Street dancing is any style of dance that got its start outside the dance studio, typically in urban streets, schoolyards and clubs. From its roots in the late 1960s African American street culture of New York, the edgy, syncopated moves have earned global acceptance as a vibrant contemporary dance discipline.
Street Dance Background
What is called street dancing today developed in a rec room party in the Bronx in 1973 when DJ Kool Herc mixed records, 'breaking' and scratching them to prolong the instrumental sections so the dancers could show their moves longer. The extended dance was called breaking, and the emcee patter that covered the breaks became rap. Competition heated up over fancy moves as b-boys and b-girls worked out their styles to funk, soul, rock and percussion riffs in the streets and schoolyards.
The West Coast created some signature moves to rock and funk as well. Waacking came from the gay dance clubs that featured 1970s disco music in L.A. Locking and popping also developed in L.A. in the 1970s and crossed over into an umbrella hip hop category that expanded to include a fight style called krumping in the 1980s.
Hip hop in all its forms can be found everywhere from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton to TV reality shows like So You Think You Can Dance. As an art form, street dancing requires real mastery, but an amateur enthusiast can pick up a few smooth moves in a dance studio or by watching videos online.
Breaking, b-boying or b-girling is often referred to as "breakdancing," a generic term coined by the media that the dancers don't use. Breaking features close-to-the-ground improv and acrobatic head, shoulder, back and hand spins choreographed to hip hop, funk and solo percussion riffs, or "breakbeat" music. The gravity-defying spins and footwork came straight out of those original parties and clubs in 1970's Harlem and the Bronx.
Locking and Popping
Locking and popping look similar but they are really two distinct styles. Locking is a kind of funk that involves freezing a move and then resuming it at a fast pace, a series of rapid contractions that focus on exaggerated arm and hand movements. Lockers use splits and drops to their knees as well as interaction with the audience. Their routines frequently combine locking moves with popping. Popping features jerky, explosive moves that thrust outward from a quick contraction. Advanced poppers work their upper and lower bodies at the same time.
Tutting looks like a flip book of Egyptian frieze paintings. It's a series of angular moves, primarily for the arms, shoulders and hands. The style was named for King Tut and tutters create intricate and improbably perpendicular angles with their hands and arms, syncopated to the music. Finger tutting is an elaborate specialty, a product of the 1990s Big Apple rave scene. Fingers form a series of shapes made from 90-degree angles and continuous moves in which the fingers always remain touching.
Animation is twitchy, glitchy and weird - waves and zigzags that sweep through the body, interrupted by constant tics and sudden freezes into poses derived from cartoon characters. The Guardian describes animation as a "jerky, freeze-frame style" in which a dancer seems to have no bones and to be electronically controlled. Animation dancers such as tWitch and Spencer have popularized the form on shows like So You Think You Can Dance and show their new moves in performances and master classes at dance conventions.
Krumping is very fast and aggressive hip hop dance that incorporates locking, popping, improvisational or freestyle moves and upright posture. It's a bi-coastal mash-up of gang culture and clowning. Rhythmic bobbing and jerking, spine flexing and chest popping are staged in mock battles between two or more dancers. Krumping started as a nonviolent alternative to street violence and has been picked up by artists from Missy Elliott to Madonna in music videos.
Waacking often incorporates 1960s East Coast voguing, and mimics signature poses of old-time movie stars such as Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall. It's a '70s West Coast punk style that started in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles and was popularized on the TV show Soul Train. The freestyle diva-ish choreography is danced to 1970s disco and music by artists such as Diana Ross and James Brown. Dancers show off their musicality, sense of rhythm and emotional interpretation with fluid arm-over-and-behind-the-shoulder moves, fancy footwork and voguish runway poses.
Learn to Street Dance
A beginner hip hop class is your best bet to learn street dancing. Many dance studios offer introductory to advanced hip hop classes and encourage novice dancers and non-professionals to try out the footwork, arm movements and "attitude" that give hip-hop its gritty urban flavor.
Check local dance studio websites for schedules and sign-up information, and call or email to be certain of the level and find out what to wear. Expect a very different experience from a ballet, tap or jazz class. An instructor will demonstrate and break down basic moves and simple combinations for you to follow, gradually adding more movements and correcting your form as you progress.
If there are no street dance classes in your area, there are plenty of instructional videos online that you can learn with at your own pace. From dance routines for beginners to learning specific moves, you can pick up just about any style of street dance with the aid of your computer.
Try a Body Wave
If you'd like to get started learning the basics, here's a basic move that's easy to master.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly soft and your arms relaxed.
- Tilt your head back as you open your shoulders wide and move them back.
- Push your chest forward and let your ribs follow naturally.
- Contract your abs, rounding your shoulders and pulling your ribs back.
- Tighten your glutes as you push your hips forward.
- To complete the illusion of a wave, let your head fall forward and look down.
- Practice until you can do the moves smoothly to the beat of the music - it helps to work in front of a mirror.
Street dancing is an urban phenomenon gone mainstream. After you learn a few moves, you can pick out the epic dancers in a music video or add a few show-off moonwalks or helicopters to your footwork at a club. The fun of hip-hop and its many styles is that those styles are constantly evolving. Once you try it you may get hooked -- and then you can invent a few innovative killer moves of your own.