A style of street dance that originated among Black youths in New York City during the early 1970s. The dance spread worldwide due to popularity in the media, especially in regions such as South Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Japan. While diverse in the amount of variation available in the dance, b-boying consists of four kinds of movement: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes. B-boying is typically danced to hip-hop, funk music, and especially breakbeats, although modern trends allow for much wider varieties of music along certain ranges of tempo and beat patterns.

A practitioner of this dance is called a b-boy, b-girl, or breaker. Although the term “breakdance” is frequently used to refer to the dance, “b-boying” and “breaking” are the original terms. The majority of the pioneers and most notable practitioners prefer these original terms.


The terminology used to refer to b-boying (breakdancing) changed after promotion by the mainstream media. Although widespread, the term “breakdancing” is looked down upon by those immersed in hip-hop culture. Purists consider “breakdancing” an ignorant term invented by the media that connotes exploitation of the art is used to sensationalize breaking. The term “breakdancing is also problematic because it has become a diluted umbrella term that incorrectly includes popping, locking, and electric boogaloo, which are not styles of “breakdance”, but are funk styles that were developed separately from breaking in California. The dance itself is properly called “breaking”, according to rappers such as KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC.

The terms of “b-boy” (break-boy), “b-girl” (break-girl”, and “breaker” are the original terms used to describe the dancers. The original terms arose to describe the dancers who performed to DJ Kool Herc’s breakbeats. DJ Kool Herc is a Jamaican-American DJ who is responsible for developing the foundational aspects of hip-hop music. The obvious connection of the term “breaking” is to the word “breakbeat”, but DJ Kool Herc has commented that the term “breaking” was slang at the time for “getting excited”, “acting energetically” or “causing a disturbance”.

For those immersed in hip-hop culture, the term “breakdancer” may be used to disparage those who learn the dance for personal gain rather than for commitment to the culture.

Richard “Crazy Legs: Colon; Rock Steady Crew: “When I first learned about the dance in ’77 it was called b-boying…by the time the media got the hold of it in like ’81, ’82, it became ‘break-dancing’ and I even got caught up calling it breakdancing too.”
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.”
Santiago “Jo Jo” Torres; 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.”
NPR: “Breakdancing may have died, but the b-boy, one of four original elements of hip-hop (also included: the MC, the DJ, and the graffiti artist) lives on. To those who knew it before it was tagged with the name breakdancing, to those still involved in the scene that they will always know as b-boying, the tradition in alive and, well, spinning.”
The 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.”
The Electric Boogaloos: “In the 80’s when streetdancing blew up, the media often incorrectly used the term ‘breakdancing’ as an umbrella term for most the streetdancing styles that they saw. What many people didn’t know was [that] within these styles, other sub-cultures existed, each with their own identities. Breakdancing, or b-boying as it is more appropriately known as, is known to have its roots in the east coast and was heavily influenced by break beats and hip-hop.”
Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon: “Breakdancing 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 breakdancing 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 breakdancing, it was initially called b-boying or b-girling.”
Benjamin “B-Tek” Chung; JabbaWockeeZ: “When someone says breakdancing, we correct them and say its b-boying.”
Timothy “Popin’ Pete” Solomon; Electric Boogaloos: “An important thing to clarify is that the term ‘breakdancing’ is wrong. I read that in many magazines, but that is a media term. The correct term is ‘breakin’, people who do it are b-boys and b-girls. The term ‘breakdancing’ has to be thrown out of the dance vocabulary.”
Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory: “Breaking or b-boying is generally misconstrued or incorrectly terms as ‘breakdancing’. Breakdancing is a term spawned from the loins of the media’s philistinism, socialism, and naiveté at that time. With no true knowledge of the hip-hop diaspora, but with an ineradicable need to define it for the nescient masses, the term breakdancing was born. Most breakers take great offense to the term.”
Jeff Chang: “During the 1970s, an array of dances practiced by black and Latino kids sprang up in the inner cities of New York and California. The styles had a dizzying list of names: ‘uprock’ in Brooklyn, ‘locking’ in Los Angeles, ‘boogaloo’ and ‘popping’ in Fresno, and ‘strutting’ in San Francisco and Oakland. When these dances gained notice in the mid-‘80s outside of their geographic contexts, the diverse styles were lumped together under the tag ‘breakdancing.’


