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Breakdance

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Breakdance

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A breakdancer performing a one-handed freeze (also known as a pike) in the streets of Paris. A breakdancer performing a one-handed freeze (also known as a pike) in the streets of Paris.

Breakdance, also known as breaking or b-boying, is a street dance style that evolved as part of the hip hop movement in the South Bronx of New York City during the early 1970s. It is the best known of all hip hop dance styles.

Breakdancing is one of the four original elements of hip hop, the others being rapping, DJing, and graffiti.

Contents

Etymology

This USPS stamp depicts an '80s breakdancer and a boombox. This USPS stamp depicts an '80s breakdancer and a boombox.

Breakdancing was never a term used by its original practitioners, who preferred to refer to themselves as "B-boys" and "B-girls". The term was popularized in the '80s when it became more of a media phenomenon. David Toop describes breakdancing as being an adaptation of the Break, a dance popular before being replaced by the Freak (popularized by CHIC's "Le Freak" in 1978), but then revived by artists such as the Nigga Twins, Spy, and the Zulu Kings. He also explains that it may have originated from a literal break in the song: "the word break or breaking is a music and dance term (as well as a proverb) that goes back a long way. Some tunes, like "Buck Dancer's Lament" from the early 20th century, featured a two-bar silence every eight bars for the break - a quick showcase of improvised dance steps." However, in the documentary "The Freshest Kids," hip hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc insists that the name breaking originated in the slang term "break," meaning someone going "off" or crazy, as the dancers seemed to do when driven by the right beat.

Origin: From Street to Dance

There is a widespread belief that breakdancing (b-boying), in its organized form seen today, began as a way for rival gangs of the ghetto to mediate their differences. This dynamic, however, is but a result of speculation by the media at time of the dance's emergence into popularity in the early 1980s. The general consensus amongst members of the scene is that while the dance may have had the effect of mediation, successful mediation was not the intent nor always the outcome of "battles" (Often, violence was incited a result of such battles).

Exhibiting routines of stylish but sometimes violent implications, winners were determined by the dancer who could outperform the other, that is, display a set of more innovative manuevers unmatched in difficulty and style.

Through the highly energetic performances of funk legend James Brown and the rapid-growth of dance teams like the Rock Steady Crew of New York City. The competitive ritual of gang warfare evolved into a pop-culture phenomenon. Under the label of "breakdancing," b-boying received massive media exposure. Soon nearly all the parties, disco clubs, and talent shows showcased signs of competitive dance, especially for gang members, where passion for dance served as a positive diversion from the threats of city life.

Though its intense popularity eventually faded in the 1980s, breakdancing is still a mainstream phenomenon, maintaining exposure through comical portrayals in commercials and movies. For the enthusiasts, however, b-boying remains a pastime, and for a rare few, a way of life through commercial endorsements.

Style

Before evolving into its present form, breakdancing was a homogenization of four distinct styles of dance: breaking, dancing, locking (dance) , and popping. Breakdance is commonly associated with, but distinct from, popping, and locking (dance), which are two elements of the funk styles that evolved independently in California during the late 1960s, however elements of popping or poppin itself may have existed as a style or subculture of dance as early as the 1920's when it, or the general sub culture of dance associated with Afro-Americans was known as Boogaloo. Evidence of this is found in the form of statements made by certain "founding" poppers or originators of the modern styles, regarding witnessing or having knowledge of senior citizens and elders whom could either pop or boogie, or taught them about some aspect of the art. Other styles of dance associated with the funk styles include locking, tutting, boogaloo and liquid dancing. These styles are sometimes more "contortionistic" than "athletic," although they are often incorporated by breakdancers who wish to widen their expressive range.

Breakdance moves

All of the above styles factor heavily into the breaker's movements while standing, called toprock. Toprock is the name given to any part of a breakdancing routine that is performed principally from a standing position. Toprock moves depend upon coordination, flexibility, and style. They are less physically demanding than most downrock moves, but perfecting them is a never-ending process. Toprock often begins the routine, and while it serves as a good warm-up for the more athletic moves that may follow, it is first and foremost a display of style. It is unorthodox-looking in general, and breakdancers take pride in inventing ever-more unique toprock. (Note: Uprock is sometimes incorrectly used as a synonym of toprock)

As opposed to toprock, downrock encompasses all moves performed with hands, arms, or a part of the torso in contact with the floor. Footwork is nearly synonymous with downrock, but is a more restrictive term usually applied to any downrock moves which are not power moves. Downrock is generally much more athletic, acrobatic, and akin to gymnastics. Toprock and downrock are often discussed independently, but good breakers can combine them seamlessly, especially once they master some basic transitions.

