Breaking is a dance that is fun and expressive. Maybe you want to learn how to break or to improve your breaking. Hopefully this page will help you get started and keep on going.
DON'T GET INTIMIDATED OR DISCOURAGED! DANCE IS HARD! But it is FUN and REWARDING!
This page has many photos and charts so hit the refresh to load them all if you're on a slow connection.
This is a basic framework with general concepts, and it's organized like a quick-reference where you can skim, jump around with the back to top // page index tool, or cross-reference with your own external research. Breaking does not have a codified naming system like ballet, but the names and terms provided on this page are accurate to the degree of consensus available.
A breaker is a bboy or a bgirl.
Breaking (bboying/bgirling or breakdancing) is the original hip-hop dance. It originated in New York City's the Bronx in the late 1970's, and now it is practiced all over the world and across many cultures. It is a dance, a lifestyle, and a culture.
This aspect is first and foremost because this is how almost all breakers get started: a friend showed it to them and taught them some basic moves. A friend named Paulo got me started. At the time, he had only been breaking for like 2-3 months and was a newbie. Yet he got me started to something I love and I'd be doing for life! IT DOESN'T MATTER YOUR LEVEL OR YOUR FRIEND'S LEVEL. A pic of Paulo doing a coindrop:
Friendships and mentorship is a crucial part of the dance, and we are all moving and striving together. Even if it is a solo dance, and each has their own indidual relationship to the dance and their own individual style, we take turns sharing the circle. We're not actually alone. Each one teaches one.
Don't have pride, ask for help! Battling, rivalries, etc is a part of this dance's history and culture, but friendship and mentorship is the bedrock of this dance. The level of friendship that develops through breaking with someone is very deep, because it is a friendship that develops through adversity, struggle, and joy. Find a friend to break with! My homies have told me that the hardest times that they've experienced dancing is extended times practicing all by themselves with none other to break with; I've experienced this myself.
A friend will get you to start, and a friend will get you to keep going. A friend will help you re-ignite the love of dance, and you will help your friend re-ignite his love for breaking.
Breaking is a freestyle dance, which means it's just getting down and doing it. While it has a lot of freedom, it has a structure, too. A breaking 'set' or a 'round' can be compared to a spoken statement, but done in movement. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Dance is a Language. It has emphasis and inflection. Typically it starts with TOPROCK, then a DROP to the floor, some mix of DOWNROCK and/or POWERMOVES and ends with FREEZE, but it doesn't have to be in that order, or contain every single element.
Music informs the movement, so dance is the physical manifestation of music. Breaking comes from Funk, Soul, and Hip-hop music. The term "Break" comes from Drum-Break, where the band pulls back to let the drummer break it down during the song. Early DJs adopted twin turntables to extend this break, where dancers would get down with the breakin style. James Brown is considered by many to be the first b-boy, and his music is extremely influential to the dance. Another dance style called ROCK DANCE or UPROCK heavily informs breaking in music and movement, to the extent that many elements of rock dance is embedded inside breaking.
Breaking's basic count pattern for a 4 count is [1, 2, 3 and 4] which is the count pattern for Uprock's Jerk and Drop
The internet made it easy to replicate, modify, and share music. A lot of DJs upload complete mixtapes for bboys and bgirls to practice and cypher, and some producers make tracks strictly for breakin. I will link a few favorite mixtapes below as the extended play lets you get immersed in the music and movement. These links will open up externally in Soundcloud or Youtube.
DJ Leacy & Nucleus - All music Loverz Mix
Mix Master Mike - Spin Psycle
Nobunaga - World Bboy Classic
DJ Fleg - Bboyism
DJ Lean Rock - Betwn the Brks
Felix - The Bboy Spot Mixtape 4
Rockid Sound Machine - Funky Grooves for Yalta Summer Jam 2022
South DJ Scream - Son 15 Mix 2020
BornOner - Just Break Mixtape
DJ Leg1oner - Cypher
DJ BlesOne - Cassette tape breaks
DJ Mane One - Gimme a Break
AmazeMe - When the Funk hits you
DJ Rumor - James Brown Mix
Let's get down to it. Breaking has a few sub categories of movements. The categories are meant to be descriptive, not strict, since the dance emphasizes freedom and originality. THIS MOVELIST IS VERY BASIC, because to list all the moves would be impossible: many breakers have signature moves and flows, and the list of moves grows as people create new moves all the time. The names of the movements are approximations since breaking is not a codified system. THIS MOVELIST IS NOT TO OVERWHELM THE BEGINNER: This list is to (a) show the depth and scope of the dance (b) hopefully give you some ideas of movement. A bboy / bgirl in real life would be better at demonstrating the move, and online tutorials are available.
