any stages or judges. Instead, there are timed competitive events that take place in large multitiered ciphers--circular dance spaces surrounded by observers--where the winners are determined by audience approval. There are several kinds of events such as the b-girl crew battle, the Seven 2 Smoke battle (eight top ranked b-boys battle each other to determine the overall winner), the All vs. All continental battle (all the American b-boys vs. all the European b-boys vs. the Asian b-boys vs. Mexican/Brazilian b-boys), and the Circle Prinz IBE. The Circle Prinz IBE is a b-boy knockout tournament that takes place in multiple smaller cipher battles until the last standing b-boy is declared the winner. IBE also hosts the European finals for the UK B-Boy Championships.
Red Bull BC One was created in 2004 by Red Bull and is hosted in a different country every year. The competition brings together the top 16 b-boys from around the world. Six spots are earned through six regional qualifying tournaments. The other 10 spots are reserved for last year's winner, wild card selections, and recommendations from an international panel of experts. A past participant of the competition is world record holder Mauro "Cico" (pronounced CHEE-co) Peruzzi. B-boy Cico holds the world record in 1990s. A 1990 is a move in which a breaker spins continuously on one hand--a hand spin rather than a head spin. Cico broke the record by spinning 27 times. A documentary based on the competition called Turn It Loose (2009) profiled six b-boys training for the 2007 championship in Johannesburg. Two of these b-boys were Ali "Lilou" Ramdani from PockÃ©mon Crew and Omar "Roxrite" Delgado from Squadron.
Floor Wars is a three-on-three breaking competition founded in 2005 in Denmark. Eight top ranked international crews, referred to as the Great 8, are automatically invited to participate in the final. The other eight crews qualify for the final through regional tournaments.
R16 Korea is a South Korean breaking competition founded in 2007 by Asian Americans Charlie Shin and John Jay Chon. Like BOTY and Red Bull BC One put together, Respect16 is a competition for the top 16 ranked b-boy crews in the world. What sets it apart from other competitions is that it is sponsored by the government and broadcast live on Korean television and in several countries in Europe. In 2011, R16 instituted a new judging system that was created to eliminate bias and set a unified and fair standard for the way b-boy battles should be judged. With the new system, b-boys are judged against five criteria: foundation, dynamics (power moves), battle, originality, and execution. There is one judge for each category and the scores are shown on a large screen during battles so that the audience can see who is winning at any given moment.
World B-Boy Classic is a two-on-two Dutch breaking competition founded in 2009 in Rotterdam. An hour before the competition begins all the participating b-boys are randomly assigned a partner. They may or may not know each other. The purpose of the competition is to judge which duo has the best chemistry when working with someone they have not trained with. World B-Boy Classic takes place during Rotterdam's annual Street Science Festival.
Like the other aspects of hip-hop culture, graffiti writing, MCing, and DJing, males are generally the predominant gender within breaking. However, this is being challenged by the rapidly increasing number of b-girls. Critics argue that it is unfair to make a sweeping generalization about these inequalities because women have begun to play a larger role in the breaking scene.
Despite the increasing number of female breakers, another possible barrier is lack of promotion. As Firefly, a full-time b-girl, says "It's getting more popular. There are a lot more girls involved. The problem is that promoters are not putting on enough female-only battles." More people are seeking to change the traditional image of females in hip-hop culture (and by extension, b-boy culture) to a more positive, empowered role in the modern hip-hop scene. The lower exposure of female dancers is probably caused not by any conscious discrimination, but simply by the fewer number of female breakers compared to the number of male breakers. However, both males and females do practice this art form equally together and are competitively judged only by skill and personal expression, not gender.
In the past 40 years since b-boying's creation, various films have depicted the dance. In the early 1980s several films depicted b-boying including Wild Style, Flashdance, Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Delivery Boys, Krush Groove, and Beat Street. The 1983 PBS documentary Style Wars chronicled New York graffiti artists, but also includes some b-boying. In 1985, at the height of b-boying's popularity, Donnie Yen starred in a Hong Kong hip-hop film called Mismatched Couples.