Breakers usually begin by toprocking, and then drop down to the floor, typically into some variation of the foundational 6-step. The 6-step can be combined with, or transitioned into, most other breakdancing moves, including some of the most recognizable power moves such as the swipe, windmill, and flare. After performing the techniques, the breakdancer will often end the dance on his feet, contorted into a freeze, or apparently injuring himself with a suicide.

Style vs technique

One of the greatest divides in breakdancing is the give-and-take between style and technique (or power). Devotees of each aspect are commonly known as styleheads and powerheads. Styleheads focus on the dancing side of breakdance. They may look down on powerheads as hack gymnasts who have eschewed the fundamental dance aspect for flashy acrobatics. Powerheads would respond that styleheads are little different from dancers from other styles because they neglect the difficult athletic moves that make breakdancing so unique.

Battles

A breakdancer demonstrates both amazing strength and flexibility with a dynamic freeze. A breakdancer demonstrates both amazing strength and flexibility with a dynamic freeze.

Battles are breakdancing events in which breakers form a circle and take turns trying to show each other up through either better style, more difficult moves, and/or combinations of both. Battles can pit individuals against one another, but often take place between two opposing breakdance crews.

Today serious battles are usually held at organized b-boy events. The battles are usually part of a tournament-style competition with cash prizes, or they are featured [[each crew is paid to dance. It's not uncommon that spontaneous battles will happen at events as well, when rival crews show up with most of their members. These events are called "jams," and generally consist of several hours of "cyphering" (open circles), followed by the main battle event.

The largest competition each year is probably Battle of the Year (BOTY), held in Germany since 1990, and featuring crews from around the world. Despite its name, BOTY focuses on choreographed routines. After judges rate the routines, the final winner, and de facto world champion crew, is decided in a final battle (along with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places). Recent winners have been from France, Korea, Germany, and Hungary. While crews from the USA have won in the past, the claim is that they are not often winners of BOTY because competitions in the USA are almost exclusively battles and hip hop dances, whereas in the rest of the world, dance routine competitions are more common. Additionally, until recently (August 21 2005), the USA has not held a BOTY USA national event and thus has not had a crew to send to the finals in Germany. BOTY USA 2005 was the first; at this event, Knucklehead Zoo defeated Renegades in the finals and won Best Show to secure their victory and entry in the BOTY finals. Nonetheless, this is a good indicator of how widespread the practice and high ability level of this American folk art form has become.

Another competition gaining much popularity is BC One, sponsored by Red Bull. This tournament invites sixteen of the best b-boys from around the world to compete one-on-one in single-elimination, thereby making the competition intense. This is somewhat unique, as most battle events pit entire crews or crew fragments of 3 or more people. Most other instances of one-on-one matchups are one-time main event attractions for entire jams, not comprising the entire event.

Breakdancing as a Folk Dance

There is some academic interest in whether breakdance can be considered a folk dance. In particular, street dances are living and evolving dance forms, while folk dances are to a significant degree bound by tradition. Breakdance was in the beginning a social dance but in the later years, mostly because of media and television, its goal has become more of a performance dance.

Music

Contrary to popular belief, b-boys do not only break to hip hop. It is very common to see b-boys breaking to jazz, funk, freestyle, and soul tracks. Whatever genre it is, most of the songs popular for breaking are from the 1970s and 1980s. Modern mainstream hip hop, through its changes, is generally not as good for breaking as tunes from when breaking had its peak popularity. Generally, a common feature of bboy music is the presence of a break which is looped several times by the dj. In order to do so, the DJ usually acquires two copies of the record containing the break. The history credits Kool Dj Herc for the invention of this concept and technique. The resulting piece of music created by continuous looping of a musical phrase is termed a breakbeat. The most traditional understanding of what b-boy music should be like states that "b-boy break to the beat". This definition is however flexible and many b-boy classics do not follow this format. The typical b-boy tune has a beat ranging between 120 and 135 beats-per-minute with shuffled 16th and quarter beats in the percussive pattern.

Music is a very important thing to a b-boy. One could argue that the knowledge of music is almost as important as the ability to dance to it. Skilled b-boys are expected to have almost a trainspotter-esque detailed knowledge of breaking songs. They show this through hitting certain interesting focal points in each song, perhaps with a freeze, and also somewhat "narrating" with their motions, which is often humorous as well as impressive.

The concept of breakbeats was later developed in non b-boy related types of music. Also, the term breakbeat is nowadays mostly used to refer to certain genres in electronica.

Culture

Since its first inception breakdancing has provided a youth culture, originating from violent urban street gangs. Today however, breakdancing culture is remarkably constructive with a character somewhere in between those of dancers and athletes. Since acceptance and involvement centers on dance skills, breakdancing culture is unusually free of the common race, gender and age boundaries of a subculture. Social interaction centers on practice and performance, which are occasionally intertwined because of its improvisational style. While featured at dance schools, breaking is typically taught to newbies by more experienced b-boys and passed on to new generations in an informal word-of-mouth way.