Other elements are FLIPS / TRICKS and TRANSITIONS. All of these movement elements (and more) make up the freestyle. You can also ask a breaker to show you; learning from another person face-to-face is the best way. Since this is a dance art, everything is happening at once. Take your time and have patience with yourself. Learn every element of the dance, then combine it!
TOPROCKTOPROCK is dancing uptop. Most times it used as an intro, but toprocking itself can be a complete dance. Toprock sometimes take elements from an older dance called UPROCKING (from ROCK DANCE), with BURNS.
Some TOPROCK moves:
- 2 step
- Salsa Step
- Indian Step
- Rock Step (Jerk)
- Front and Back Cross Step
- Kick Step
Bboy McFly toprocking:
DROPSA DROP or GO-DOWN means a downward level change, often going from TOPROCK to DOWNROCK. You can do a DROP to go down, then a move to transition back into a standing position (called a GET-UP), then DROP again into a FREEZE or POWERMOVES. Drops can be simple or complex.
- Knee-drop (Colt 45)
- Corkscrew (Spin down)
- Front/Back sweep
- Cross step (to go into Powermoves)
- Coindrop (shoulder drop)
Albert dropping into footwork:
DOWNROCKDOWNROCK is the meat and bone of this dance. DownRock has many sub-elements, of which includes FOOTWORK which are steps done on the ground, BACK-ROCKS which are floor moves, along with Threads, tricks, transitions, patterns, and flow.
- 6 step pattern
- 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 step pattern
- sweeps ("helicopters" or "coffee grinders")
- CC's and variations
- Backrock CC's and variations
- spider footwork
Conway doing a backrock thread:
Sean doing some footwork:
POWERMOVESPOWERMOVES are movements emphasizing dynamics. When non-dancers think of breakin they probably think of one of these moves. FLIPS and TRICKS are related to powermoves.
- Windmill and variations like Baby Mills (Munch mills) or German (Tap mills)
- Halos (Head tracks)
- Airflares (Airtracks)
- Elbow airflares (Elbow trax)
- 1990s and 2000s and DeadMan 90s and 2000s
Johan with an airflare:
FREEZESFREEZES are a stop in movement. Most times bboys and bgirls would form a dope shape with their body.
Some FREEZES:Notes on freezes: Freezes just means a stop in movement which means it can be done in the air or in the middle of a move. What's important is you take shape, as if someone would take a still of you mid-movement.
- Baby freezes and Air Baby
- Chairs and Airchairs
- Head hollow
- Hollow back
- Head freezes
- Toprock freezes/shapes
- Freeze from Footwork
A chair freeze:
BURNSBURNS are movements that diss or clown on the opponent, and many burns come from UPROCK (or ROCK DANCE). Burns can be gesture based, or can be done within a move or on the floor. For example flipping into a suicide move with the correct gesture is a Burn. They are an important part of battling.
CRASHA CRASH is when you fall from a move. You can crash at any time. When you crash, you just have to keep going, and you just do your best to avoid crashing. You can also flow out of your crash. CRASHES are just a part of this dance. Allow yourself to crash in practice, because that's how you learn new movement.
COMMANDOA COMMANDO is a way to say ROUTINE. In crew battles, Commandos demonstrate teamwork and timing and mastery of space. Commando is also a way where a team can showcase their individual talent, for example, a group doing a toprock / downrock choreography then pulling back to have their designated powermove breaker to drop bombs.
How to improve? It's always about learning and re-learning. Getting some movements isn't enough; we spend a lot of time and effort doing it over and over to get it right. Sometimes we have to re-learn a move or technique to get it correctly, or for it to fit our changing bodies. We're always learning in this craft, since movement is infinite. If I can start over and re-teach myself, I would be more organized in my learning and have less pride, as pride really hamstrings a person, and no-one is better than anyone. Everyone can teach you something (in life and in dance). Organize your passions instead of letting it chase you and drive you. For example, you can pick a few places in the dance to focus on, and since every element of the dance relates to the other elements and to the larger picture that is life, it will lead you to the other aspects of dance. Don't be afraid!
