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Dance History

Dance History: Hip-Hop Dance (Mid 80’s – Now)

*Disclaimer: This dance history section is based on our own research, interviews, discussions with pioneers and also knowledgeable dancers in the community. Everything written here is aimed primarily towards the non-dancers, or those who aren’t well informed about these dance styles and seek to learn more. Our goal is to try and provide them with a starting point for more insight and also help point them in the right direction for more information. If you’d like to contribute to any of these dance history sections, feel free to contact us. Enjoy!

Hip-Hop & Hip-Hop Dance
There are times when things might get categorized under an umbrella term. For a lot of urban dance styles, non-dancers or people who aren’t well informed might think that b-boying, popping, locking, etc. are all the same dance and label them as “Hip-Hop”. For terminology’s sake though, “Hip-Hop” is usually referring to the “culture” which consists of DJing, Graffiti, Emceeing/Rap and B-boying. But using the word Hip-Hop to talk about the dance is when it’s referring to the social dances done to Hip-Hop music. B-boying is the first dance that was accepted as a part of the Hip-Hop culture, and it goes the same for the other urban dance styles that were accepted into the culture after, but each of the dance styles all have their own history and culture individually.

Mid 80’s – early 90’s
The party dances being done to Hip-Hop music laid the foundation and vocabulary to the style, much like an evolved version of Jazz dance steps during the Harlem Renaissance era, and Soul dance steps during the Motown and 70’s Soul/Funk era. A lot of the movements are similar, but with just a different type of groove due to the music. So for Hip-Hop during this time, dance driven songs like Joeski Love’s “Pee Wee’s Dance”, Gucci II Crew’s “The Cabbage Patch” and B Fats’ “Woppit”, etc. set the tone. During the later years, there were steps like the Running Man, Roger Rabbit, Criss Cross, among many others. Reggae dances also had an influence on Hip-Hop dance with steps like the Butterfly, Bogle, and Pepper Seed. Rocking and also Electric Boogie (New York’s early style similar to popping and waving but with a bounce, not to be confused with Electric Boogaloos) should also be noted as a part of the evolution of Hip-Hop dance.

Music during the Golden Era of Hip-Hop (mid 80’s to early 90’s) sampled more funk, soul, and jazz in it’s beats. It gave it that sound and vibe that also brought a different energy in the dance. Outside of the party dances, dancers would freestyle to Hip-Hop during this era gave the dance that raw identity that I will never forget when I first saw it.

In the New York Area, one of the groups most noted as pioneers of Hip-Hop dance, is the group Elite Force (Mop Top). There were also dancers such as The Misfits, and Wizeguys, who were also some of the many well-known Hip-Hop dancers of that time. The unique styles of these dancers has influenced many dancers to this day. They were featured dancers in Alive TV’s documentary segment, “Wreckin Shop from Brooklyn”, as well as House documentary called “House of Trey”. Hip-Hop music and dance was very raw during this era.

After a time when media over-saturated television and film with movies like Breakin 1 & 2, Beat Street, etc, there came a point when artists started featuring more and more Hip-Hop dancers in their music videos. Buddha Stretch, member of Elite Force is considered to be the first Hip-Hop choreographer, and went on to choreograph for artists such as Michael Jackson, Will Smith, and Mariah Carey. There were also crews from the LA area like the Soul Brothers, and Scheme Team, and SWAT who were featured on TV and music videos. Whodini was one of the first rap groups to incorporate Hip-Hop dancers in their shows. Big Daddy Kane also had a duo named Scoob & Scrap as his dancers. Fendi was a dancer for EPMD and Heavy D had his dancers as well.

Even a few Emcees were also dancers during these days were, like Big Daddy Kane, Stezo, MC Hammer, and Kid N’ Play. Members from later groups like Jurassic 5, Pharcyde, Divine Styler, and Black Eyed Peas also had some sort of freestyle dance background prior.

*New Jack Swing vs Hip-Hop
Some people often refer to Hip-Hop dance during the late 80s/90s as New Jack Swing, or Hype Dance. The term New Jack Swing is actually the original name for a genre of R&B music in the 90’s. Teddy Riley (producer and artist) was the creator of this New Jack Swing sound. The general public probably associated the dance with the music, also calling the dance they saw in some New Jack Swing videos, “New Jack Swing”. To many originals and pioneers of Hip-Hop dance though, they just called it Hip-Hop, for a lot of the dance steps were created even before New Jack Swing music was created.

