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Breakdance (or b-boy) is a dance style that was a core component of the origins of hip hop among African American and Puerto Rican youth in the Bronx borough of New York City during the early 1970s. In most cases, it is danced to remixed extended breaks of hip hop music. It is said that breakdancing was one of the critical components of hip hop culture (along with rap music, graffiti, and DJing) that popularized the culture and brought it to the main stream.


Breakdancing originated in the early 1970s in the South Bronx. Many house party DJs, most notably DJ Kool Herc, noticed that the most unique improvisational dance moves occurred during the section of the song where the music and lyrics dropped out and only the beat was left. This section of the song was known as the break. These DJs realized that they could extend these high intensity interludes by purchasing two copies of the same song which allowed them to repeat and extend the break. Some of the most popular songs of the early era of breakdancing include "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band, "South Bronx" by KRS-One, and many James Brown funk songs.

Breakdancing Crews

The popularization of this dance form occurred throughout the 1970s with the formation of various breakdancing crews. One of the first of these crews, the Rock Steady Crew, formed in 1977 in the Bronx by members Jimmy D and Jojo. One of their early rivals was the Manhattan based Rockwell Association.

Movement into the Mainstream

The first movement into the mainstream came when, in 1981, photographer Henry Chalfant helped the Rock Steady Crew get an opportunity to perform at Lincoln Center in Manhattan where they battled The Dynamic Rockers. This outdoor performance was covered by many local television stations as well as local and national newspapers. In 1983, the Rock Steady Crew went on tour with Afrika Bambaataa, Fab Five Freddy, and other early rappers. They also appeared on the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Contributions from the US West Coast

After the national coverage from the Lincoln Center Battle, the popularity of breakdancing spread across the country, most notably to Los Angeles. Members of hip hop culture in this area put their own spin on the dance, known as popping and locking. This form of dancing is highlighted by quickly contracting and releasing muscles to the beat of the music (known as popping) and fast and distinct arm and hand movements combined with more relaxed hips and legs (known as locking).

The Dance

Breakdancing is highly improvisational form of dancing that does not rely on structure and choreography. There are many forms of breakdancing that can all be incorporated into the same routine. These include toprock, downrock, power moves, and freeze/suicides.


Toprock refers to a combination of steps in the standing position with an emphasis on rhythm and style. This element usually serves as a warmup at the beginning of the routine before moving into other flashier elements.


Downrock refers to footwork done on the ground with hands and feet on the floor. Emphasis here is generally on foot speed, control and balance and serve as a transition point into the flashier power moves.

Power moves

Power moves are among some of the most physically demanding moves in breakdancing. They typically require a large amount of upper body strength. Many moves pull from gymnastics (such as handstands, flips, windmills, flares, and butterfly kicks).


Suicides are a method of ending a routine. The dancers appear to lose control and fall to the floor on their back or stomach. The object is to make the fall look painful but care is taken to minimize the fall. Freezes end the routine by freezing in some sort of pose (such as a handstand or pike).