Many elements of b-boying can be seen in other antecedent cultures prior to the 1970s. B-boy pioneers Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon and Kenneth “Ken Swift” Gabbert, both of Rock Steady Crew, cite James Brown as influences to b-boying. Many of b-boying’s more acrobatic moves, such as the flare, show clear connections to gymnastics. Thomas Edison recorded an Arab street dancer performing acrobatic headspins in 1898. However, it was not until the 1970s that b-boying developed as a defined dance style in the United States.

Beginning with DJ Kool Herc, Bronx-based DJs would take the rhythmic breakdown sections (also known as the “breaks”) of dance records and prolong them by looping them successively. The breakbeat provided a rhythmic base that allowed dancers to display their improvisational skills during the duration of the break. This led to the first battles—turn-based dance competitions between two individuals or dance crews judged with respect to creativity, skill, and musicality. These battles occurred in cyphers—circles of people gathered around the breakers. Though at its inception the earliest b-boys were “close to 90 percent African-American”, dance crews, such as “SalSoul” and “Rockwell Association”, were populated almost entirely by Puerto Rican-Americans.

A separate, but related dance form, which influenced b-boying, is uprock. Uprock is an aggressive dance that involves two dancers who mimic ways of fighting each other using mimed weaponry in rhythm with the music. Uprock as a dance style of its own never gained the same widespread popularity as b-boying, except for some very specific moves adopted by breakers who use it as a variation for their toprock. It is also a soulful and competitive urban street dance, performed in synchronization to the beats and rhythms of soul, rock and funk music. An example of such a song is the uprock classic “It’s Just Begun” by the noted jazz musician Jimmy Castor. The dance consists of foot shuffles, spins, turns, and freestyle movements and more characteristically a four point sudden body movement called “jerk.” When used in b-boy battles, opponents often respond by performing similar uprock moves, supposedly creating a short uprock battle. Some b-boys argue that because uprock was originally a separate dance style it should never be mixed with b-boying and that the uprock moves performed by breakers today are not the original moves, but imitations that only show a small part of the original uprock style.

Although women participated in this style of dance, it was usually danced by two men facing each other. The underlying philosophy of uprocking was to undermine the “opponent” with hand gestures called “burns.” One would “burn” one’s opponent with a variety of hand gestures that would mimic an action that would be considered detrimental to the dancer’s adversary. The “winner” of these mock battles was usually the individual who was able to choreograph and execute his or her burns creatively and even artistically to the rhythm and syncopation of the music.

Uprock evolved in New York circa in the late 1960s. A precursor and influence to this form of dance was gang culture. Throughout the very late 1960s and mid-1970s, New York was home to street gangs.

As rocking/uprocking developed, body movements called “jerks” and hand gestures called “burns”, would be added to emulate a fight against an opposing dancer. Dancers throughout New York City in all boroughs continued to invent new movements and gestures to create a street dance. Many gang members began to perform this dance and it became common to see gang members hanging out in corners dancing against each other.

Worldwide Expansion

Ismael Toledo was one of the first b-boys in Brazil. In 1984, he moved to the United States to study dance. While in the US, he discovered b-boying and ended up meeting b-boy Crazy Legs who personally mentored him for the four years that followed. After becoming proficient in b-boying, he moved back to Sao Paulo and started to organize b-boy crews and enter in international competitions. He eventually opened a hip-hop dance studio called the Hip-Hop Street College.

South Korea
B-boying was first introduced to South Korea by American soldiers shortly after its surge of popularity in the U.S. during the 1980s, but it was not until the late 1990s that the culture and dance really boomed. The year 1997 is known as the “Year Zero of Korean breaking.” A Korean-American hip-hop promoter named John Jay Chon was visiting his family in Seoul and while he was there, he met a crew named Expression Crew in a club. He game them a VHS tape of a Los Angeles b-boying competition called Radiotron. A year later when he returned, Chon found that his video and others like his had been copied and dubbed numerous times, and were feeding an ever-growing b-boy community.

In 2002, Korea’s Expression Crew won the prestigious international b-boying competition Battle of the Year, exposing the skill of the country’s b-boys to the rest of the world. Since then, the Korean government has capitalized on the popularity of the dance and has promoted it alongside Korean culture. R-16 Korea is the most well-known government-sponsored b-boy event, and is hosted by the Korean Tourism Organization and is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

Shortly after the Rock Steady Crew came to Japan, b-boying within Japan began to thrive. Each Sunday b-boys would perform b-boying in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. 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. He also organizes the yearly B-Boy Park, which draws upward of 10,000 fans a year and attempts to expose a wider audience to the culture.

