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Kaplan AP Language & Composition 11 April 2010 Breaking: The History of B-Boying While it is clear that dance has transformed significantly over time, one of the most noticeable changes was at the start of the 1970s. This adjustment in culture is specific to the modifications in the style of dance and the music which accompanied it. Freedom of expression has grown tremendously over time, and as it grew, a new culture evolved in parallel. That culture was named ³hip hop´ and its matching dance style was dubbed, ³breaking.´ Breaking has changed considerably since its introduction in the late 1960s and 1970s, heavily due to the rise and fall of trends created by mainstream media. In order to understand breaking, one must know the basic history of the hip hop era. It all began in The Bronx, in New York City. The beginning of the new culture is often credited to DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa. These figureheads set the first trends. In them there was a grouping of four principles: rapping, disc jockeying (known as ³DJing´), breaking, and graffiti writing (Emir). At this time, hip hop was not only dance and music, but a philosophy²a way to live one¶s life. The phrase, ³hip hop´ can be broken down into ³hip´ meaning current or up to date, and ³hop,´ referring to the hopping motion of dance and style. In 1959 many of the middle class immigrants that lived in the Bronx moved from the city as an expressway was built through its heart (Kaminski). As a result, only the poorer black and Hispanic sectors of the population were left in the Bronx. There was a pronounced lower class that was forced to live in the ghettos or slums, where, despite the excessive crime, drug addiction

Hung 2 and unemployment, the roots of hip hop took hold. To deal with the excessive lower class, new apartment complexes were built to try and raise a middle class, but this effort seemed only to create a large vacancy of older buildings, leading to the deterioration of the neighborhood (Kaminski). As these buildings were left empty, it left the blank canvas needed for the art of graffiti to develop. During this time, street violence surged, which caused gangs to form throughout the Bronx. This situation began to change when one of the largest gang leaders, Afrika Bambaataa, led his group ³The Black Spades´ away from crime and toward innovation, forming a group called the Zulu Nation (Gainey). This sparked the beginning of hip hop and the shift in culture. As Bambaataa realized the futility of gang violence, he developed several ideologies to be associated with hip hop: knowledge, peace, unity, love, and fun (Emir). These ideals would eventually be embodied by breakers. One way that breaking united communities and helped to prevent crime was through giving people something to do rather than murder and steal (The Freshest Kids). Idleness was the ³root of all evil,´ as it only generated more problems. As the gangs transitioned into breaking crews, the fights and physical violence in turn transitioned to dance battles. Rather than kill each other, dance crews battled it out to release tension (The Freshest Kids). As dance battles developed, they became contests in which different breakers would show off their moves and prove a point as to who was superior. Breakers would form in two sides, with one crew on each in order to create their makeshift arena, and breakers would battle in the center of the two groups. They would incorporate ³burns´ into their dances in order to insult the opposing breaker, such as embarrassing another b-boy by calling him out (The Freshest Kids). Battling allowed for breaking to grow as it inspired others to improve and constantly become better²it was a form of self challenge. Another form of dance called uprock also branched off of breaking. Uprock related back to literal fighting, as many of the dance

Hung 3 moves were actions akin to shooting a gun or throwing a punch at the opposing uprocker. These moves were often used by gangs in order to settle disputes without physical contact (Chang). This phenomenon shows clearly the degree to which Bambaataa¶s hip hop ideology was revered and how it discouraged violence. The second innovator of the time was DJ Kool Herc, who created the music that began the art of breaking. He was the first to ³DJ´ by mixing two turn tables (record players) to create new sounds and beats. Often time DJs would spin the records on the turn table so that the stylus of the player scratched on the record (Emir). He was highly influenced by Jamaican reggae and his music was an instant hit because the beats were easy to dance to (The Freshest Kids). As his parties grew, so did his fame. Soon almost everybody in the Bronx had heard of DJ Kool Herc, and his ³DJing´ became renowned. Kool Herc¶s music stimulated breaking as it supplied the music to jumpstart the movement. Without this form of music, breaking may never have caught on. When breaking first began, it was a method of self expression. Since it was based around music that had a defined beat, its moves followed suit and had different actions that corresponded to the rhythm of the music. Many of its first moves were inspired and based off of several other dance styles of the time, specifically James Brown¶s ³Good Foot´ and the Lindy Hop. However, as breaking grew, other influences from martial arts (such as the actions of Bruce Lee), gymnastics, jazz, Latin Salsa, Native American dance, Capoeira (Brazilian Martial Arts) and Russian dance added different moves as well (Clemente). Breaking therefore is not a single defined dance style, but one that is derivative of and that borrows from many other styles, allowing for diversity. Breakers often expressed their feelings and emotions in their dance and defined themselves through breaking. These breakers were originally called ³B-Boys,´ meaning

