Street Dance History

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Even through the beginning of the 21st century, street dancing's (what is popularly known as break dancing) history, technique and styles were seldom chronicled. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that the style is either passed down informally or simply from dancer to dancer within groups (crews). However, by 2010, a move toward recording street dance history and recognising it as a very important dance style (as well as cultural movement) has burgeoned.


The term hip-hop was coined in the 1980s by DJ Afrika Bambaataa. He used the term to describe the urban cultural dance and music trend that began in the 1970s. The words hip-hop were originally used by MCs in scat (improvisational) rhymes. Street dancing's origins lie in folk dancing, primarily of Africa dancers were performed in a "cipher" or circle, with one performer usually dancing at a time. In the 1920s, performer Earl Tucker danced using glides and wave steps later common in hip-hop. In the 1970s, James Brown and similar music influenced later hip-hop music, which, in turn, affected street dancing.

Developing the Technique

Many early hip-hop dances were performed standing upright and had influences from many sources, including afro-cuban, African and native tribal dances. Martial arts also played a role in developing what is known as "Top Rockin," which took characteristics of Capoera, "a self defence method disguised as a dance." Because of the competitive nature of top rockin -- and hip-hop dance in general- upright dances were supplemented with increasing footwork. If one dancer danced upright the interrupted that dance to lower onto the floor and perform complex footwork or freezes, the next dancer would be expected to outdo the first dancer, adding more complicated footwork to her dance. These ground moves were named "floor rocking." Such was the "battling" context these dance continued to develop in.

Freezes and Spins

Another aspect of street dancing was freezing. The "chair freeze" and "baby freeze" were two such positions. The chair freeze became commonplace because it allowed the dancer to support his body with his hand, forearm and elbow, leaving his torso and legs free for a variety of moves. The chair freeze was the foundation for moves like the back-spin with arms and the continuous backspin (also known as the windmill). As of 2010, clowning and krumping are the latest styles of street dancing, originating from Los Angeles.

Mainstreaming and Back Again

Street dancing became extremely popular in the 1980s, and notable b-boys, girls and dance groups began to perform in various venues, including Broadway theatre, performing arts ceremonies and film. The mainstream U.S. Population was familiar with a stripped down idea of what street dancing was. However, during the 1990s, hip-hop groups in the United States and sprouting groups in other countries sought to bring the style back to its roots. There was an increase in hip-hop groups that merged the dance with theatre, contemporary dance, spoken word and other performance art forms. In the early 20th century, street dancing takes on many forms, and new dances continue to emerge.

Street Dancing Education and Recognition

With a burgeoning call for recognition of the genre as a significant cultural and artistic form, hip-hop education and appreciation has taken root. The Illadelph Legends Festival is an annual event dedicated to educating the public (as well as dancers of all sorts) about hip-hop history and technique from masters and creators of the genre itself. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also honoured the style in 1999 with a museum and exhibit chronicling its history and style characteristics.

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