Is Break Dancing a Sport or a Dance Style?

Break dancing is a hip-hop dance style born on the streets of New York in the 1960s and has since gone from the clubs to the mainstream. Combining elements of dance and acrobatics, break dancing often involves dance battles, giving it a competitive reputation.

With this history of “battles” and the news that break dancing is headed to the 2024 Olympics, there is now the question of whether break dancing is a sport or a dance style. Break dancing is an established dance style, but now that it is an Olympic event, it is also a sport.

If you are curious about break dancing and how it made the leap to the Olympics, we have a brief history of the evolution of break dancing and how it became a competitive sport below.

Is Break Dancing a Sport?

In the early days of break dancing on the streets of New York, breaking was used as a way for rival gangs to fight for turf. The two best dancers would battle each other to see who the best breaker was. In dance challenges, b-boys challenge each other to test their skills.

Break Dancing Goes To the Olympics

Break dancing has always had an element of competition, and it seems that the International Olympic Committee agrees. Starting at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, break dancing will be an official Olympic sport. This addition is part of the IOC’s goal to attract younger viewers.

Breaking, as it will be called during the Olympics, first made its international competitive debut at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. The breaking events drew crowds of 30,000 spectators. One can only imagine how much interest there would be at the Paris Games.

Breaking was fully approved by the IOC in 2019. At the Paris Games, 32 athletes (16 men and 16 women) will compete in one-on-one break challenges. There will be men and women’s challenges as well as mixed teams. Olympic officials hope that the excitement from the Youth Olympics competition will carry over to the full Olympic Games.

Not Everyone Agrees That Breaking is a Sport

The news of the addition of breaking to the Olympic roster has not been universally welcomed. Some question whether break dancing can be considered a sport since there are no points or definitive scores. Others wonder why it was included at the expense of more established sports that have been waiting to join.

Most people agree that dancers are athletic and that break dancing does indeed incorporate elements of gymnastics, which has been an Olympic sport for many years. Critics say, however, that most forms of dancing involve athleticism and if breaking is included in the Olympics, is ballet next?

It is worth remembering that when snowboarding, halfpipe, and other newer winter sports were included in the Olympics, people questioned whether they belonged or not alongside winter sports that are more traditional. Time will tell whether break dancing is accepted as a sport.

Break Dancing is Inclusive

Over recent years, the Olympic Committee has focused on making the Games more inclusive, with more gender equity and sports that appeal to a diverse audience. Break dancing is a good addition because men and women perform it, and the mixed team competition will make this one of the few sports where men and women compete against each other on equal footing.

Unlike other sports in the Olympics, breaking doesn’t require any special equipment or training. This means that less privileged dancers are still able to learn how to break and can improve their skills with the potential of going to the Olympics themselves.

Break Dancing is a 20th Century Dance

When people learn to dance, they are usually learning dance forms that have evolved over centuries, like ballet or ballroom dancing. Break dancing, on the other hand, is a relatively new type of dancing, becoming popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It originated in New York City and was popularized by African American and Latino youths, called b-boys and b-girls.

Unlike classical dance, there are no standard moves. It is instead an improvised dance style, with influences from:

  • Salsa
  • Martial arts
  • Tap dance
  • Gymnastics
  • The dance style of James Brown

Break dancing was originally performed to Afro-Latin funk music. It has since become a staple of the hip-hop dance genre and is regularly seen in music videos and on stage at concerts.

Break Dancing Gets Its Name From the Deejays

In the early days, break dancing was a popular club dance. The term “break” comes from the rhythms and sounds produced when deejays mixed records to create a continuous beat. Break dancing refers to several different and distinct dance styles. The type most people think of is called b-boying/breaking/breakin’.

Break Dancing Became Mainstream in the 1980s

The wider public became aware of break dancing in the 1980s as more mainstream artists incorporated it into their stage acts. One notable example is Michael Jackson, whose moonwalk move was imitated by dancers all over the world. Television viewers were also exposed to break dancing on TV shows like Soul Train.

Break dancing is now an established dance form that has influenced hip-hop dance and shows up in movies, TV shows, and music videos. High schools and colleges have break dancing clubs and if you are in a city park, you might see a street b-boy breaking.

Break Dancing is Made Up of Four Parts

Although break dancing is not a choreographed dance style, like ballroom dancing, it is made up of different parts that show up throughout a breaker’s routine. The four parts of break dancing are:

  • Toprock: The dancer toprocks from a standing position (up top). They move their body in a rocking motion. The dancer is rocking his top. You can see a good example of toprocking here. Toprocking is when you introduce yourself to the audience and other b-boys and b-girls.
  • Downrock: Downrock is performed from the ground. The dancer uses not only their feet but other parts of their body. Footwork is a major subcategory of downrock that only uses hands and feet. The other subcategory is floowork, where the dancer uses their backs, stomachs, and shoulders. You can see many downrock examples in this video.
  • Power Moves: Power moves are probably what you picture when you think of break dancing. They include the more acrobatic moves like spins and flares. For a demonstration of power moves, take a look at this video.
  • Freezing: The final element of break dancing is freezing, when the dancer pauses their movements into a stationary position. This is usually done with the b-boy has completed a series of moves. Freezes can include balancing on one hand or lying on the floor. See some examples of freezing here.

When dancers are breaking, they combine all of these elements into an improvisational, freestyle dance. Depending on the skill and experience of the breaker, the moves can be really impressive.

Break Dancing on Verge of Becoming International Sport

At the moment, there is no doubt that breaking is a dance style. It is still performed in clubs and on music videos. However, with the designation as a sport at the Olympics, it is only a matter of time until it is widely recognized as a sport. Like many other sports in the world, break dancing will evolve as it gains more acceptance.

Tune in to the Paris games to see the b-boys and b-girls in their element, and you can decide for yourself. 

Dec 15, 2020

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