Dance

Popping and locking: An in-depth guide

© Sinisa Kanizaj / Red Bull Content Pool
How did popping and locking come to be? Find out more about the dance style and the moves to create more emotive dances.
Written by Red Bull Editorial TeamPublished on
Popping and locking have inspired hip hop, dubstep, and other modern dance moves for a long time. These two dance styles differ in their movements, though. While both dance styles tend to intertwine, popping and locking is a combined style of dance that has a very distinct rhythm. This unique move is the combination of two movements: the pop and the lock.

What Is Popping and Locking?

Popping has its roots in Fresno, California, and is the creation of Sam “Boogaloo Sam” of the group Electric Boogaloos. Locking is the creation of Don Campbell, a member of the Lockers, a Los Angeles group. These two moves combine to form a basis for hip hop, dubstep, and contemporary dancers to play into their choreography. Here's a guide to help you understand the moves and how you can up your popping and locking game so you can get better and create more emotive dances.

Practice Popping With Some Basic Moves

Dive into perfecting your popping by learning some of the basics. First of all, popping involves contracting and relaxing your muscles, creating a hit effect when you put it to the beat of the music you're dancing to. You can use popping in quick successions or in slow and controlled movements to add emphasis to certain beats in the music.
Popping Simcho performs at the Red Bull Dance Your Style Pre-World Final at Élysée Montmartre, Paris, France on October 9, 2019
Popping Simcho performs at the Red Bull Dance Your Style Pre-World Final
The Forearm Hit
To get the hang of popping, start with a basic forearm hit or forearm pop. Just contract and relax the muscles of your forearm to the beat of the music, either in fast hits or slow hits to reflect the different points in the rhythm that you want to make stand out in your dance.
The Chest Pop
When you do a chest pop, you're pretty much doing the same thing as you do with a forearm hit, except the movement is in your chest muscles. Contract your chest inward quickly, almost where it feels like you're jerking your body in, but keep it controlled. Relax the tension in your chest muscles as quickly as you contract, and repeat the motion in the pattern you need for your choreography.
Play with this move by contracting and relaxing the muscles in your chest as you shift your body parts in different directions during your dance routine. Combine your forearm hits with your chest pops to create a flow to the music. You can use these two popping moves to form the basis of other moves you put into your dances.

Next Comes Locking

Locking is just stopping right in the middle of a quick movement and holding that position for a moment before flowing back into your dance. It's pretty easy to do. Just go through your routine and put these stops at different points in the music that you want to accent with your body. Freeze your dance in a position that drives your choreography to the rhythm, hold it for a couple of beats, and continue the routine. Here are some signature lock dance moves you can practice to hone your skills as a dubstep or hip hop dancer.
Greenteck poses for a portrait during the Red Bull Dancers Tour Japan in Hirosaki, Japan on June 28, 2019
Greenteck poses for a portrait during the Red Bull Dancers Tour Japan
Ask for Five
This locking dance step looks like the hand signal for a high five. To pull off this lock, listen for the points in the music where you want to put your stop, and start playing it out in your choreography. Dance your routine and lock your hand in a high-five position for several beats.
This looks awesome when you follow through with a forearm hit to emphasize the beat of the music. You can use the ask for five move in a few different ways. In one, you can do it one-handed where you freeze your hand right in front of your body, or you can use both hands as you flow with forearm hits. It's really up to you how much or how little you put the move into your dance steps.
Locking Points
To pull off this lock, incorporate pointing in your choreography. Dance your routine and at certain beats through the music, freeze your hand while pointing at something or someone. This can accent your moves in a really cool-looking way on stage, especially if you're performing with live musicians, so you can lock point at the guitarist, drummer, or other person playing on stage with you.
Popping and locking are unique dance moves that have a long history of influencing popular and mainstream hip hop and other dance styles. Today, street dancers who favor contemporary styles like funk dances and dubstep can use the popping and locking moves to bring out the music, beat, and one-of-a-kind dance style. So give some of these moves a try, and if you're up for learning more, there are always dance lessons from the pros.