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A b-boy performing in the UK.

B-boying or breaking, commonly referred to as breakdancing, is a style of dance that evolved as part of hip-hop culture among African American and Latino American youths in New York City.[1]:125, 141, 153 Breaking includes four primary moves: toprock, downrock, power moves and freezes/suicides. It is danced to both hip-hop and other genres of music that are often remixed to prolong the musical breaks. The musical selection for breaking is not restricted to hip-hop music, as long as the tempo and beat pattern conditions are met. One who practices this style of dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, or breaker. These dancers often participate in battles, formal or informal dance competitions between two individuals or two crews. Although "breakdance" is a common term, "b-boying" and "breaking" are preferred by the majority of the art form’s pioneers and most notable practitioners.[2][3]



Though widespread, the term "breakdancing" is looked down upon by those immersed in hip-hop culture. "Breakdancer" may even be used disparagingly to refer to those who learned the dance for personal gain rather than commitment to hip-hop culture.[1]:61 The terms 'b-boys', 'b-girls', and 'breakers' are the preferred terms to use to describe the dancers. B-Boy London of New York City Breakers and filmmaker Michael Holman refer to these dancers as “breakers”.[2] Frosty Freeze of Rock Steady Crew says, “we were known as b-boys”, and hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa says, “b-boys, [are] what you call break boys… or b-girls, what you call break girls.”[2] In addition, Jo Jo and Mr. Freeze of Rock Steady Crew and hip-hop historian Fab 5 Freddy use the term “b-boy”,[2] as do rappers Big Daddy Kane[4] and Tech N9ne[5] when referring to the dancers.

The dance itself is properly called "breaking" according to rappers such as KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC in the breaking documentary The Freshest Kids. Afrika Bambaataa, Fab 5 Freddy, Michael Holman, Frosty Freeze, and Santiago "Jo Jo" Torres (cofounder of Rock Steady Crew) use the original term "b-boying".[2] Purists consider "breakdancing" an ignorant term invented by the media[1]:58[2] that connotes exploitation of the art.[1]:60[2]

  • Crazy Legs; Rock Steady Crew: "When I first learned about the dance in ’77 it was called b-boying… by the time the media got a hold of it in like ’81, ’82, it became ‘break-dancing’ and I even got caught up calling it break-dancing too."[2]
  • Action; New York City Breakers: "You know what, that’s our fault kind of… we started dancing and going on tours and all that and people would say, oh you guys are breakdancers - we never corrected them."[2]
  • Jo Jo; Rock Steady Crew: "B-boy… that’s what it is, that’s why when the public changed it to ‘break-dancing’ they were just giving a professional name to it, but b-boy was the original name for it and whoever wants to keep it real would keep calling it b-boy."[2]
  • Boston Globe: "Lesson one: Don't call it breakdancing. Hip-hop's dance tradition, the kinetic counterpart to the sound scape of rap music and the visuals of graffiti art, is properly known as b-boying."[3]
  • Jorge "Popmaster Fabel" Pabon: "Break dancing is a term created by the media! Once hip-hop dancers gained the media’s attention, some journalists and reporters produced inaccurate terminology in an effort to present these urban dance forms to the masses. The term break dancing is a prime example of this misnomer. Most pioneers and architects of dance forms associated with hip-hop reject this term and hold fast to the original vernacular created in their places of origin. In the case of break dancing, it was initially called b-boying or b-girling."[6]

The term "breakdancing" is also problematic because it has become a diluted umbrella term that incorrectly includes popping, locking, and electric boogaloo.[1]:60 Popping, locking, and electric boogaloo are not styles of "breakdance". They are funk styles that were developed separate from breaking in California.[7]

Dance techniques

There are four primary elements that form breaking. These include toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes/suicides.

A b-boy practicing downrock at a studio in Moscow.

Toprock generally refers to any string of steps performed from a standing position. It is usually the first and foremost opening display of style, though dancers often transition from other aspects of breaking to toprock and back. Toprock has a variety steps which can each be varied according to the dancer's expression (ie. aggressive, calm, excited). A great deal of freedom is allowed in the definition of toprock: as long as the dancer maintains cleanness, form and the b-boy attitude, theoretically anything can be toprock. Toprock can draw upon many other dance styles such as popping, locking, or house dance. Transitions from toprock to downrock and power moves are called drops.

