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A short introduction to Hip Hop

Hip hop dance is one of the four strands of Hip Hop that grew out of the ghettos of the Bronx, New York, in the early 1970s. Dance, DJing, MCing and graffiti were part of a culture and way of life in disenfranchised black communities.

Lack of cash was no barrier to creativity and spirit, and block parties were a regular happening, with dancers crowding the floor for the drum breaks of their favourite funk records. Dancers formed into crews, such as the Zulu Kings and the Dynamite Rockers and began to battle each other, using vertical fighting moves called uprocking, and downrocking, where they would drop to the floor and weave their feet round their hands.

Meanwhile, on the west coast of the USA, dancers started ‘popping’ and ‘locking’, most famously the Electric Boogaloos, who showed off their jerky, robotic moves on TV show Soul Train and were a big influence on the young Michael Jackson.

Later more acrobatic ‘power moves’ were invented by dancers like Crazy Legs – for example headspins, backspins, windmills and flares (like a gymnast), the turtle (spin on your hands with body parallel to floor) and the suicide (flip to fall flat on your back). Breakdancing is generally misused as a catch-all term for Hip Hop dance, but the dancers will use the terms breakin, b-boying or b-girling to describe each specific form.

Jonzi D Productions, Katie Pearson in TAG...Me vs. The City
Jonzi D Productions, Katie Pearson in TAG...Me vs. The City

Hip hop went global in the early 80s and during the 90s became a dominant force in commercial popular culture. Yet behind the bling there are plenty of dancers keeping the art of Hip Hop alive and many have moved from the street to the stage. Battle crews now take part in huge international competitions with crews from Europe competing against dancers from Japan, Korea and the USA.

In terms of taking Hip Hop into the theatre, Rennie Harris has been running his company, Puremovement, in the US since 1992. In the UK, Robert Hylton throws Hip Hop in the mix with contemporary dance and even ballet, and poet and performer Jonzi D makes Hip Hop movement part of a complete theatrical experience. Out of east London, Kenrick Sandy’s Boy Blue Entertainment are fast making their mark, winning an Olivier Award for their show Pied Piper.

Elsewhere in the world you’ve got some exciting talent, like popper Salah from France, who also draws on mime, Renegade Theatre from Germany who weave dance into their inventive narrative theatre pieces, and Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrao who uses Hip Hop language in the context of conceptual theatre.

Breakin’ Convention is the UK’s biggest festival of Hip Hop dance theatre held annually at Sadler’s Wells, London – and celebrating its twelfth anniversary next year. The three day sell-out event showcases high quality performances from Hip Hop dance companies and artists from around the world. Breakin’ Convention also presents and produces Hip Hop dance theatre events throughout the year, as well as developing regional hubs and a national touring programme.

For more information on hip hop dance and video clips go to 

by Lyndsey Winship