The 2000s saw a resurgence of films featuring b-boying. The 2002 documentary film The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy provides a comprehensive history of b-boying including its evolution and its place within hip-hop culture. The 2007 documentary Planet B-Boy follows five crews from around the world in their journey to the international breaking competition Battle of the Year. The award-winning (SXSW Film Festival audience award) 2007 documentary "Inside the Circle" goes into the personal stories of three b-boys (Omar Davila, Josh "Milky" Ayers and Romeo Navarro) and their struggle to keep dance at the center of their lives. The 2010 German documentary NeukÃ¶lln Unlimited depicts the life of two b-boy brothers in Berlin that try to use their dancing talents to secure a livelihood. B-boying moves are sometimes incorporated into the choreography of films featuring martial arts. This is due to the visually pleasing aspect of the dance, no matter how ridiculous or useless it would be in an actual fight.
The 2001 comedy film Zoolander depicts Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) performing b-boy moves on a catwalk.
In the 2003 film Shanghai Knights, Donnie Yen implements a windmill in a fight against Jackie Chan.
The 2004 anime TV series Samurai Champloo features one of the main characters, Mugen using a fighting style based on b-boying.
The 2009 Thai martial arts film Raging Phoenix incorporates b-boying in its fight scenes, along with capoeira.
The 2010 martial arts film True Legend features a scene where Drunken God, played by Jay Chou performs windmills, flares, and airflares in a restaurant.
The 2005-2012 Step Up films are dance movies that focus on the passion and love of dance. B-boying is featured mainly along with isolation, flips, formal dancing and other dances.
In the United States, the dance shows So You Think You Can Dance and America's Best Dance Crew arguably presented b-boying back to the forefront of America's pop culture, similar to the popularity it had in the 80s. B-boying is widely referenced in TV advertising, as well as news, travelogue, and documentary segments, as an indicator of youth/street culture. From a production point of view the style is visually arresting, instantly recognizable and adducible to fast-editing, while the ethos is multi-ethnic, energetic and edgy, but free from the gangster-laden overtones of much rap-culture imagery. Its usability as a visual clichÃ© benefits sponsorship, despite the relatively small following of the genre itself beyond the circle of its practitioners. In 2005, a Volkswagen Golf GTi commercial featured a partly CGI version of Gene Kelly popping and b-boying to a remix of "Singin' in the Rain", by Mint Royale. The tagline was, "The original, updated."
Since b-boying's popularity surge in South Korea, it has been featured in various TV dramas and commercials. Break is a 2006 mini series from Korea about a b-boying competition. Over the Rainbow (Drama series 2006) centers on different characters who are brought together by b-boying.
In 1997, Kim Soo Yong began serialization of the first b-boying themed comic, Hip Hop. The comic sold over 1.5 million books and it helped to introduce breaking and hip-hop culture to Korean youth.
The first b-boying themed novel, Kid B, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. The author, Linden Dalecki, was an amateur b-boy in high school and directed a short documentary film about Texas b-boy culture before writing the novel. The novel was inspired by Dalecki's b-boy-themed short story The B-Boys of Beaumont, which won the 2004 Austin Chronicle short story contest.
Breakin' the city, a photo book by Nicolaus Schmidt, portrays b-boys from the Bronx and Brooklyn wheeling around on subway cars, in city plazas, and on sidewalks in New York City. Published in 2011, it features six New York based b-boy crews photographed between 2007 and 2009.
Breakdancing: Mr. Fresh and the Supreme Rockers Show You How (Avon Books, 1984) was an introductory reference for newcomers to the "breakin'" style of dance as it evolved in North America in the 1970s and 1980s.
There have been few video games created that focus on b-boying. The main deterrence for attempting to create games like these is the difficulty of translating the dance into something entertaining and fun on a video game console. Most of these attempts have had low to average success.
Break Dance was an 8-bit computer game by Epyx released in 1984, at the height of breaking's popularity.
B-boy is a 2006 console game released for PS2 and PSP which aims at an unadulterated depiction of breaking.
Bust A Groove is a video game franchise whose character "Heat" specializes in breaking.
Pump It Up is a Korean game that requires physical movement of the feet. The game involves b-boying and people can accomplish this feat by memorizing the steps and creating dance moves to hit the arrows on time.
Breakdance Champion Red Bull BC One is an iOS and Android rhythm game that focuses on the actual b-boying competition Red Bull BC One.