Breakdancing, one of the more commonly known of the elements of hip hop, has come a long way since it’s birth a few decades ago. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like back in the 80’s when it was finally starting to gain some serious legitimacy.
History of Breakdance
Breakdancing, according from Wikipedia, really grew out of a street dance style that sprung up from the street corner. It really got a lift after Michael Jackson did the robot on TV, encouraging many young bboys and bgirls to take up the art. UKHH.com has a different story, and this one I think seems a little more believable.
They attribute the birth of breakdancing to good old James Brown. His hit, ‘Get on the Good foot’, accompanied by some of Brown’s signature leaps and “ow!”s created an entirely new dance style. This is what created the movement, predating Jackson’s TV performance by a good 5 years.
However it started, there’s no denying that it has come a long way. Some would argue it’s something better now, but many more would argue that it has lost something over the years. During its heydey, Afrika Bambatta led the way to make breakdancing a method for gangs to settle disputes without killing. This obviously didn’t always work, and often there were deadly fights that erupted at these bboy battles, but ghetto diplomacy really took a step forward.
If you really want to get a good sense on the history of breakdance, here’s a little documentary for you:
Music and Fashion
Breakbeats are especially distinct, and I promise that nearly each and every one of you has heard one at least one time in your life, if not on your own then most definitely in a movie or a tv show. The public has developed a strange affinity for all things bboy, but it has definitely waned over the years.
Bboy style in general has gone from a lot of wicked tracksuits and killer sneakers, to the more ubiquitous street styles you see today. Brand power remains strong and certain companies (i.e. Puma/Adidas) tend to command a little more attention than others.
If you think about it, it’s the same thing that seems to happen in all kinds of genres. Clothing and image are just as important (if not more so) in breaking than in any situation. Perhaps it’s just a matter of reputation, something stemming from the Bambatta days, or who knows. Maybe it’s just human nature to try and find ways to divide people up into subcategories and hierarchy.
Breakdancing has become such a staple in music videos that we tend to just ignore it most of the time. Despite how commonplace it has become
Here is one of the earliest known examples of recognizable breakin’ in a music video.
From Malcolm McLaren, I give you “Buffalo Gals”.
It’s interesting to note that McLaren is probably best known for being the manager of the Sex Pistols. How a UK punk band manager somehow was able to really push hip hop and breakdancing to mainstream acceptance is amazing to me. And I think it just goes to show that hip hop really isn’t limited in any way. People from tons of different walks of life can appreciate it for what it is.
A few years ago, maybe 5 to 10, saw a huge resurgence in breakdancing. All of a sudden kids all over North America were forming crews in schools and even the lamest suburb seemed to have a bboy championship going on. This adoption of the bboy scene may seem a perversion to some, but I think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. All of a sudden you have all kinds of kids grabbing dope albums by some of the biggest hip hop names. A lot of them genuinely seemed to understand that it was meant to be an underground phenomena and they did their best to respect that.
Now things seemed to have died down a little. But all hope isn’t lost. Just today I was walking around and saw two nerdy looking kids practicing their uprock with just a laptop and shitty speakers. In a weird way it actually made me feel a little happy knowing there were kids still getting into the game. And then, I saw this video, and it definitely gladdened my heart.
When I started this post oh so long ago, I envisioned a grand and articulate article about the past, present, and future of breakdancing. The more I write it, the more I realize that it’s going to be impossible to put my finger on it. It’s not easily defined, and it’s not limited to one age, culture, income, or even music. It may have started as hip hop, but you can see breakers in all kinds of situations now.
I wanted to educate you all on how it invades every facet of life. From the shoes you wear to the way you walk. It affects your perception of public space and your idea of what rights you have. Breakers take over subway stations and parks, plazas, shopping malls, street corners, everywhere. They put on shows for money, or for charity, or just for fun. All of a sudden it affects your way of handling conflict and your sense of self-worth. Those involved in the scene have a sense of purpose and a method of expressing themselves that may, for them, be better than words.
So now this is how i see it. The lesson to take away is that it is a form of expression that people adopt for many reasons. You have bboys and bgirls in Europe, Asia, North/South America, even Africa (and yes, you too, Australia). It’s permanent impermanence (yes, I just made that up) or sense of dynamism suggests that you’ll never peg it. It’s established in mainstream consciousness but retains a sense of underground credibility.
So forget the school lesson I started this post off with and instead take away the message that you should seize on every opportunity you can find to express yourself. Try dancing, or graf, or emceeing. Even if no one else will ever see it, or even if you just do it with your buddies (Word up, RPB), or just scribble in that notebook while riding on the subway, you’ll find it makes your life significantly better.