History of Hip Hop Dance

Rachel Hanson
dance

Compared to many other dance forms, hip hop has a relatively short history. The beginnings of this dance form date back to the 1960s and 70s, but of course the movements and the music have roots dating back much further in time.

Early History of Hip Hop Dance

Hip hop dancing is thought to have officially begun in New York City during the late 1960s and early 70s. During this time, individuals without professional dance training but with a natural instinct for movement, brought dancing to the streets. A dance form meant to be popular in the original sense of the word, meaning that it was for the people and not for the academy, hip hop moves were inspired by complex rhythms and the down-to-earth movement style of African dancing. Music and movement came together to form a new art. While vestiges of modern, tap, swing, and African dancing can all be found in hip hop, this dance style is really in a class of its own when it comes to improvisation and an edge of competition.

The roots of hip hop on the East Coast are widely known, but there is also a West Coast hip hop history from which many of the most well-known hip hop moves originated.

East Coast Hip Hop

While hip hop didn't develop only on the East Coast, many dancers neglect the West Coast origins of hip hop and attribute all of the dance's development to East Coast (New York City) artists. While it wasn't yet called hip hop dance, this art form really began to develop when DJ Herc moved to Brooklyn at the age of 12, and started an informal performance career that would quickly turn him into one of the most popular DJs in New York City.

Moving to New York City from Jamaica, Kool DJ Herc was the first DJ to make unique music by playing two record machines with the same record on both. The rhythms he created were one of the important founding elements of hip hop; he also extended the dance section of songs so that the dancers could show off their moves for a longer interlude, laying the foundation for a significant dance culture.

West Coast Hip Hop

On the West Coast, hip hop dancing is said to have been inspired by the robots in the movies of the 1960s and 70s. Wanting to replicate the movement of artificial life, the following pioneers shaped hip hop on the West Coast:

  • Boogaloo Sam: The creator of popping, Boogaloo Sam was an important influence in hip hop evolution. Contributing to the early West Coast hip hop scene in the 1970s, he had an innate gift for music and movement and was the founder of the dance group Electric Boogaloo.
  • Don Campbellock: While his real name was Don Campbell, his invention, locking, influenced his name. Known as Don Campbellock, this important figure in hip hop dancing created the dance group The Lockers, and his iconic dance shaped the early West Coast scene.

American Hip Hop

While for hip hop dancers, the popping and locking of the West Coast and the breaking of the East Coast are two very separate dance styles, the two regional variants often get blended and grouped into the genre 'hip hop.' As the dance form continued to evolve many dancers retained the original styles respective to each region, while other artists brought in not only several different styles of hip hop dancing, but also additional dance styles such as swing.

1980s Evolution of Hip Hop

When hip hop first started it was a performative, but informal, dance culture. B-boys and b-girls (terms introduced by DJ Herc) would be invited to show off their moves by other people on the street, on the basketball court, or wherever the group happened to be. As the moves became more institutionalized (for example, breaking, popping, and locking), and more and more dancers got caught up in the rhythms of the music, more formal dance venues arose. While these performances were more formal, the competitive nature of hip hop remained, as well as the circular nature of the audience surrounding the dancers.

In the 1980s and 90s more clubs featured hip hop DJs, especially in the larger cities, and dancers of all skill levels would hit the dance floor. Both informal and formal competitions often arose. Informal competitions started when a few truly exceptional dancers were noticed on the dance floor; the rest of the people would back off and allow the leaders to duke it out. As these informal competitions became increasingly common and popular, announced competitions became part of a night out at hip hop clubs. Whether they arose organically or they were advertised in advance, this competitive nature helped hip hop retain the "battle" culture that has existed since the beginning. This type of competition can also be seen in other dance forms, perhaps most notably in tap dancing of the early 20th century.

21st Century Hip Hop

Nowadays, hip hop is a dance form that is also practiced on stage. While the roots of hip hop were informal and group-based instead of audience-based, the art form has become so popular that an audience culture in formal performance venues developed during the 1990s. Popular hip hop dancers can rock a club scene, but they can also mesmerize an audience of dance experts or wow national television audiences. Choreographer Wade Robson created his television show, The Wade Robson Project, to select upcoming hip hop dance talent, while dance crews like Diversity and iCONic Boyz were busy impressing television audiences with their moves and styles.

Since the advent of music television, hip hop has become an important influence in performance dancing for music videos. Walking a fine line between street dance and hip hop, much of what the stars use in their videos, and now onstage as well, was influenced by the hip hop art form.

Popular Hip Hop

Perhaps fittingly, given its humble beginnings as a street dance, hip hop has become increasingly popular in the past two decades. Thanks to irresistible rhythms and eye-catching steps that break many of the conventions of classical dance, hip hop has caught the attention of the modern public. Hip hop started on the streets in some of the United States' ghettos, and has made its way to illustrious performance venues across the globe. In a short period of time, hip hop has carved a substantial chunk of dance culture out for itself, and dance lovers celebrate the innovative nature of hip hop choreography and style.

History of Hip Hop Dance