Downrock (also known as "footwork" or "floorwork") is used to describe any movement on the floor with the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet. Downrock includes moves such as the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step or other small steps ("techs") that add style. The most basic of downrock is done entirely on feet and hands but more complex variations can involve the knees when threading limbs through each other.

Power Moves are acrobatic moves that require momentum and physical power to execute. The breaker is generally supported by his upper body, while the rest of his body creates circular momentum. Notable examples are the windmill, swipe, head spin, and flare. Some moves are borrowed from gymnastics (such as the flare) and martial arts (such as the butterfly kick).

Freezes are stylish poses, and the more difficult require the breaker to suspend himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses such as the pike. They are used to emphasize strong beats in the music and often signal the end of a b-boy set. Freezes can be linked into chains or "freeze ladders" where breakers change positions to the music to display musicality and physical strength.

Suicides like freezes are used to emphasize a strong beat in the music and signal the end to a routine. In contrast to freezes, suicides draw attention to the motion of falling or losing control, while freezes draw attention to a controlled final position. Breakers will make it appear that they have lost control and fall onto their backs, stomachs, etc. The more painful the suicide appears, the more impressive it is, but breakers execute them in a way to minimize pain.

Power vs Style

Multiple stereotypes have emerged in the breaking community over the give-and-take relationship between technical footwork and physical prowess. Those who focus on dance steps and fundamental sharpness are labeled as "style-heads." Specialists of more gymnastics oriented technique and form—at the cost of charisma and coordinated footwork—are known as "power-heads." Such terms are used colloquially often to classify one's skill, however, the subject has been known to disrupt competitive events where judges tend to favor a certain technique over the other.

This debate however, is somewhat of a misnomer. The classification of dancing as "style" in b-boying is inaccurate because every b-boy or b-girl has their own unique style developed both consciously and subconsciously. Each b-boy or b-girl's style is the certain attitude or method in which they execute their movements. A breaker's unique style does not strictly refer to just toprock or downrock. It is a concept which encompasses how a move is executed rather than what move is done.


Elements of breaking may be seen in other antecedent cultures prior to the 1970s,[8] but it was not until the '70s that breaking evolved as a street dance style. Street corner DJs would take the rhythmic breakdown sections (or "breaks") of dance records and loop them one after the other. This provided a rhythmic base for improvising and mixing and it allowed dancers to display their skills during the break. In a turn-based showcase of dance routines the winning side was determined by the dancer(s) who could outperform the other by displaying a set of more complicated and innovative moves.

Shortly after the Rock Steady Crew came to Japan, breaking within Japan began to flourish. Each Sunday b-boys would perform breaking in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.[9] One of the first and most influential Japanese breakers was Crazy-A, who is now the leader of the Tokyo chapter of Rock Steady Crew.[9] He also organizes the yearly B-Boy Park which draws upwards of 10,000 fans a year and attempts to expose a wider audience to the culture.[10]


A related dance form which influenced breaking is Uprock also called Rocking or Brooklyn rock. Like toprock, uprock is also performed while standing. The difference is that uprock is a war dance that involves two dancers who mimic ways of fighting each other using mimed weaponry in rhythm with the music.[6] Uprock as a dance style of its own never gained the same widespread popularity as breaking, except for some very specific moves adopted by breakers who use it as a variation for their toprock.[11]:138 When used in a b-boy battle, opponents often respond by performing similar uprock moves, supposedly creating a short uprock battle. Some dancers argue that because uprock was originally a separate dance style it should never be mixed with breaking and that the uprock moves performed by breakers today are not the original moves but poor imitations that only show a small part of the original uprock style.


It has been stated that breaking replaced fighting between street gangs.[12] On the contrary, some believe it a misconception that b-boying ever played a part in mediating gang rivalry. Both viewpoints have some truth. Uprock has its roots in gangs.[11]:116, 138 Whenever there was an issue over turf the two warlords of the feuding gangs would uprock. Whoever won this preliminary battle would decide where the real fight would be.[13] This is where the battle mentality in breaking and hip-hop dance in general comes from.[14] "Sometimes a dance was enough to settle the beef, sometimes the dance set off more beef."[11]:116[6]

Crew versus crew battles are common in breaking. Battles are dance competitions between two individuals or two groups of dancers who try to out-dance each other. They can be either formal or informal but both types of battles are head to head confrontations. They can take the form of a cypher battle or an organized battle. A crew is a group of b-boys/b-girls who dance together. A few of the most well known crews are the Rock Steady Crew, Last For One, Super Cr3w, Gamblerz, Mortal Combat, Flying Steps, and Massive Monkeys. B-boy crews such as the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers changed breaking into a pop-culture phenomenon when they received a large amount of media attention by battling each other in public at the Lincoln Center in 1981.[15]

B-boy battle at Hip Hop Festival Serious Side II in Salamanca, Spain.

