A Brief Intro to… B-Boying
Updated: Feb 5
Leake Street has become a popular location for dance video shoots and last month, we welcomed The London Spring Tour (LST) to film their finale video. LST is an invitation-only dance intensive for advanced dancers who want to learn about the commercial dance industry in London, UK. Running from 12th to 19th March, the tour included educational seminars, dance tuition, live shows, makeover and professional video shoot. Whilst the tour incorporated various styles of dance, the shoot on Leake Street primarily focused on street dance which inspired this latest blog post…
B-boying, later known in mainstream media as break dancing, is an athletic type of street dancing relying on four main elements: momentum, creativity, balance and strength. Set to hip-hop, funk or breakbeat music, this form of dancing has appeared over the decades, however it wasn’t until the late 1900’s that it gained momentum and took on its own identity. As b-boying’s popularity increased, its music genres have as well, making the style more diverse and unique.
B-boying was popularised by Puerto Rican and African American youths who had previously been involved in street gangs in the Bronx during the 1970’s. The original b-boys (break-boys), b-girls (break-girls) and breakers, were dancers who performed to what was known as breakbeats by DJ Kool Herc. DJ Kool Herc pioneered and founded the rules of hip-hop music, continually looping the breakdown section of each song, hence the term ‘breakers’, however, ‘breaking’ was also slang for energy, excitement and acting out in the 1970’s. This was exactly the feeling of the B-boys and B-girls of the 1970’s, and they were channelling this energy into dance.
B-boying consists of four main moves:
Breakers move unrelentingly to the beat during a routine, Toprock helps them achieve this. Toprock is when a dancer – remaining standing – keeps moving their feet in time to the music. They allow the beat of the music to guide them, linking the power moves with movement, and never letting their energy fade.
Downrock is similar to toprock, in that it keeps the dancer moving at all times. During downrock moves the dancer stays low to the ground, using the beat and their coordination to alternate between moving their arms and legs over each other, pressing against the floor to gain momentum for power moves.
Power moves are more acrobatic, utilising momentum and force to impress with this gymnastic spectacle. They often incorporate flips, spins and handstands, amongst other seemingly gravity-defying moves.
Freezes are when the b-boy reaches the peak of a power move and halts to a stationary position. The dancer’s balance and strength has to be of a high standard to pull this move off. Freezes are used at the end of a set, or to accentuate a strong beat.
B-boying impressed and moved so many, that it was quickly adopted as a popular form of street entertainment and started appearing in a number of countries around the world. These b-boys, b-girls, or breakers took to the world’s streets, heightening b-boying’s popularity until it became recognisable in popular media and entertainment. However, this was not without criticism, as breaker devotees regarded this new breakdancing fad as exploitative of the art form, focusing on impressive stunts and taking the emphasis away from its true style by simplifying it.
Not only did b-boying serve as a means of entertainment, but there were rumours that its dance challenges replaced some of the violent fights that were taking place on the streets between opposing gangs. In other countries b-boying was just as successful, and in 1984 it was given its own nationally broadcast television show in France, welcoming b-boying to the silver screen.
This recognition paved the way for breaking tournaments, starting in 1990. It was Thomas Hergenröther in Germany who founded Battle of the Year, the inaugural – and largest – breaking competition. It has since been featured in an independent documentary Planet B-Boy and in 2013 a 3D Battle of the Year film was released.
Throughout the 1990’s in Japan, breakers would congregate on Sundays in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo to demonstrate their skills. It wasn’t until 1997 in South Korea – dubbed as the ‘Year Zero of Korean Breaking’ – that the b-boying craze took hold. Since then, breaking has been such a significant influence on South Korean culture, that the government began sponsoring a b-boying event: R-16 Korea. 2015 was the last time this event would be held in South Korea, when the event moved to Taiwan and was renamed to R-16 World Championships.
In 1998 The Notorious International Breakdance Event was launched. Lacking judges and stages, this competition focuses mainly on time sensitivity. Each round takes place in a quasi-coliseum room, with spectators surrounding the dancers, who are judged by timing and audience approval. With plenty of other breaking competitions to be found around the world (Battle Pro, Red Bull BC One, Floor Wars, World BBoy Classic, Solverde World Battle, B-Boy B-Girl Africa), as well as B-boying premiering in the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics, these tournaments are not its only means of exhibition.
B-boying has been featured on the big (and small) screen, in literature and even in video games. The most recent game in this genre is Floor Kids for the Nintendo Switch, a game in which you can judge others dancing, whilst trying to perfect your own routine. It is already the winner of numerous awards, proving that breaking is going from strength to strength, and its popularity shows no signs of waning any time soon.
With B-boying continuing to grow across the world, it remains one of the most impressive sports from the last century. It appears to be far more than just a sport, pass-time for people on the streets, and form of entertainment for passers-by to watch. It matches a love of music and ear for rhythm with balance, momentum, strength and creativity. Breaking is a complicated form of art, a balancing act between all of these skills, and a means of bringing people together to release this energy, excitement, and to ‘act out’ together.