Breakdancing poses an interesting point for observation in this site because America isnít yet finished with it. The dance form, much like the lindy hop, grew out of the New York City streets, and to breakdance is in fact referred to as "to jit," as in jitterbug, in some hip-hop circles. Breaking goes back to the Bronx in the late seventies and it thrived in hip-hop culture in the mid-eighties. The art disappeared for several years and is only recently making a comeback, and this time its audience is much larger and more diverse-the beginnings of a craze.
As www.breakcheck.com tells us, breakdancing is one of the four arts of hip-hop, along with DJ-ing, MC-ing, and Graffiti writing. The dance is based in great part upon the movements of Capoeira, a martial art practiced by 17th century Brazilian slaves and disguised as dance so that they would not be punished for fighting. It also incorporates elements of ballet, jazz, tap, mime, and even video games, cartoons and action films.
Like the lindy hop, hip-hop was considered the healthy alternative to the tough life on the streets of NewYork, and breakdancing represents that culture very clearly. Dancers are organized in rival "crews," and often compete against each other in a "showdown" or a "battle." While breakdancing does mirror the violence of inner-city life, it is also considered by those who practice it to be the best alternative. Breakdancing becomes the way to step out of the violent order for life and to reorganize it.
Breakdancingís roots in Capoeira tie it immediately to the notion of social unrest. The Brazilian slaves who practiced Capoeira hid a martial art within dance. They were therefore able to practice fighting techniques, ostensibly to be used in slave rebellion, without discovery. Breakdancing was much the same, itís practitioners fiercely proud of their heritage and in many ways militant toward the established social hierarchy. As well known bboy "Mr. Wiggles," says on breakcheck, "breakdancing is a spiritual connection to black, native, and hispanic roots." There is the sense within the community that without that heritage, you canít break. You canít breakdance if youíre not "from the streets," and "keeping it real," is a major requirement within the culture. The dance then becomes a pointed break from the rest of society, and an opportunity for its practitioners to separate themselves. Breakdancers define themselves in their break from the other, their culture becoming the "not that," "that" being consumer culture and all those who canít understand hip hop.
As breakdancing grows in popularity, though, the number of people who do understand hip-hop culture, or at least pretend to, also grows. What was once a cult practice that the nation observed but did not participate in is now becoming a dance for everyone. Rap, hip-hop and their accompanying breakbeats, the only necessity for breakdance, can now be heard on top 40 radio everywhere and the "not that" begins to be appropriated by the "that." Whether breakdance will retain the spirit with which it began remains to be seen, but from what we have seen with the cakewalk, thelindyhop, and the dancers of American Bandstand, we can expect the danceís success to be its own undoing.