In contrast to this social breakdancing culture there are Internet b-boys, also known as e-boys, or as they call them in Japan: Otaku b-boys. These have learned much of what they know of the dance purely from the internet and from watching videoclips, not by instruction or by the passing of knowledge from one generation to another. The reason for this might be that they do not have access to competent instructors or social circles that can provide them with teaching and inspiration. Such b-boys are by some groups looked-down upon as not having their heart in hip hop culture.

Because of its functional demands on music and clothing, breakdance culture has become largely separated from popular hip hop since the 1980s. B-Boying has made itself aware to the mainstream crowd, making popular appearances in movies like Zoolander.

Fashion

For the breakdancer, fashion is an important aspect of their identity. Many breakdancers in the 1980s dressed wearing flat-soled Adidas, Puma, or Fila shoes with thick, sometimes patterned laces. Some breakdancers matched their hats, shirts, and shoes to show uniformity within a breakdancing crew, and was perceived a threat to the competitor in the form of "strength in numbers." B-boys also wore nylon tracksuits which were functional as well as fashionable. The slick, low-friction surface allowed the breakdancer to slide on the floor much more readily than if he or she had been wearing a cotton shirt. Hooded nylon jackets allowed dancers to perform head spins and windmills with relative ease. Additionally, the popular image of the original breakdancer always involved a public performance on the street, accompanied by the essential boombox.

B-boys today dress differently from b-boys in the 80s, but one constant remains, and that is dressing "fresh". Due to the spread of b-boying as an artform from the inner cities out into the suburbs and to different social groups, different senses of "fresh" have arisen. Generally the rule that one's gear needs to match has remained from the 80s, along with a certain playfulness. Kangols are still worn by some, track pants and nylons still have their place combined with fresh sneakers and hats. Trucker hats were reintroduced on the scene in the late 1990s, well before the mainstream pop culture began wearing them again in numbers.

Function is heavily intertwined with b-boy fashion. Due to the demands on the feet in b-boying, b-boys look for shoes with low weight, good grip, and durability when given pressure to the sole as well as elsewhere. Headwear can facilitate movement with the head on the ground, especially headspins. Bandanas underneath headwear can protect from the discomfort of fabric pulling on hair. And wristbands placed along the arm can lower friction at a particular place as well as provide protection. Today's breakdancing styles which emphasize fast-paced, fluid floor moves and freezes, different from that of two decades ago, requires more freedom of movement in the upper body, so less baggy upperwear is more common today (though pants remain baggy).

There are dancers and crews that now have begun to dress in a style similar to "goth" or punk rockers in order to stand out from the more traditional toned-down b-boy look.

Certain clothing brands have been associated with breaking. Tribal is an example. Puma is also well known in the breaking community. Both brands sponsor many b-boy events.

But aside from these generalities, many b-boys choose not to try too hard to dress for breaking, because in a certain sense one would want to be able to break anytime, anywhere, whatever the circumstances. This is related to why many would rather learn headspins without a helmet, despite it being able to facilitate.

Media

In the 1980s, with the help of pop culture and MTV, breakdancing made its way from the suburbs to the rest of the world as a new cultural phenomenon. Musicians such as Michael Jackson popularized much of the breakdancing style in their music videos. Movies such as Flashdance, Wild Style, Beat Street, Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo also contributed to breakdancing's growing appeal. Today, many b-boys and former breakers are disappointed by the media hype that watered the dance down into money and overfocus on power moves.

Myths

For the most part, the danger inherent in b-boying is overemphasized. One can understand wanting the deterrent of fear in the past, as b-boying was associated with gang activity. Nowadays, however, the fear of life-threatening injury is largely unfounded. Like any other "street" activity, there is a certain associated stigma which must be considered if an accurate assessment is desired. As with any other physical activity, there is of course a measured risk of physical injury.

On the history of breakdancing, it has often been presented as a dance that replaced fighting between street gangs. Many regard this as true and believe that breakdance battles were used to act out conflicts and that some gang members went from fighting to dancing. Others believe it a misconception that b-boying was originally based on mediating gang rivalry at all.

Shows

  • The Late Show London - [1] the UK's most innovative breakdance show hosted by Jonny B

Video clips

References

History links

  • Del Barco, Mandalit. Breakdancing. A well-written article in a series of issues tracing B-Boying's roots.
  • Mr. Fresh & the Supreme Rockers. Breakin'.
  • The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy. Film.

Clubs and Societies

Related links

  • David Toop (1991). Rap Attack 2: African Rap To Global Hip Hop, p.113-115. New York. New York: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1852422432.

External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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