Red Bull BC One New York Cypher at the Rock Steady Crew 40th Anniversary
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Breaking

History of breakdancing: A breakdown of important events

Do you know how breakdancing was born? Take a look at this guide to learn the history of this art form.
By Red Bull Editorial Team
5 min readPublished on
Interested in learning how to breakdance? This popular, energetic form of dancing includes everything from spinning on your hands or head to using stylized footwork. Not only does breakdancing involve moves that are more complex and acrobatic than many other forms of dance, but it also has its own unique culture, lingo, and history.

What is breakdancing and when did it start?

Breakdancing is a style of street dancing that incorporates coordination, acrobatic and intricate body movements, style, and aesthetics. It evolved from the hip hop movement during the early 1970s and is the most widely known of all hip hop dance styles.

What came out of it?

Old-style breakdancing was popular until the late 1970s when the Freak took over. This style was based on the debut album "Freak Out!" by the band the Mothers of Invention. In 1979 and 1980, a new breaker crew was formed called the Rock Steady Crew. This crew introduced acrobatic moves that had never been practiced before, such as headspins, hand glides, and backspin. Basically all the moves we know and love today.
Breakdancing really started to take off in 1980, when it was adopted by popular artists like Michael Jackson, who made the moonwalk a worldwide sensation. As a result of its growing popularity, record producers signed artists who could breakdance and who also presented a wholesome image that could appeal to broader audiences. This style influenced many modern forms of dance, and you'll see it today in music videos as well as at live concerts. You'll even see it performed by famous artists like Britney Spears.

Where did breakdancing start?

Many people believe that breakdancing originated among Latin American and African American youths in the Bronx of New York.
Jazzy Jes poses for a portrait at The Red Bull BC One New York Cypher at the Rock Steady Crew 40th Anniversary in New York, NY, USA on 29 July, 2017.
Jazzy Jes

What inspired breakdancing?

Breakdancing is thought to be inspired by the performances of James Brown. Street corner DJs would take the breaks of dance records and string them together to give dancers a chance to show off their moves. Breakers would choose elements from sports and other dances, including gymnastics, the Lindy Hop, capoeira, and disco.
There's more to the history of breakdancing than just dancing, though, a background story that's far more interesting. Some say the breaking we know today started as a way for rival street gangs to settle disputes. Dancers from each gang would show off their moves, and the one with the most innovative and complex moves was determined to be the winner.

Where was breakdancing most popular?

Breaking was most popular in New York, and the technique was pioneered by Kool Herc, a Jamaican DJ who mixed percussion breaks from identical records. Kool Herc played the breaks repeatedly, moving back and forth between the identical records in what he called "cutting breaks." When he was performing for live audiences in dance clubs in New York, he would yell, "B-boys go down." That was the signal for the b-boys and b-girls to show the crowd what they could do.

Music used in breakdancing

Music is a crucial ingredient for this type of dance. To create music for the b-boys and b-girls, Djs borrowed from other genres, including funk, jazz, soul, disco, electro, and R&B. The most common characteristic is that there are breaks. This music is also made from samples taken from different songs and then looped or strung together by the DJ.
While hip hop music is frequently played for breaking, music can be adapted from a variety of different genres, especially if you use remixes. No matter what music you use, the most important component is that the beat pattern and tempo are right.

Who are some notable people in the breakdancing world?

Crazy Legs battles during Red Bull BC One Camp USA in Warehouse Live in Houston, TX, USA on May 19, 2019
Crazy Legs
Some of the most notable breakdancers in history include:
  • Zulu Kings
  • Tony Touch
  • The Rock Steady Crew
  • Mr. Wiggles

Other names these dancers go by

While breakdancing is the most common term for this style of street dance, it's certainly not the only one. Some other names for it are:
  • Breaking
  • B-girling
  • B-boying
A breakdancer is also known as a:
  • B-boy
  • B-girl
  • Breaker

Popular moves:

Breaking for the most part is improvisational, without standard steps or moves. Breakers usually focus on creativity, movement, energy, and even elements of danger. That said, there are some common moves that are popular among b-boys and b-girls.
Toprock
Toprock generally refers to any string of steps that you perform from a standing position. It's usually the first display of a dancer's style and a warm-up for more acrobatic moves.
Air Flares
This dance move is acrobatic and refers to when the dancer rotates their torso around the vertical axis of their body.
Headspins
You've probably seen headspins before. This is an athletic dance move that involves a person balancing on their head while spinning along the vertical axis of their body, often without any support.
Applejack
Also referred to as a V-kick, with this move, you jump back onto both hands and kick your legs in front of you in a V-shape.
Windmills
In this popular breakdance move, the breaker rolls their torso in a circular path along the floor while twirling their legs in a V-shape in the air.
All participants in action during the world record attempt windmills in Kinderdijk, Holland on September 29, 2017
Windmill
Swipe
The swipe is, without a doubt, one of the most recognizable moves in breakdancing. To execute this move, the breakdancer leans back, rapidly moves their arms and legs to the side to touch the ground, and twists to land on the ground again.
Suicides
To execute a suicide, a dancer suddenly drops to their back in a movement that, to onlookers, appears almost painful. The movement ends with the breaker extremely still, which increases the appearance that they injured themselves.
Footwork
Footwork is when a breakdancer uses their hands to support their body and moves their legs through different footwork steps.
While breakdancing has clearly evolved over the years, it's still an incredible form of dance that requires both dance skills and athletic ability. Since its inception, it's offered the youth culture an alternative to violent street fights. Because the culture is focused on acceptance, it is typically free of common gender, race, and age boundaries, making it particularly popular worldwide.