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The History of Hip-Hop Dance

The History of Hip-Hop Dance
Rafael Resendiz: flickr.com

Hip-hop dance began as a movement in the streets and clubs as a reaction to a new style of music, but within 20 years, it had taken the dance world by storm. Today, most mainstream dance schools teach hip-hop classes alongside ballet and tap. But, even now, the original b-boy crews, who learned on the streets, can't be surpassed in style and technique.

Beginning of Hip Hop Music

According to Jorge Pabon's article, "Physical Graffiti," hip-hop culture began in the 1970s in New York City, but it wasn't named as such until the 1980s. Hip-hop music emerged when a mixer named Kool DJ Herc took two identical records and played one behind the other on two turntables. In this way, he extended the break (the part of the song where all sounds fall away except for the drums), and dancers who moved to this rhythmic part of the song came to be known as "break dancers." DJ Herc began calling them "b-boys" and "b-girls," the "b" standing for break.

Early Break Dancing

B-boys and b-girls from New York started out dancing in a form called uprocking or top rocking, in which the movement was done upright, with the dancer standing on his feet. Pabon writes that top rocking has many influences: tap, the lindy hop, James Brown, various African and Native American dances, and martial arts films.

Brooklyn Uprocking

Brooklyn uprocking, popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, featured two opponents who engaged in a series of steps, jerks and the miming of weapons, called a "war dance." Soon, dance crews started competing in war dances. According to Pabon, a successful dancer had the swiftest movement and best jumps, drops and freezes, but could also employ humor to debase his opponent. Jerking became the highlight move of Brooklyn uprocking, and it continues to be a popular style today.

Break Dancing Moves to the Floor

From the beginning, break dancing had a highly competitive nature. In order to out-do other dancers, some extended their movements to the ground with "footwork" and "freezes." According to Pabon, this consisted of fancy leg movements on the ground, with the body supported by the arms, which was also known as "floor rocking." Over time, moves became more sophisticated, difficult and dynamic as dancers tried to outshine each other. "Freeze" moves, during which the dancer stops all movement momentarily, were often used to mock or humiliate the opponent in a challenge. In 1977, a group of b-boys from the Bronx formed the Rock Steady Crew, which is still a powerful force in hip-hop today. In the early 1980s, break dancers started doing "spins," such as the pencil, butt spin and windmill. This gave way to what some call power moves and acrobatics.

West Coast Hip-Hop

Throughout the 1970s, the West Coast was also engaged in a new cultural movement known as funk. In Los Angeles, Don Campbell started a dance phenomenon known as "locking," which combined "sharp, linear limb extensions and elastic-like movement," according to Pabon. Campbell's group, the Lockers, appeared on TV variety shows such as the Johnny Carson Show, and the style gained huge popularity.

Electric Boogaloo

In 1976, the group known as the Electric Boogaloo Lockers was formed in Fresno, California. Some of their inspirations were Chubby Checker and James Brown. Their style incorporated isolated sharp angles, hip rotations and the use of every part of the body. One member of the group, Timothy Solomon, started the style known as "popping." According to Pabon, popping was a term describing sudden muscle contractions that accentuated the dancer's movement, causing a quick, jolting effect. Since its inception, many other forms of the dance have developed. Soon, elements of pantomime were merged with the dance, and some combined the two styles into "pop-locking." Other towns in central California created their own original forms of dance, and they have all contributed to the blended style of hip-hop that we see today.

Hip-Hop Fusion

East Coast and West Coast dance styles became fused by the media in the 1980s because of the music that was common between them. But, as Pabon writes, each dance form had a different musical influence, dress code and terminology. Today, "hip-hop" is an umbrella term for all these styles, and some choreographers blend them together, while some performers specialize in one particular form. In the early 1980s, music videos by artists such as Rod Stewart and movies such as "Flashdance" featured hip-hop dancers, helping to bring the style from the streets to the mainstream media. In the 1990s, hip-hop dance spread all over the world, with dance crews as far away as Japan. Since 2000, as hip-hop culture has taken the world by storm, hip-hop dance has become accepted as a major choreography style.

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