Breaking in a vacuum: The current bboy/bgirl scene’s precarious relationship with Hip Hop culture

Breaking, also known as “breakdancing” to the general public, was at the heart of the origin of Hip Hop Culture; it was the dance embodiment of the new energy that the music and the movement represented. Hip Hop (which wasn’t a name for the movement when it started, but came later) grew out of parties where the DJ’s played differently than in the mainstream, the dancers danced differently and the atmosphere provided catharsis for an otherwise difficult life in the Bronx. This unique approach to music, dance and parties spread throughout New York and the world. (I don’t wish, nor feel qualified to get into the exact origin place in New York City, as it is often attributed to the Bronx, but there seems to be evidence that these types of parties were happening in Brooklyn as well.)

During the 80’s, the dance briefly became a media sensation and it spread all over the U.S. and the world. In the late 80’s and throughout much of the 90’s, public interest in the dance was very low. Since the late 90’s, it has expanded rapidly around the world and you can find a scene in almost every country you go to. But has Hip Hop stayed with it?

The question I pose is, “Do current generation bboys/bgirls have the same relationship to Hip Hop culture as previous generations did?” My short answer is: No. Many do not follow current or underground Hip Hop music, barely know who DJ’s are (especially if they are not from the breaking community) and also have little or no knowledge of graffiti. (To be fair Graffiti is arguably not Hip Hop, and while it is an official element, many Graffiti writers now and from the past will tell you that they have nothing to do with Hip Hop).

It seems that the art form of breaking has been separated from the culture in which it was created. This is not true for everyone, but it is fairly evident that many love breaking, without loving Hip Hop. This echos of white people loving Rock, Jazz, or Blues music and playing it, but without loving or acknowledging their origins in Black American culture. The racial dynamics are different albeit, but the concept of using a part without understanding or acknowledging the whole is the same.

My opinions and judgments of the current state are based on being a DJ in the scene. I travel all over the U.S. and the world and see this disconnect. It does seem that in certain countries, specifically in Latin America, there is less of a disconnect as MC’s still perform at breaking events, Graffiti artists paint and the scenes in general work together.

There is a lot that I don’t wish to get into, such as how privilege, race and class affect how current bboys/bgirls experience breaking and Hip Hop. That is a huge discussion that takes a lot of dissecting to extract answers. What I do wish to do is to simply present my opinion and see how people take it. I have had my own issues with respecting the foundations of the music/dance and I have tried to humble myself to recognize this is all bigger than me. I am not an authority, I just wish to say what isn’t being said to the younger generation. My only message for newcomers, especially if they come from a place of privilege, is for them to take time to recognize that this dance is not just magically “here”. It came from specific circumstances. It is rooted in Black/Latino creativity. I believe that taking time to understand the totality of the culture (to explore old and new expressions of it, in different elements) will give a breakers a new appreciation and respect for Hip Hop.