Late 90s – 2000’s/Now
New York was always known as the mecca of Hip-Hop, originally. But more and more regions were producing their own sound within Hip-Hop music. Different regions around the US had their distinct flavor on Hip-Hop music, and the same also applied to the dance. Over the years, New York still introduced many party dances like the Harlem Shake, etc. The Southern Hip-Hop sound was also getting more popular, and a lot of moves came out of that Area, ATL stomp, Bankhead Bounce, etc. South Central LA introduced the KRUMPcypher_shot dance style (Krumpers don’t necessarily consider the style hip-hop but more like a relative of), and Oakland CA introduced a style called TURF. New York’s next generation of dancers have styles called Lite Feet, and Flexing (although Flexing is more rooted from Dancehall), as with other cities like Memphis Jookin’, and Jerkin’ from LA.

To me, the new generation’s freestyle dancers represent the same spirit as how Hip-Hop dancers would freestyle during Hip-Hop’s Golden Era in the mid 80’s and 90’s. We are still researching about these more current styles and will post more updates as we learn. One thing is for sure though, that the social dance aspect of Hip-Hop is still going strong in with each recent generation, with dances like the Harlem Shake, Chicken Noodle Soup, Dougie, Cat Daddy, Nae Nae, Milly Rock, etc. It isn’t any different than all the social dances from the 80s/90s. Some of the moves are even very similar to another in terms of mechanics, but the feel is just adjusted to the rhythms when applied to the current music today.

*New Style vs Hip-Hop
To our understanding, the term New Style originated from Europe. Dancers from Europe who learned Hip-Hop from some of the OG Hip-Hop dancers in the US would refer to it as “New York Style”, but later down the line, the term was shortened to “New Style”. Not sure what the main reason was for it yet.

*One thing that we are noticing more with all the vocabulary and terminology in Hip-Hop dance is that different cities may have different names for certain steps. For those just starting out with this dance, the best thing to do is just learn the step and essence of the dance, and keep an open mind when it comes to whatever people name the step. Respect each city’s history when it comes to how they named that step. Whether we agree or not, many dance steps have already been done in the past at some point, either from jazz, Lindy hop, African, salsa, etc, so keeping an open mind will only give you insight on how all dance styles and movements are connected and also the cultural importance behind social dance.

*Studio/Commercial/Video vs Hip-Hop
As with the term New Style, there are other people and studios currently using the titles “Studio Hip-Hop”, “Commercial Hip-Hop”, etc. What we feel they are referring to with these terms are more likely based on choreography and not specifically the Hip-Hop social dances or foundation. Here’s a thought.. If Hip-Hop dance’s roots come from the rock/bounce, and social dance steps, and these classes that use the term “Studio Hip-Hop”, “Commercial Hip-Hop”, or “Music Video Hip-Hop” aren’t teaching any of those, then should it even include Hip-Hop in it’s name? Just something to think about.

Just wanted to touch quickly on choreography in relation to the subject matter. Choreography is generally defined as prearranged movement or placement. A dance style (like Locking) can be be choreographed, just like a fight scene in an action movie scene can be choreographed. What you see at the events like World of Dance, Body Rock, etc are a majority of groups who do mainly choreography. They may not be street style dancers, and their routines may have some street dance vocabulary in it. Some don’t consider choreography to be a dance “style” because it does not have it’s own vocabulary (Maybe not yet? All dance styles have a vocabulary of basic steps that make it a style). I see choreography as a sub culture under dance and still see it as an art because of it’s elements visually in theatrical presentation, team unison, lines, staging, formations, transitions, and even stage props. It is meant more for the stage as opposed to the cypher where an exchange between individual dancers happen.

Much like other street dance styles, Hip-Hop the dance, has it’s own fundamental moves, vocabulary, essence and unique feel. It revolves around social dance and the rock/bounce. Although the moves CAN be taught in a studio, the best way to learn/experience the raw feel of Hip-Hop, is to dance WITH other dancers whether you’re at a studio or a club, it’s about that exchange of energy with others! Search YouTube for the clips below. All the dancers’ styles and movements are distinctly different, but the feeling of how they do those movements all have that same spirit.

Some great documentaries on Hip-Hop dance:

Wreckin’ Shop from Brooklyn
Suns of James Brown
Everything Remains Raw
Respond to Sound parts I & II
House of Tre
Show & Prove: Freestyle Dance
Rize (Krump dance documentary)
Herb Alpert’s music video, “North on South Street” also featured dancers from Scheme Team.

*We’ve also included a few clips and trailers from these documentaries for you to see.

A lot of Hip-Hop’s pioneers are still here so it’s best to reach out to them to get more knowledge. Many are willing to share their story and direct you to others who would do the same. Some great info from their websites can be found below:

Elite Force Crew

Brian Footwork Green

Mr. Wiggles


One Response to “Dance History: Hip-Hop Dance (Mid 80’s – Now)”

  1. its crazy cause listening to certain old hip-hop records like ring ring ring by de la soul or get a hold by tribe called quest. the rhythm in getting lite just meshes up so perfectly at times.

    Posted by Spacely | 02/10/2018, 6:36 pm

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