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What is Break Dance?

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By Heidi Williams / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

Breaking/Bboying/Bgirling is a form of street dance that was born from the Bronx, New York in the 1970s, and is the first original form of Hip Hop dance. The B in Bboying/Bgirling is said to refer to the breakdowns or breakbeats that the dancers would go off to. DJ Kool Herc would lengthen these sections by using two records of the same song, so he could loop the breakdown portion giving the dancers more time to do their thing. 

DJ Kool Herc also noted that the term ‘breaking’ doesn’t just reference the beat, but also describes a bboy/bgirl as, “individual who has reached a breaking point or is “broken,” and they’re letting all their energy out onto the dance floor,” ( The everyday struggle in the Bronx brought on by a neglectful city government, poverty stricken neighborhoods, gang violence, and loss of job opportunities left many youths literally at their breaking point. Expressing themselves through several different artistic avenues gave them an outlet to escape abandonment and violence. These outlets are now considered the elements of Hip Hop culture: DJing, BBoying/Bgirling, Emceeing, Graffiti and Knowledge. Breaking, which was influenced by the Brooklyn Uprock, was also a non-violent way in which rival gangs could battle and challenge each other. 

Breaking has evolved quite a bit since the 1970s, but the main elements are still practiced: 

Toprock: the dancing a bboy/bgirl does when they’re rocking to the beat, when they’re not doing floorwork, and was influenced by the Brooking Uprock which preceded it.

Downrock (footwork): When a Bboy/Bgirl has hands and feet on the floor, doing fast footwork, usually in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion. Examples of footwork are 6 step, 3 step, CC shuffles, coffee grinders, kickouts, etc.

Power moves: power moves also go in a circular motion like the footwork patterns, but require speed and momentum to take flight. Many of these powermoves were modified gymnastics skills such as windmills and flares. Other well known powermoves are headspins, master swipes, airflares and munchmills.

Freezes: a freeze is a move that is frozen, involves hitting a pose or position on beat, often in an upside down position. Some well-known freezes are the baby freeze, chair freeze, turtle freeze, headstand freezes, and handstand freezes. 

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!