Breakin' is a freestyle dance and that means you can do whatever you want, but as always, it is within reason:
It is still breakin', which means the forms and movements are done in a breakin' style and
It is still a dance which means there is a flow between movements and a connection to the music, even if you are doing multiple flips or stacking powermoves.
I encounter this question often in myself and others at all levels of breaking: what do I do? well friend, read on:
The categories below break down the various aspects of the dance. They provide a structure, a boundary, and a starting point for the dancer to play and explore. There is a lot at first glance, so I try to keep it simple but with depth. The point is to have fun and to be free!
PATTERN and FLOW connects individual moves into a cohesive MOVEMENT. They are the connective tissues of this dance.
You can make your own PATTERNS; it just means one move after another (it doesn't have to be big moves, a step in a direction is already a move).
Some patterns already repeat themselves, for example 6 step, 7 step, 3 step patterns can be repeated indefinitely, so can powermoves like windmills, flares, swipes, tracks, etc...these are referred to as continous footwork or continous power
You can build patterns by doing two of these and having them going into each other, for example a TWO move pattern:
Breaking has many approaches and pathways. Because breaking is a freestyle dance, definitions easily bleed into one another. When I say "Approach" I mean "MOVEMENT SYSTEM" or "composition system" or "a way to think so that I can freestyle a round". Remember though, "Any move can go into any move, and how you link them is your style" (bboy Victor, Florida). Sometimes style is used as an umbrella term for movement systems since style means how you do something.
When you practice and freestyle, discover your movement by trying to go into the same move many different ways. How many ways can you go into a simple freeze? How many ways can you get out of that freeze? ANY move can go into ANY move. Bboy Abstrak said: "Go into a move, then try to escape it".
These are some but not the only approaches. Sometimes these composition systems are called 'style'
An example of this is the Three Things System as explained by Roxrite: You do three "things" in a round. The "thing" can be an original movement, a transition, a stack of freezes, a pattern, it just has to be definitive movement. This is a very simple and powerful system, and helps prevent repetition of moves. For illustrative purposes I have made a chart of the movement possibilities with this system:
FOUNDATION (def): "a basis (such as a tenet, principle, or axiom) upon which something stands or is supported
an underlying base or support"
"a body or ground upon which something is built up or overlaid" (Merriam Webster, 2022)
The foundation of this dance isn't just movement or patterns of movement, the building blocks are also history, ideas, musicality, emotional / mental / spiritual discipline, experience, and understanding of God / self / others. A lot of time when breakers talk about foundation, they mean TOPROCK and FOOTWORK elements. This is true because these two connects the dance and gives its very specific BBOY form; however, every part of this dance is foundation. Again, you need all the building blocks.
If you have a few strong moves, that can be your foundation (to expand on building blocks analogy, we are talking about the ground floor) because you can get in and out of those moves in many ways. You can also initiate a lot of movement from there. You can also deconstruct those moves and create other moves and patterns.
Every element is crucial to the complete dance: FREEZES are important because it is the picture of bboy form; but so are DROPS, DOWNROCK and POWERMOVES. Work to connect every element / movement to another for full expression.
Style is who you are. It doesn't matter if you prefer POWERMOVES or BURNERS, as you continue to dance, your essence will always show through eventually, because art is the discovery of truth, and God is truth. Some breakers think that style is story telling, or a certain way of flow, or arm threads or leg threads, or a way to do powermoves. This is all valid. Style is even HOW you do something, your FLAVA. It takes time to build.
Style:This is a very short section but don't be fooled. STYLE IS EVERYTHING.
will never die
Dance dictated by Music
can be developed by application of feeling
no need to force it
it is embedded and also enveloping
the entire Dance of Being
These concepts relate to what is happening inside PATTERN and FLOW and
Movement Systems and the other freestyle concepts during the dance.
Breaking takes the form of small COMPOSITIONs (or sets, round, or freestyle) that are freestyled or choreographed or a mix of both. It has a beginning, middle, and end. This makes a complete sentence or STATEMENT.