Born in Thailand and raised in the United States, Tuy “KK” Sobil started a community center called Tiny Toones in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2005 where he uses b-boying, hip-hop music, and art to teach Cambodian youth language skills, computer skill,s and life skills. His organization helps roughly 5,000 youths a year. One of these youths includes Diamond, who is regarded as Cambodia’s first b-girl.

Dance Elements

There are four primary elements that form b-boying. These include toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes.

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 b-boying to toprock and back. Toprock has a variety of steps, which can each be varied according to the dancer’s expression (i.e. aggresstive, calm, excited). A great deal of freedom is allowed in the definition of toprock: as long as the dancer maintains cleanliness, form, and the b-boy attitude, theoretically anything can be toprock. Toprock can draw upon many other dance styles such as popping, locking, tap dance, Lindy hop, 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. 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, speed, endurance, strength, and control to execute. The breaker is generally supported by his upper body while the rest of his body creates a circular momentum. Some examples are the windmill, swipe, back spin, and head spin. Some power moves are borrowed from gymnastics and martial arts. An example of a power move taken from gymnastics is the Thomas Flair, which is shortened and spelled flare in b-boying.

Freezes are stylish poses that 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 “stacks” where breakers go from freeze to freeze to freeze in order to hit the beats of the music which displays musicality and physical strength.

B-boy Styles

There are many different individual styles used in b-boying. Individual styles often stem from a dancer’s region of origin and influences. However, some people such as b-boy Jacob “Kujo” Lyons feel that the Internet inhibits individual style. In an 2012 interview with B-Boy Magazine he expressed his frustration:

“…because everybody watches the same videos online, everybody ends up looking very similar. The differences between individual b-boys, between crews, between cities/states/countries/continents, have largely disappeared. It used to be that you could tell what city a b-boy was from by the way he danced. Not anymore. But I’ve been saying these things for almost a decade, and most people don’t listen, but continue watching the same videos and dancing the same way. It’s what I call the “international style,” or the “Youtube style.”

Although there are some generalities in the styles that exist, many dancers combine elements of different styles with their own ideas and knowledge in order to create a unique of their own. B-boys can therefore be categorized into a broad style which generally showcases the same types of techniques.

Power: This style of b-boying is what most members of the general public associate with the term “breakdancing.” Power moves comprise full-body spins and rotations that give the illusion of defying gravity. Examples of power moves include head spins, back spins, windmills, flares, air tracks/air flares, 1990s, 2000s, jackhammers, crickets, turtles, hand glides, halos, and elbow spins. Those b-boys who use “power moves” almost exclusively in their sets are referred to as “power heads.”
Abstract: A very broad style of b-boying which may include the incorporation of “threading” footwork, freestyle movement to hit beats, house dance, and “circus” styles (tricks, contortion, etc.).
Blow-up: A style of b-boying which focuses on the “wow factor” of certain power moves, freezes, and circus styles. Blowups consist of performing a sequence of as many difficult trick combinations in as quick succession as possible in order to “smack” or exceed the virtuosity of the other b-boy’s performance. The names of some of these moves are air baby, hollow backs, solar eclipse, and reverse air baby, among others. The main goal in blow-up style is the rapid transition through a sequence of power moves ending in a skillful freeze or “suicide”. Like freezes, a suicide is used to emphasize a strong beat in the music and signal the end to a routine. While freezes draw attention to a controlled final position, suicides draw attention to the motion of falling or losing control. B-boys or b-girls will make it appear that they have lost control and fall onto their backs, stomachs, and etc. The more painful the suicide appears, the more impressive it is, but breakers execute them in a way to minimize pain.
Flavor: A style that is based more on elaborate toprock, downrock, and/or freezes. This style is focused more on the beat and musicality of the song than having to rely on power moves only. B-boys who base their dance on “flavor” or style are known as “style heads”.

Downrock Styles
In addition to the styles listed above, certain footwork styles have been associated with different areas which popularized them.

Traditional New York Style: The original style of b-boying from the Bronx, based around the Russian Tropak dance. This style of downrock focuses on kicks called “CCs” and foundational moves such as 6-steps and variations of it.

