Breaking, also known as Rocking at first, was a reflection of African American as well as Latino (Puerto Rican) culture brought by the immigrants and emerged in New York City in the late 60ies and beginning of the 70ies.
Break was also the section on a musical recording where the percussive rhythms were most aggressive and hard driving. The dancers anticipated and reacted to these breaks with their most impressive steps and moves. Kool DJ Herc is credited with extending these breaks by using two turntables and going back-n-forth with two copies of the same song that the dancers were able to enjoy more than just a few seconds of a break.
In the early stages this dance was done upright, a form which became known as “top rocking”. The structure and form of toprocking has influences from Brooklyn uprocking, tap dance, lindy hop aka jitterbug, salsa (like the latin rock), Afro Cuban and various African and Native American (like the indian step) dances. There is also a toprock Charleston step called the “Charlie Rock”. Another major influence and inspiration was James Brown with his hits “Popcorn” (1969) and “Get on the Good Foot” (1972): Inspired by his energetic and almost acrobatic dance on stage, people started to dance the “Good Foot”.
As the tradition of dance battle was already well established at that time and as Rocking/Breaking also got incorporated into the Hip Hop culture (“fight with creativity not with weapons”), it became more and more a dance that involved the dancer using their imagination to execute foot stomps, shuffles, punches and other battle movements. As a result it wasn’t long before top rockers extended their repetoire to the ground with “footwork” (“floor rocking”) and “freezes”.
Floor rocking, influenced by material arts films from the early 70ies, tap dance (russian style footwork, swipes, sweeps, one shot headspins from a cart wheel, ..) and other dance forms, didn’t replace toprocking but it was added to and became another key point in the dance. The transition from the top to the ground was called the “godown” or the “drop” (like front swipes, back swipes, dips and corkscrews). The smoother the drop, the better.
Freezes were usually used to end a series of combinations or to mock and humilitate the opponent. Certain freezes were also named like the two most popular: “chair freeze” and “baby freeze”. The chair freeze became the foundation for various moves because of the potential range of motion a dancer had in this position (hand, forearm and elbow support the body while allowing free range of movement with the legs and hips).
The main goal in a Breaking Battle was to beat the “opponent” by being more creative with Steps and Freezes and by doing better and faster Moves. That’s also why Breaking crews – groups of dancers who practiced and performed together – were formed for developing their own dance routines to stand out against other crews.
The first known Breaking Crew was called The Nigga Twins and with other crews like The Zulu Kings, The Seven Deadly Sinners, Shanghai Brothers, The Bronx Boys, Rockwell Association, Starchild La Rock, Rock Steady Crew and the Crazy Commanders (where the name for the CC step is coming from) they were the pioneers. After some years of developing this new dance style there were dancers around in the middle of the 70’s who had already remarkable skills. The following dancers were the B-Boy Kings in the mid 70’s: Beaver, Robbie Rob (Zulu Kings), Vinnie, Off (Salsoul), Bos (Starchild La Rock), Willie Wil, Lil’ Carlos (Rockwell Association), Spy, Shorty (Crazy Commanders), James Bond, Larry Lar, Charlie Rock (KC Crew), Spidey, Walter (Master Plan) and others…
The biggest crew rivalries during that period (which was the driving force and which was what kept the crews alive) were between SalSoul (this crew changed their name later on to The DiscoKids) and Zulu Kings as well as between Starchild La Rock and Rockwell Association. At that time Breakin was still just about Freezes, Footworks and Toprocks. There were no Spins! By the late 70’s a lot of early B-Boys retired and a new generation of dancers grew up who combined the till then known basics with more and more spins on almost every part of the body. Nowadays well known moves like Headspin, Continues Backspin (aka Windmill) and all kind of glides were created at that time.
Around the 80’s there were crews in NYC like Rock Steady Crew, NYC Breakers, Dynamic Rockers, United States Breakers, Crazy Breakers, Floor Lords, Floor Masters, Incredible Breakers, Magnificient Force and much more. Some of the best dancers at that time were guys like Chino, Brian, German (Incredible Breakers), Dr. Love (Master Mind), Flip (Scrambling Feet), Tiny (Incredible Body Mechanic) and many more. The biggest rivalries during that time were between Rock Steady Crew and NYC Breakers as well as between Rock Steady Crew and Dynamic Rockers. The early 80’s battles between these crews attracted the attention of the media.
In ’81 the ABC News showed a performance of Rock Steady Crew at Lincoln Center. Then in ’82 a battle between Rock Steady Crew and Dynamic Rockers was recorded for the film/documentary “Style Wars” which was later on also aired nationally on PBS and that’s how Breakin found the way to the West Coast of the USA. In the same year the “Roxy” formerly known as a Rollerskate Disco was reopened as a Hip Hop Club.
In ’83 the movie “Flashdance” came into the cinemas and the video clip of Malcolm McLarens “Buffalo Gals” was showed on TV. Rock Steady Crew was featured in both productions and they were seen all over the world because of the success of this movie and this song. That was the release for the media explosion in most of the countries all around the world. For everybody Breakin was something new, something that has never been seen before, something that was really spectacular and fascinating. Still in the same year the movie “Wild Style” came out and to promote it the “Wild Style” – tour took place, which was the first international tour featuring Hip Hop culture. The MCs, DJs, Graffiti artists and Breakers went also to London and Paris and this was the first time that Breaking could be seen “live” in Europe.
In ’84 the movie “Beat Street” came out which featured Rock Steady Crew, NYC Breakers and Magnificent Force and at the closing ceremonies of the LA Olympic Summer Games over 100 B-Boys and B-Girls did a performance! Still in the same year the “Swatch Watch NYC Fresh Tour” took place and the movie “Breakin” was shot and a year later in ’85 also “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo”. Both were filmed at the nightclub called “Radio” (later “Radiotron”) in LA and they showed what was going on at the WestCoast of the USA.
Breakin became more and more a trend and B-Boys appeared in commercials (for milk, Right Guard, Burger King,..) and TV shows (Fame, That’s Incredible!, David Letterman,..). B-Boys were even honoured guests of the prince of Bahrain and of Queen Elizabeth. ’85 was also the release of “Electro Rock” – a video which was filmed at a party in the “Hippodome” in London and which showed the UK Hip Hop Scene (with guests from the USA). In ’86 the UK FRESH took place in the Wembley Arena (London) which was one of the biggest and most historical events at that time.
In ’87 for most people and particularly for the media “Breakdance” was played out. Only very few dancers kept on practicing and dancing seriously, not only in New York but all around the world.
(Resources: Word of mouth, interviews and articles of Fabel & Mr Wiggles)
Breaking was and is influenced by many other dance styles, by gymnastics and even also very strongly by eastern material art moves.
Despite of many rumours and opinions Breaking didn’t originate from Capoeira but during the last few years many moves, steps and freezes of this Brazilian (fight-) dance have inspired more and more B-Girls and B-Boys who integrated them into their dance. Learn more about Capoeira.
A special dance style which is very often used by B-Boys (during their toprock or/and for battling) and which originated in Brooklyn (NYC) is Uprocking. Learn more about Uprocking.
In the early/mid 80ies “Breakdance” was often mixed and presented by the media together with Boogaloo, Popping, Robotting, Strutting, Waving and other funk dance styles. Although these dance styles were more and more adopted into the hip-hop movement, they were created in the West Coast during the Funk Era and its roots and history are fundamentally different from B-Boying.
– History of Popping and Boogaloo
– History of (Campbel-)Locking