Hung 4 break boys or beat boys, as termed by Kool Herc (The Freshest Kids). Female breakers would eventually be called ³B-Girls.´ Despite the many stereotypes of breaking seen today depicting it as extremely fancy or explosive, the original breakers were relatively simple in that they only toprocked. Toprocking is the component of breaking in which the breaker dances on his feet while standing. In basic toprocking, most of the moves are defined by the movement of the feet, leaving the hands free to do accompanying motions and emphasize the beat. As quickly as breaking was started, it began to change and evolve. Breakers would add a different twist or interpretation on a standard move and make it their own. As breaking grew, it moved from the standing position down to the ground. This component of breaking soon became known as downrock or ³footwork,´ and these moves were comprised mainly of sweeps and kicks with the legs, while supported on the hands and feet. This addition to breaking began in the mid1970s, but the style was still relatively simple. The footwork moves were basic and the style of the time was choppier and more sporadic in comparison to the smooth, flowing footwork seen today (Clemente). As breaking community formed crews, one of the largest crews of the time was the Rock Steady Crew. They emerged in the late 1970s from the Bronx Boy¶s Rocker Crew but did not rise to true popularity until the early 1980s. They were known to break with characteristic styles, and as their fame grew, the media began to notice all the breaking battles occurring in the Bronx (G. John). The media realized that breaking could be the next big fad and began to hire breakers to be featured in movies and shows. One of the first films to feature breaking was ³Flashdance,´ which debuted in 1983. The director of Flashdance decided to ask members of the Rock Steady Crew to perform in the movie (G. John). At first they declined, citing that breaking was special and that they did not want other people to copy their moves. They eventually succumbed,

Hung 5 however, when the lure of the money became too great to resist. Another large crew similar to Rock Steady was the New York City Breakers, which also achieved fame through the media (The Freshest Kids). Breaking was also seen in the closing ceremony of the 1984 Olympics at the height of its popularity which stunned millions of spectators. People were intrigued by breaking and its involvement with the Olympics legitimized it (Okumura). Soon, the whole nation was fanatical about breaking. The distinctive and never-before-seen dance style caught everyone¶s attention, and the popularity of breaking erupted overnight. While breaking¶s introduction by the media was beneficial in that it allowed breaking to spread and become well known worldwide, it had many damaging implications at the same time. As breaking was popularized by the media, it shifted from being performed for fun and self expression to being performed for money and fame. Companies began to do whatever they could to make money off of the new trend, going as far as selling ³specialized´ pieces of cardboard for the common man to break on (The Freshest Kids). Many of the original b-boys resented this, referring to the fact that when breaking and hip hop became labeled by the media, hip hop lost its original purpose and meaning. To further label breaking, the media called it ³break dancing.´ In opposition to the media, original breakers continued to refer to their style of expression as ³breaking´ or ³b-boying.´ As more and more people became introduced to hip hop, it sparked conflict in the United States. Graffiti spread in cities and rather than seeing it as a form of art, people saw it as a form of vandalism and deemed graffiti artists to be criminals. This further inspired graffiti artists to paint in opposition of their attackers. B-boys and breakers were beginning to be seen as trouble makers. At one point in 1986, officials began banning breaking because they saw it as unnecessarily rebellious behavior and a cause of social unrest (The Freshest Kids). Hip hop was