A textbook composition covers the subforms of the dance:
Simply put, a cypher is when you dance in a circle with other breakers. Some cyphers are friendly and welcoming, others very intense and heated. Someone dances, another dances, maybe two jump in at the same time and they battle to see who takes the space, maybe they battle for 20 rounds. Maybe they don't. Maybe their homies jump in and there's two sides with multiple people on each side. There is an output of energy that is happening over time. The circle gets hot, cools down, expands, contracts, travels around in space: it is a living thing. Then it disperses. It takes just one person to start a cypher at a jam. While media like Youtube and short-clips style video mostly shows battles or excerpts of battles, the cypher is the true space of breakin'. It was borne here, grown here, and nourished here.
Bboy Kyle using spatial awareness in the cypher:
Radikal Forze Jam Cyphers
Cypher Battle @ Cypher Adikts, Florida
3 B-boys start a cypher at a jam
Battling is two sides dancing at each other and trying to see who is the better. It can be a crew or individual. It is directed at your opponent with a purpose: to one-up them. Your round is a response to your opponent; you are trying to SMOKE them. You are trying to say with your movement that you are better than them
Battling is a big part of this dance as people love competitions and exhibitions. There are many formats of battling: one-on-one, crew vs crew, 2v2 or 3v3 etc, 7 to smoke just to name a few. Battling can happen inside an organized time and space or outside of it, like a cypher or street battle. The two opposing sides just have to agree on the rules.
Battling is difficult because it is doing movements and freestyling under pressure with an audience (sometimes trash talking), and with time AND space limitations.
I believe that iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17) and breakin' is prevented from being wack and played-out because of battling, and people put their pride on the line for it.
I won't write too much about battling here, because there is so much to learn from actually experiencing it and so much footage of it on the web. Battle videos are the most popular form of breaking videos, so I'll just post some classic battles:
Skill Methodz vs Break Disciples Claws Out 3
Crumbs vs Benji exhibition battle
USA vs KOREA IBE 2005
Heat Rock VS Hannibal
Gravity vs Victor (1st meeting)
7 commandoz vs Morris, Tata, Machine (semis FSS '15)
7 commandoz vs FoundNation (finals FSS '15)
Conditioning's purpose is to get you into your best shape for dance. There is physical, mental, and spiritual conditioning, since dance is an art form that reaches into all the levels of being. Mental and spiritual conditioning has to do with the question: Why do you dance? The Why is the Root of it and that Why makes your dance strong or weak. Essence preceeds existence. The mental / spiritual work has many layers and is as individual as the dancer's life path. However, this section is focused on the Body.
I will keep it as basic as possible. There are entire books, internet forums, and college courses dedicated to this, but through experience, these are what works for me. It's about Consistency and Rest. It's about QUALITY, not Quantity; It's about Correct Form, not how many reps you can do:
You can find programs online, or make your own, but again, it is about consistency
For training, I categorised 5 types of movements, but the boundaries are not absolute. Find out what works for you. Each element has some items, and Conditioning these will make you a stronger dancer:
Technology is a great tool to learn dance. You can record yourself to see what you look like; you could see how you do in battles and cyphers to see what you need to work on. You can watch clips and cyphers and learn from them, and tutorials too! Dancers go in-depth during interviews and documentaries, so it is yet another way to learn. If only I was patient and humble enough to film myself and watch diligently! I couldn't watch myself because I cringe when I see myself dance. Looking at yourself (objectively and kindly) is an actual skill. If only I watched and practiced more tutorials! But that's OK, one learns. Don't be afraid! Don't be impatient! Ego and pride kills you before you even start! Don't compare yourself to anyone! You are on your own journey!
Some Youtube channels that I find helpful:
Korean Roc, a breakin' history channel
LawkSam, independent b-boy film maker
Stance, a breakin media channel
Bboy & Bgirl Dojo, featuring knowledge and talks
Breakin' Decoded, a tips / tutorial channel
Bboy Dyzee's vlogs
Breaking is a rich & deep & fun dance! God gave me this dance, and it transformed my life, and I was gifted friendship, love, adventure, and unforgettable moments. It is a joy, a passion, a love.