How the Bronx brought breaking to the world

How the Bronx brought breaking to the world


There’s this scene in the movie Flashdance, where some b-boys are toprocking, busting out backspins, freezes, and a move that would later be called the moonwalk. But they aren’t just some random kids; they’re members of the Rock Steady Crew — one of the most influential [dance] crews that brought Hollywood fame to breaking. Many people recognize the term breakdancing, a name coined by the media in the 1980s, but the pioneers and practitioners of the dance form call it b-boying or breaking. The name breaking is broadly believed to have come from DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx in New York City. When hosting block parties in the 1970s, he started isolating the beats to create breaks in the songs. Joseph: It refers to a moment in the song where you build tension by having the instruments drop out and just having percussion or percussion and bass. Basically just the rhythm section. A really important scholar, Barbara Browning, had this great way to describe it where she says, “You feel compelled to fill the silence with motion.” The break is a part of a lot of African American and Afro Caribbean music, especially Latino music is a big part of the roots of this dance. Puerto Rican and Cuban music in particular. Traditionally, b-boys and b-girls danced to a mix of funk, soul, jazz, techno, rock, and disco. Joseph: The sound of the music is very aggressive, and very percussive. It’s a battle dance, so the music get people in the mood to battle. Joseph: You want to really be able to rock the beat, you want to be able to play with those rhythms, and reflect them in your body. Breaking is made up of four elements: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes. Toprock is the foot movement from a standing position. It’s the first display of style and a warm-up for the acrobatics of downrock. Downrock is when breakers use their hands and feet on the floor. This is where they show off foot speed and control of their footwork. From there a b-boy can move into power moves like the windmill and headspins. These moves need momentum and a ton of physical power. And the last element is a freeze, when a b-girl stops dancing and holds a position that requires incredible balance. These elements often draw movements from disciplines like kung-fu, tap dance, gymnastics, and capoeira. But there’s more to it. When Breaking first began, it was a way for disadvantaged kids in the Bronx to be recognized. It helped transform their street culture — where gang violence slowly made way for neighborhood crews that used dance to compete against each other. Now, with those competitions being commercialized, breaking means something different for the newer generation of b-boys and b-girls. Miguel: Competitions for me with breaking is a huge asset. I started competing because, the energy of the battle is like, amazing, plus it was money to win. I wanted to provide for my mom, my family, and help them out. You know? It’s a way for me to just prove myself, and put myself out there, and get better. I feel like I get better at competitions. But there those who believe that mainstream breaking has left some traditions behind. Chief 69: A lot of people don’t have that original style no more.The original b-boys would go to parties more—they would do more party rocking. They would interact more like on a personal level with the crowd, with the fly-girls. The b-boys today, they just go to competitions. They don’t necessarily dance at parties. Joseph: People are attracted to the acrobatic aspects of it, people are attracted to the flamboyance aspect of it. But bottomline of it it’s a dance and all that the gymnastics, the acrobatics, are all flavoring to add on top of the core which is really dancing, which is rhythm and movement and self expression. Breaking in its original form is more than just the dance. It’s a connection to your family, your friends, your neighborhood rivals—your community. Chief 69: In hip hop culture it’s very important to be connected to the community. Because we come from these communities. If we can’t even attempt to give back in some type of way, culturally, financially, economically, spiritually, philosophically — I feel we fall short. Joseph: A lot about hip hop dance and hip hop in general is getting people to notice you. I think that’s a personal thing for each individual person, but it’s also a political statement. All of that stuff is embedded in the dance. Just to say, not only am I important as an individual, but community is important, and the concerns of my community are important, and the perspective, the point of view of my community is important.

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