Hung 6 repressed and began to fade out. The media accelerated this by quickly changing their focus when they realized that the ³break dance´ trend was fading. They began directing their attention to rap because it was easily sold in the form of music and CDs. Anybody could listen to rap, buy a CD, and take it home, but it was difficult to learn to break. B-boys entered a state of withdrawal as their life and identity began to die. Some b-boys turned back to drugs, guns, and violence, furthering the bad reputation of hip hop. Many b-boys were incarcerated or were eventually killed in gang shootings (The Freshest Kids). This marked the ³death´ of old school hip hop. Many old school b-boys and DJs blame the fall the original hip hop on the media, stating that if the media had not exploited and corrupted hip hop, it would still be in its true form today. However, the one positive aspect that came out of the media selling hip hop and breaking was that other regions, countries, and cultures became introduced to the new phenomenon. In the West of the United States, breaking spread quickly and was received with open arms. They continued to add more to breaking by helping to develop another element of breaking²power moves. These were acrobatic moves that employed the use of momentum and strength. With the addition of power moves, µfreezes¶ were also developed. This was another component in which the body would be held in an interesting or balance intensive position, essentially freezing the body in the pose. In addition, popping/locking was created on the West coast, a dance style that branched off of b-boying (Okumura). This involved locking and popping body parts into various positions. Breaking also spread to other countries as well, notably Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Britain, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa (Planet B-Boy). Each of these countries eventually contributed their piece to the development of the style of breaking by increasing diversity and variation of moves.

Hung 7 The spread of breaking contributed to its revival, but the largest reason for its rebirth was the introduction of breaking events. Breaking events were large meetings of prominent b-boys where they would simply come together to break and share their knowledge. Many became contests in which different b-boys and crews would compete for titles, in order to provide some motivation. These were publicized, yet they still personified the original principles of breaking and hip hop, while also sparking renewed popularity. Events were not always battles; sometimes they were cyphers, which was a nickname for freestyle dancing, often occurring in the middle of a circle or crowd. Examples of these events that exist today are the Rock Steady Crew Reunion, B-Boy Summit, Battle of the Year, and The Notorious International Breaking Event (Planet BBoy). Many of these events were international, allowing for b-boys of different nationalities to share their styles with each other, and in these contests different countries formed distinct reputations for certain styles. Koreans were known for their complex power moves, and Americans were known for individual toprock and downrock style, however these generalizations were anything but comprehensive (Planet B-Boy). The modern generation of bboys became known as the new school b-boys, as opposed to the old-school b-boys. The main difference that comes with new school b-boys is the addition of more contemporary moves and styles. Today in the modern b-boy society there are classifications and stereotypes between bboys who choose to emphasize their breaking on different components, notably between those who focus on toprock and footwork compared to those who focus on power moves. These two categories have been dubbed style-heads and power-heads, respectively. Style-heads are given respect as they are experienced enough to have developed their own sense of style in their breaking, which allows for people to easily recognize and associate the style with them. However

Hung 8 they are criticized as they lack the flashy power-moves. Power-heads are given respect as they have the strength and coordination to perform the various strenuous maneuvers, but they are condemned for their lack of originality/style as power moves are often very similar and repetitive. It is also harder to hit the specific beats of the song due to its spinning motions. In a battle, to people unfamiliar with breaking, a power-head may appear to win when against a stylehead, as the dynamic moves are ³cooler´ and more impressive. These classifications are interesting because they only appeared with the introduction of more advanced components. Many experienced b-boys do not believe in these classifications, saying that they divide the bboy community rather than unite it. In keeping with the examination of the modernization of breaking, it is also noticeable how pop culture has absorbed some of its impact. Breaking is often shown in music videos or incorporated into the choreography of performances. However, pop culture dance is strongly criticized and frowned upon by b-boys, as often times the performers simply copy moves that they are taught, barely understanding what they are doing, much less understanding the complex art of b-boying. This is known as biting, slang for stealing or copying. Pop culture has been called groups of ³organized biters´ due to their mindless choreography (The Freshest Kids). Another recent branch of breaking has been the new dance sensation known as jerking. This is another dance disapproved of by b-boys, since it features the same moves over and over again, with no uniqueness or originality. Jerkers are known as biters; they copy several moves from bboys. While biting occurs in the b-boy world as well, it is different in that b-boys often add their own twist on a certain move even when they bite it from someone else, making the plagiarism slightly more acceptable.

Hung 9 In summation, breaking has become altered from its original form. The breaking community has changed as it has moved out of its birthplace in the Bronx and is now acknowledged worldwide. Hip hop culture has been greatly affected by the greed of the media, and it clearly shows how greed can twist the image of a type of culture from positive to negative. B-boys and their culture have been greatly misunderstood by the general population in the past, and with the introduction of many new growing b-boys, it¶s even more important to understand the history of hip hop. Understanding hip hop and b-boy culture is like any other art form² in order to completely grasp it, you must return to its roots. Next time you see breaking or hear a mention of hip hop, remember what true hip hop is and respect the values that it holds.