Euro Style: Created in the eraly 90s, this style is very circular, focusing not on steps but more on glide-type moves such as the pretzel, deadlegs, undersweeps, and fluid sliding moves.

Canadian Style: Created in the late 90s, also known as the ‘Toronto thread’ style. Based upon the Euro Style, except characterized by elaborate leg threads.

Power vs. Style

Multiple stereotypes have emerged in the breaking community over the give-and-take relationship between technical footwork and physical power. 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.


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.

World Championships

Battle of the Year (BOTY) was founded in 1990 by Thomas Hergenrother in Germany. It is the first and largest international breaking competition for b-boy crews. BOTY holds regional qualifying tournaments in several countries such as Zimbabwe, Japan, Israel, Algeria, Indonesia, and the Balkans. Crews who win these tournaments go on to compete in the final championship in Montpellier, France. BOTY was featured in the independent documentary Planet B-Boy (2007) that filmed five b-boy crews training for the 2005 championship. A 3D film Battle of the Year: The Dream Team is scheduled for commercial release in January 2013. It was directed by Benson Lee who also directed Planet B-Boy.

The Notorious IBE is a Dutch-based breaking competition founded in 1998. IBE (International Breakdance Event) is not a traditional competition because there are not any stages or judges. Instead, there are timed competitive events that take place in large multitiered ciphers—circular dance spaces surrounded by observers—where the winners are determined by audience approval. There are several kinds of events such as the b-girl crew battle, the Seven 2 Smoke battle, the All vs. All continental battle (all the American b-boys vs. all the European b-boys vs. the Asian b-boys vs. Mexican/Brazilian b-boys), and the Circle Prinz IBE. The Circle Prinz IBE is a b-boy knockout tournament that takes place in multiple smaller cipher battles until the last standing b-boy is declared the winner. IBE also hosts the European finals for the UK B-Boy Championships.

Chelles Battle Pro was created in 2001 and it is held every year in Chelles, France. There are two competitions. One is a kids competition for solo b-boys and b-girls who are 12 years old or younger. The other competition is a knock-out tournament for eight b-boy crews. Some crews have to qualify at their country’s local tournament; others are invited straight to the finale.

Red Bull BC One was created in 2004 by Red Bull and is hosted in a different country every year. The competition brings together the top 16 b-boys from around the world. Six spots are earned through six regional qualifying tournaments. The other 10 spots are reserved for last year’s winner, wild card selections, and recommendations from an international panel of experts. A past participant of the competition is world record holder Mauro “Cico” Peruzzi. B-boy Cico holds the world record in 1990s. A 1990 is a move in which a breakers spins continuously on one hand—a hand spin rather than a head spin. Cico broke the record by spinning 27 times. A documentary based on the competition called Turn It Loose (2009) profiled six b-boys training for the 2007 championship in Johannesburg. Two of these b-boys were Ali “Lilou” Ramdani from Pockemon Crew and Omar “Roxrite” Delgado from Squadron.

Floor Wars is a three-on-three breaking competition founded in 2005 in Denmark. Eight top ranked international crews, referred to as the Great 8, are automatically invited to participate in the final. The other eight crews qualify for the final through regional tournaments.

R16 Korea is a South Korean breaking competition founded in 2007 by Asian Americans Charlie Shin and John Jay Chon. Like BOTY and Red Bull BC One put together, Respect16 is a competition for the top 16 ranked b-boy crews in the world. What sets it apart from other competitions is that it is sponsored by the government and broadcast live on Korean television and in several countries in Europe. In 2011, R16 instituted a new judging system that was created to eliminate bias and set a unified and fair standard for the way b-boy battles should be judged. With the new system, b-boys are judged against give criteria: foundation, dynamics (power moves), battle, originality, and execution. There is one judge for each category and the scores are shown on a large screen during battles so that the audience can see who is winning at any given moment.

World B-Boy Classic is a two-on-two Dutch breaking competition founded in 2009 in Rotterdam. An hour before the competition is to judge which duo has the best chemistry when working with someone they have not trained with. World B-Boy Classic takes place during Rotterdam’s annual Street Science Festival.

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.

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.” 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. The lower exposure of female dancers is probably caused not by an conscious discrimination, but simply by the fewer breakers compared to the number of male breakers. However, both males and females do practice this art form equally together and are competitively judged only by skill and personal expression, not gender.

DJ Fleg Classic Breaks Mix Vol

DJ Fleg Loz Strife TV Mixtape

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