Art of Breakdancing Term Paper

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The dance style known as breakdancing has other names including "b-boying" and "breaking." The latter are the preferred terms used by those who are purists and originators of the form with breakdancing becoming the more popular term as popularized by the media (Schloss). This originated as part of the emerging hip-hop culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It became quickly popular, first in urban communities and then spread. In the current historical moment, breakdancing can be found in all social, ethnic, and gender groups and has been developed from a style of popular dance into an art form. What began as a street dance to impress peers has transcended the culture and become a part of the dance world, giving as much respect and dignity as ballet or waltz. Breakdancing mastery requires a great deal of control, coordination, and practice. Those who attempt it without understanding the mechanics of their body risk intense and potentially fatal injury. More than one person has been left paralyzed by attempting to copy the moves of a breakdancer they saw on television or on the street. As an artistic dance form, breakdancing has been seen in films, in performance art, and even on the Broadway stage.

Breakdancing began in New York City in lower class and economically challenged neighborhoods populated primarily by African-Americans and Latin Americans (Schloss). Two young men who are considered the founders of breakdancing are Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon and Kenneth "Ken Swift" Gabbert (Cook). They said that dance moves were initially inspired by the live performances of soul singer James Brown. Another inspiration was martial arts and kung fu films which became popular in the United States during the 1970s. The physicality of the dance moves involved in breakdancing makes it clear to see the influences of these two ideas on the artists.

There are four primary components to breakdancing: toprock, downrock, power moves, and freezes. These are the four basic steps and the artist will choreograph themselves using each of these categories. There are also suicides which is a dramatic way to end the performance which only some breakdancers use. Toprock refers to the steps which are performed while the dancer is in the standing position (Chang 20). It is both the first step performed and shows the audience the attitude that the dancer wishes to express through his performance, such as aggression or calmness. The dancer transitions from the toprock position to downrock, a move known as dropping. Downrock is also known by the terms "footwork" and "floorwork." These are movements which are performed on the floor with the hands used to support the dancer as much as they use their feet for balance (Footwork). Power moves are those which are acrobatic in nature. These are specific moves which can be incorporated into a breakdancing routine based on the skill level of the dancer. One of the most acrobatic dance moves is called flare wherein the dancer alternates between balancing their torso on either arm while simultaneously swinging their legs in circles (Delgado). Such moves have to be built up to because they require momentum, speed, endurance, physical strength and extreme control of one's body. If the move has not had proper build up, then it will likely fail. Usually the only source of support is the upper body while the rest of the limbs are involved in quick and calculated movement. A freeze is a stylish and intentional pose where in the breakdancer ceases motion. Highly skilled dancers can formulate a freeze where they are suspended above the ground. Often this is the end of the performance, but some particularly skilled dancers use a technique called a suicide. This is a freeze where it looks like the performer has lost control and they cease motion in the middle of a move. It is highly dangerous because the dancer will likely fall flat on their stomachs or backs without arms or legs to help cushion the fall.

In addition to the four basic move types, there are four distinct types of breakdancers. The different terms for these styles are: power, abstract, blowup, and flavor. Power breakdancers are what most people think of when they think of breakdancing. These are the dancers who use spins with their entire body, including head spins. They use almost all power moves in their routines. Abstract dancers tend to incorporate more footwork than the other move types. Blowup artists focus on singular, spectacular moves. Such dancers use as many highly-skilled and high-risk moves as possible in a single performance. Finally, flavor dancers have much more incorporation of the music into their performances than other artists where the music tends to be tangential to the dancing itself.

The music which breakdancing is performed to is traditionally hip hop and the format derived from an extension of more traditional hip hop dance moves. Dance clubs in the latter 1970s became the locations where breakdancing became the most popular and where new people were introduced to the techniques necessary for the form. In one dance club of the Bronx in New York, a DJ known as Kool Herc began to take the sections of a song where the rhythm breaks down, known as breaks, and prolong them artificially. When the prolonged breaks would happen, the dancers in the club would use their dancing and improvisational skills to show off what incredible breakdancers they were. Dancers would compete against one another in these instances, not for any reward but for bragging rights. Colloquially, the person who lost would be "served." Within the club, an audience would form a circle around those participating in the contest; the circles are known as ciphers and prevent the participants from leaving before the competition is over. These were the first breakdancing battles; an idea which has become synonymous with the idea of breakdancing.

Breakdancing is known to many audiences for its appearance in films, many of which include urban, street-savvy teenagers who use breakdancing in order to prove sociological or political points and to win either physical or sociological territory over the group that had been their enemy (Bloom). Such presentations have opened breakdancing up to a wider range of people and introduced an audience who might not be otherwise aware of it. There are positive and negatives associated with the portrayals of breakdancing and breakdancers in modern media. It has made dancing more popular and has allowed dancers to perform for a larger audience and in a larger array of venues, but has also led to imitation and performances of those without talent or necessary diligence.

When first created, breakdancing was an extremely individual enterprise. Each region had a different style which showed their cultural influence as well as the personal style of the individual dancer. As the style progressed and spread out to even suburban parts of the country, there was even more individualization. However, those involved in the creation of breakdancing and the elevation of the form to an art have complained that the individuality of breakdancing is not part of the dancing anymore. The internet has created a means by which anyone can watch multiple videos of people breakdancing and they then go about imitating what they see on the internet rather than creating their own unique choreography. Some dancers, such as early dancer Jacob "Kujo" Lyons have stated that the internet has created a cultural hegemony on what should be done in dancing and individuality is part of the modern dance which the original dancers claim is far too mainstream and modified by media influence. In an article for B-Boy Magazine, he stated, "Everybody watches the same videos online, everybody ends up looking very similar…I've been saying these things for almost a decade, and most people don't listen, but continue watching the same…[continue]

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