Informally b-boying began with the cypher, the name given to a circle of breakers (and casual onlookers) who take turns dancing in the center. There are no judges, concrete rules, or restrictions in the cypher, only unspoken traditions. Although participants usually freestyle (improvise) within a cypher, battling does take place. This was the origin of b-boy battles and it is often more confrontational and personal. Cypher dancing is more prevalent in communities with an emphasis on what is regarded as authentic and traditional hip-hop culture. Battling "in the cypher" is also a method of settling differences between individual dancers or crews.

Organized battles set a format for competition such as a time limit or a cap on the number of participants. Organized battles also have judges who are usually chosen based on their years of experience, level of cultural knowledge, contribution to the scene, and ability to judge in an unbiased manner. On occasion organizers invite judges from outside the breaking community and these events (jams) are sometimes met with disapproval from b-boys/b-girls. Organized battles are publicized to a much greater extent than informal events. They include famous international level championships such as Battle of the Year, UK B-Boy Championships, Red Bull BC One, Freestyle Session, and R16 Korea. However, the trend in recent years to place excessive emphasis on organized battles may detract from the spontaneous aspect of the culture that is emphasized in cypher dancing.[16]


The musical selection for breaking is not restricted to hip-hop music as long as the tempo and beat pattern conditions are met. Breaking can be readily adapted to different music genres with the aid of remixing. The original songs that popularized the dance form borrow significantly from progressive genres of jazz, soul, funk, electro, and disco. The most common feature of b-boy music exists in musical breaks, or compilations formed from samples taken from different songs which are then looped and chained together by the DJ. The tempo generally ranges between 110 and 135 beats per minute with shuffled sixteenth and quarter beats in the percussive pattern. History credits DJ Kool Herc for the invention of this concept[11]:79 later termed the break beat.

Gender inequality

Like the other aspects of hip-hop culture, graffiti writing, MCing, and DJing, males are generally the predominant gender within breaking. However, this is being challenged by the rapidly increasing number of b-girls. Critics argue that it is unfair to make a sweeping generalization about these inequalities because women have begun to play a larger role in the breaking scene.[17][18]

Despite the increasing number of female breakers, another possible barrier is lack of promotion. As Firefly, a full-time b-girl, says "It's getting more popular. There are a lot more girls involved. The problem is that promoters are not putting on enough female-only battles."[19][20] More people are seeking to change the traditional image of females in hip-hop culture (and by extension, b-boy culture) to a more positive, empowered role in the modern hip-hop scene.[21][22][23] The lower exposure of female dancers is probably caused not by any conscious discrimination, but simply by there being fewer female breakers. Since there are no female divisions in breaking as there are in "official" sports, they have to compete with men on equal terms. In any "b-boy" battle, if it is a one-on-one competition or crew vs crew, b-girls attend the event as equals to the b-boys. They compete solo against other b-boys and as members of a crew alongside b-boys. All female b-girl crews battle against other breaking crews with no negative discrimination. When referencing women, the term "b-girling" is as acceptable as the term b-boying although not as widely used. Aside from the terminology, both males and females practice this art together.

Media Exposure

Film and television

In the early 1980s several films depicted b-boying including Wild Style, Flashdance, Breakin', Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Delivery Boys, Krush Groove, and Beat Street. The 1983 PBS documentary Style Wars chronicled New York graffiti artists, but also includes elements of breaking. "BreakBoy" (1985) is a view of the determination of one individual to become one of the best. The documentary film The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy (2002) provides a comprehensive history of b-boying including its evolution and its place within hip-hop culture. The 2001 comedy film Zoolander depicts Zoolander (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson) performing b-boy moves on a catwalk. Planet B-Boy (2007) follows crews from around the world in their quest for a world championship at Battle of the Year 2005.

