The cypher at La Place in Paris
© Little Shao/Red Bull Content Pool

Discover the meaning and importance of the cypher in breaking

Cyphers have been around ever since breaking began and they've always been where breakers have been free to dance as they please. Find out what the cypher is, and why it's so important.
Written by Emmanuel Adelekun
5 min readPublished on

The basics of the cypher

Long before organised breaking competitions came about. Long before B-boys and B-girls competed against each other, to a number of preset rounds, in arenas and on stages. Long before breakers were judged in competitions by a panel of their dance peers, there was the cypher – in which breakers danced freely, tested themselves, and battled to the rhythm of the music.
For those that don’t know a cypher in breaking is when B-boys and B-girls form a circle and, one after another, enter into the middle and dance. To dance in a cypher is to cypher, or to be cyphering. And unlike organised battles, there are a lot fewer restrictions in a cypher.
A cypher doesn’t need a stage or designated area in which to take place, they can, and do, form anywhere; at parties, in clubs, outside on the concrete, in train stations, on a beach, in someone’s living room. Spontaneous in its forming, all that breakers need is space and they will cypher.
A b-boy in the cypher at the BC One pre qualifier in Bahrain 2015
A cypher at Malja Bahrain

The size of the cypher

There’s no limit to the amount of people who can form a cypher. It can be as small as three individuals or as large as 20 to 30 people.
Unless they're being used as a qualification for a battle, the only time limit on a cypher is the amount of time that breakers have to use the space in which they are dancing. It could be cyphers going down during the 20-minute break at a competition when the main floor isn't being used, or circles popping off for hours in a club until it closes.
Cyphers are also not limited to one circle. Breakers can make as many cyphers as they want, with the number of cyphers usually being dictated by the amount of space available in which to form more circles.
And even though music is what draws breakers to dance, a DJ isn't always needed for a cypher to happen. Sometimes a chorus of hand claps as a beat, a live band pumping out music, or even just the sound of sneakers meeting the floor in the rhythmic pattern of breaking is enough to create and keep a cypher going.

Why are cyphers important to breakers?

Cyphers are important for many reasons:
Unlike a competition, you don’t have to qualify to cypher, you just do it. The circle is a place for everyone, from beginners to seasoned, high-level breakers. You just enter the cypher and dance, as many times as you like, for however long there's time to cypher.
BC One All Star Victor is showing his moves in a cypher during a workshop in Krakow
B-Boy Victor in a cypher during his workshop in Krakow
Age and gender don't matter in a cypher. There are no ‘b-girl, kids, solo, crew, 2on2’ or any other type of category defining restrictions in a cypher, unless the cypher itself is created by those individuals.
For breakers to test themselves the cypher is perfect. Trying new moves, pushing your stamina, using everything you’ve practised without fear of losing. In a competition if you test something new and crash you might lose, but in a cypher crashing doesn’t matter as much and there are no official losers, unless you’re in a cypher battle. And there are no judges; breakers are free to try any and everything they've been practising.

You can battle in the cypher

If you have an issue with another breaker, the cypher is where you can settle it, as call-out battles are part of cyphering. But it doesn’t always have to be an issue, you can call out someone just to exchange styles of breaking, you can call out someone you admire, you can call out and battle that high-level B-boy or B-girl that you may never get a chance to face in an actual competition. In a cypher you can call out anyone, any time, any place. It’s also not restricted to 1on1 call-out battles. Two against two, three breakers against another three breakers, whole crews battling, one breaker against seven breakers, it doesn’t matter. In a cypher there's no limit to the number of people who can battle each other.
In a cypher you’re also free to just top rock if you want, or to just do freezes or power or just go off completely to the beat. However you choose to express yourself inside the circle is your choice.
Historically the cypher was also the place where reputations were first built. Now breakers have big competitions all over the world but before it was in the cypher where you made your name and showed everyone how fresh and ill your style and moves were. And even though winning big competitions builds you a reputation today, there are still those breakers who are known for their reputation as nasty cypher B-boys and B-girls. And even after many breakers stop battling in competitions, they all still get down in the cypher.
A cypher can also be the place where a new member is initiated into a crew, having to go multiple rounds in the circle with every member of the crew they are about to join, to show that they are worthy.
In the end, the cypher is an important part of a B-boy or B-girl’s journey, and it's where true freedom for breakers lies. B-boys and B-girls may enter competitions for money, invites and fame but they form cyphers to simply dance, battle, exchange, find themselves, test themselves and express who they are in that circle. It’s the place where all breakers truly come together to share their love of the dance. It’s where breaking first came to life, and competition or no competition, music or no music, stage or no stage, breakers will forever get down in cyphers, as it’s the one place in which they are truly free to dance when and how they please.
Whereever you find B-boys and B-girls you’ll find a cypher.