Lil G is watching his opponent with red fog in the background.
© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool
Breaking

Get to know 10 unwritten rules of breaking and the cypher

Learn more about the complex etiquette of breaking and cyphers and discover a rundown of the most important rules that dancers follow.
Written by Emmanuel Adelekun
5 min readUpdated on
Breaking as an art form and a competitive discipline has a number of unwritten rules. Known by B-Boys, B-Girls and those who are a part of the scene, these rules range from ones that cover etiquette and conduct to things you can or can't do in battle or a cypher.
If you’re new to the scene or want to learn more about culture, then check out this list of 10 unwritten rules in breaking.
01

1. No violent touching

No matter what the battle is, you should never touch your opponent in a violent or aggressive way. Breakers do try and burn (make fun of or show up) their opponent by doing moves that sometimes might involve touching, but it's only acceptable if it is done in a safe, non-violent way. Any contact that is aggressive in nature is a big no.
No violent touching is agreed upon around the globe. However, depending on where you go, it's also possible that this one goes all the way to no touching at all.
B-Boy Nebz performs at Red Bull BC One NYC Celebration in New York, USA on March 3, 2022.

There's no need to touch the opponent if you let your moves speak

© Kien Quan / Red Bull Content Pool

02

2. Call-out battles can happen at any time and in any place

A call-out battle is when one or more breakers challenge others. It’s up to the dancers being called out to accept the challenge, but if they do there's no time limit or judges.
Call-out battles can happen at a competition, in a cypher, on the street, in a hotel lobby, or anywhere breakers decide to make the challenge. There doesn’t even have to be music.
If a call-out battle happens in a cypher (a circle breakers form and dance in), the other breakers in the circle should respect the call-out and not enter the cypher until the battle is over. On the other side, the breakers battling should know when the call-out is over and then allow the cypher to restart.
Breakers can also call out the judges if they feel that a particular judge made a bad or biased decision.
03

3. No biting

It's not quite what you think. The term biting actually refers to when a breaker copies another dancer's original moves or unique dancing style.
Always striving to be original and unique is something that is highly valued in breaking, so you should never copy another B-Boy or B-Girl. However, styles and moves can be passed down from teachers to their students, or among fellow crew members.
B-Boy Menno seen in Almaty, Kazakhstan on June 19, 2021.

Menno has a unique style which many consider unbiteable

© Victor Magdeyev / Red Bull Content Pool

04

4. You shouldn’t ask to join a crew

Crews are made when a group of breakers come together under a name to train, support, hang out and compete. New crew members are usually invited to join after forming a solid bond with the breakers in that crew. This can be formed through training with the crew, travelling and maybe battling with them, or being a student of one of the current members.
Breaking etiquette says that a B-Boy or B-Girl should not directly ask if they can be in someone’s crew. It's the crew who extends an invite to a new member to see if they want to join them.
05

5. Don’t repeat your moves in battles or cyphers

In competitions, you should have enough moves to win a battle without repeating moves you have already performed. It’s fine to have variations of moves and to use them throughout a competition. You can also use certain moves as transitions, such as using air flares to combine moves. But if a breaker does too many variations on the same move, or overuses a move as a transition, it might be considered repeating.
The not-repeating rule is also the same when breakers are battling in a cypher.

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06

6. Crew members shouldn’t battle in the first round

This is an unwritten rule for competitions. If two or more members of the same crew qualify for a competition, the organiser shouldn't pair them against each other in the first round of the battle. This is because it’s seen as unfair to make crew members battle each other straight away, especially if they have travelled a long way to compete.
If a lot of breakers from the same crew enter a battle, it can be unavoidable that at least two of them may battle each other in the first round. For example, if the battle is a Top 8 and there are five members of the same crew. Luckily that is the exception and not the rule.
07

7. Know your history

Breaking isn’t just a competitive dance, it's also one of the four elements of hip-hop culture. Knowing the history of breaking and hip-hop is an important aspect of being a B-Boy or B-Girl. This is out of respect for the essence of the dance and where it came from, to make sure that this information is never forgotten.
08

8. The dance floor is where any disputes should be settled

Breaking was created in a time filled with gang violence and heavy crime, within the Bronx borough of New York City, USA. Breaking became a way to settle disagreements on the dance floor, without violence, and this is one of the biggest unwritten rules.

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Breaking the Beat: in the Bronx

E-Man meets legendary B-Boy Alien Ness to talk about the history and stories of breaking.

Portuguese +1

09

9. Don’t kick others while throwing down in the cypher

When a breaker dances in the cypher they should have control and spatial awareness. They should not be wildly kicking or falling into the other breakers waiting to go into the circle, or the spectators watching. Breakers need to learn to manage the cypher space even when the circle is only big enough to top rock in and maybe do a little footwork.
10

10. Don’t bomb the cypher

Bombing the cypher is when a breaker keeps going into the circle without letting others get a chance to dance. It's good cypher etiquette to allow others to go in and dance, to help raise the energy together.
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