Break is a 2006 mini series from Korea about a breaking competition.[citation needed] Over the Rainbow (Drama series 2006) centers on different characters who are brought together by b-boying. The award-winning (SXSW Film Festival audience award) documentary "Inside the Circle"[24] (2007) goes into the personal stories of three b-boys (Omar Davila, Josh "Milky" Ayers and Romeo Navarro) and their struggle to keep dance at the center of their lives. The character Mugen on the anime TV series Samurai Champloo uses a fighting style based on breaking.[citation needed]

Pop culture

B-boys performing on San Francisco's Powell Street in 2008.
  • Breakdance was an 8-bit computer game by Epyx released in 1984, at the height of breaking's popularity.
  • B-boy (videogame) is a 2006 console game which aims at an unadulterated depiction of breaking.[25]
  • Bust A Groove is a video game franchise whose character "Heat" specializes in breaking.
  • Pump It Up is a Korean game that requires physical movement of the feet. The game involves breaking[citation needed] and many people have accomplished this feat by memorizing the steps and creating dance moves to hit the arrows on time.
  • In 1997, Kim Soo Yong began serialization of the first breaking themed comic,Hip Hop.[citation needed] The comic sold over 1.5 million books[citation needed] and it helped to introduce breaking and hip-hop culture to Korean youth.
  • The first breaking themed novel, Kid B, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006.[citation needed] The author, Linden Dalecki, was an amateur b-boy in high school and directed a short documentary film about Texas b-boy culture before writing the novel. The novel evolved from Dalecki's b-boy-themed short story The B-Boys of Beaumont, which won the 2004 Austin Chronicle short story contest.[citation needed]
  • In 2005, a Volkswagen Golf GTi commercial featured a partly CGI version of Gene Kelly breaking to a new version of "Singin' in the Rain", remixed by Mint Royale.[citation needed] The tagline was, "The original, updated."


  1. ^ a b c d e Schloss, Joseph (2009). Foundation: B-boys, B-girls, And Hip-Hop Culture In New York. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Isreal (director). (2002). The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy. [DVD]. USA: QD3 Entertainment. 
  3. ^ a b Adam Mansbach (24 May 2009). "The ascent of hip-hop: A historical, cultural, and aesthetic study of b-boying (book review of Joseph Schloss' "Foundation")". The Boston Globe. 
  4. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 302.
  5. ^ Edwards, Paul, 2009, How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC, Chicago Review Press, p. 293.
  6. ^ a b c Jorge "Popmaster Fabel" Pabon (September 10, 2009). "25 Things You Should Know About Hip Hop". Dancer Universe. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  7. ^ Freeman, Santiago (July 1, 2009). "Planet Funk". Dance Spirit Magazine. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  8. ^ (MPG) A Street Arab. [MPG]. Thomas A. Edison Inc.. 1898-04-21. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  9. ^ a b Condry, Ian. "Japanese Hip-Hop". MIT. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  10. ^ "Tokyo Rock Steady Crew". Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  11. ^ a b c d Chang, Jeff (2005). Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-30143-X. 
  12. ^ "Break-dancing, Present at the Creation". National Public Radio. 14 October 2002. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  13. ^ Edwards, Bob (April 25, 2003). "Profile: Rerelease of the classic hip-hop documentary "Style Wars"". Morning Edition (NPR). 
  14. ^ Crane, Debra (January 23, 2006). "What dance needs: a hip-hop operation". The Times (UK). p. 17. 
  15. ^ "Hip-Hop Dance History". Broadway Dreams. July 7, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  16. ^ "When You're In a BATTLE". BEBE (Ground Zero). Korean Roc. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  17. ^ La Rocco, Claudia (6 Aug 2006). "A Breaking Battle Women Hope to Win". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  18. ^ "Girl Power Dances to It's [sic Own Groove"]. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  19. ^ "Firefly aka female breaker". BBC Living section. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  20. ^ "Women Get the Breaks". The Independent: Independent News and Media. 18 March 2005. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  21. ^ "The Exploitation of Women in Hip-Hop Culture". Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  22. ^ Arce, Rose (4 March 2005). "Hip-Hop Portrayal of Women Protested". CNN. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  23. ^ Shepherd, Julianne (1 June 2005). "Hip Hop's Lone Ladies Call for Backup: The B-Girl Be Summit preaches strength in numbers". Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  24. ^ "SXSW Film Festival Jury and Audience Award Winners". Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  25. ^ "B-boy article". Retrieved 2009-09-09. 

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