When we think B-boy, we generally think about headspins and insane power moves. But B-boying has a very diverse history influenced by underground culture.
The B is for Break
A break is a section of a song that “breaks” away from the musical form, usually resulting in hard driving percussive rhythms. This was the section that dancers would pull out their most impressive steps and moves. Traditionally, breaks were fairly short, so DJs adjusted. Kool DJ Herc is most well known for extending these breaks by using two turntables and going back and forth with two copies of the same song, allowing the dancers a longer “break-down.”
This gave the perfect opportunity for a dance-off known as Breaking Battles. The goal was to beat the opponent by being more creative with steps and freezes and by doing better and faster moves. But a dancer wasn’t often alone. Breaking crews were formed. Simultaneously, rivalries and communities were created. This dance looked much different than what we see today, it was originally done upright, a form which became known as "top rocking." Influences for this style were pulled from from Brooklyn uprocking, tap dance, lindy hop, salsa, and even martial arts films (thank you Bruce Lee!). As the art form grew, so did the number of influences that defined it.
The Golden Age of B-boy
In the late 70s, we got the spins. The Headspin and Windmill were incorporated into the dance. Once the 80s hit, the media started paying attention to this incredible underground movement. The Rock Steady Crew and Dynamic Rockers aired on ABC, successfully exposing breaking to a massive audience. In came movies like “Flashdance” and “Beat Street,” commercials for milk and Burger King, TV shows, you name it! Breakdancing had hit the mainstream.
The Winter of B-Boy
After the hype had calmed, breaking faded for a while from the public eye. But luckily a few devoted B-boys just couldn’t let go. Now, even in the 2010s we are seeing a resurgence of underground hip hop culture, including the return of the B-boy. Huge, convention-like events are held to bring together dancers from all around the world, allowing those devoted B-boys to teach the next generation.
Today B-boying isn’t just a dance, it’s a culture, a way to look at the world. It has a rich, dynamic history that has a unique staying power beyond all the fads. B-boy lives on for anyone who takes the time to look.