In the upstairs studio of Westin Arts Academy, the dance classes
have yet to start and a quiet calm fills the room. Kevin O’Keefe, a
dance instructor can typically be found in the studio teaching the
latest styles of dance and breaking, but today, he gives a history
“Break dancing is an art that was created out of frustration,”
O’Keefe said. “It began with a man yelling at a kid, ‘Hey, if you
want to be like me, a drug dealer, then keep walking down this
street. But now you got this dance thing, now go be somebody.'”
Break dancing was first promoted as an alternative to gang
fighting. Battle dances became a substitute for violence.
“There is this breaker, Crazy Legs, that said ‘this is
manifestation of things that have been going on for 1,000 years.’
That’s hip-hop,” O’Keefe said.
There are four elements to hip-hop: graffiti, emcee, deejay and
“(Break dancing) is an element of hip-hop, but it’s a style of
dance that is kind of its own separate thing,” said Jimmy Levy, CSU
Many claim that break dancing was one of the original
foundations of hip-hop because the dance was present in early gang
cultures of the Bronx, but the music was not, according to
“Downlow,” a British hip-hop magazine.
“(Breaking) is hip-hop,” O’Keefe said. “It formed the culture,
and then on top of that included a style of clothes, a talk and
Break dancing first emerged on the streets of Bronx in the
1970s. One of the founding fathers is Jamaican-born performer, Kool
According to “Weekly Dig” online magazine, Kool Herc is known as
the godfather of hip-hop. He had developed a technique of mixing
records where dance sounds never stopped. He had combined the
sounds of R&B, soul, funk and obscure disco.
“Kool Herc pioneered putting the ‘breaks’ in the music when
nobody else was,” O’Keefe said.
Listeners loved the breaks of Kool Herc’s style, and this helped
to create break dancing.
“B-boy means break boy because there is a break in the
music–the instrumental part of the music,” said Doug Brunner,
dance instructor at Westin Arts Academy.
Brunner, who has been b-boying for six years and teaching at
Westin for three years, also credits funk master James Brown for
“James Brown is arguably the first to get things started,”
Brown hatched the “Goodfoot” dance-style, which led to many
other movements such as “Floating,” Brunner said.
B-boying has developed into a high-energy dance movement and a
form of self-expression.
“B-boying is about establishing a playful connection with the
audience, expressing it through the body,” Levy said.
Levy, who has been breaking for five years, got started by
watching the 1984 movie Breakin’.
“I fell in love with the vibe of the movie,” Levy said.
Movies like “Beat Street, “Breakin'” and “Spinnin” ignited an
explosion of break dancing in the 1980s. Upon seeing these films,
American kids, like Levy, immediately began to experiment with the
This is just one of the many combinations that make up the
historically popular movement of b-boying.
But at the core of these combinations are the basic fundamental
“The fundamentals are essential because they are the building
blocks to creating something new, creating your own groove,” Levy
The fundamental moves for breaking are Toprocks, Brooklyn rocks,
6-step and basic freezes. Other moves include flares, windmills,
halo backs, hand glide and swipes.
“You can’t just start with a mill, you need the foundation moves
so you can get use to how your body works,” Brunner said.
The original moves consist of “style” such as freezes and
footwork, but not power moves such as head spins, 90s and flares,
according to “Downlow” magazine.
“You really need to know the foundation moves, footwork and then
move up to power moves,” O’Keefe said.
As break dancing continues to grow, it is establishing break
dancing competitions, which allows crews-a group of b-boys and
b-girls-to show off what they have learned and to share in a break
“On a small scale it is bringing people together and creating a
community across borders,” Levy said.
Competitions have become more widespread by gathering people
from California to Seattle and across seas to London and Spain. The
competitive edge has kept breaking alive and evolving, O’Keefe
Competitions consist of individual events, as well as crew
events. Competitors are judged on originality, flavor (style),
execution, power and difficulty.
“There is even an event where b-girls compete against b-boys
called the Bonnie and Clyde event,” O’Keefe said.
The hip-hop life
Although mixed into the hip-hop culture, breaking has
established itself as a single separate element.
“It’s a lifestyle,” Brunner said.
Like other sports, break dancers need to dedicate themselves to
learning the fundamentals and establish a desire to improve. There
is always room for improvements and you can never learn everything,
Breaking is fun and high energy, but it is also a lot of hard
work and needs persistence.
“Anything you start and stick with, you will get, but you need
to be persistent,” Levy said.
Although the dance floor is predominately ruled by men, b-girls
have now stepped into the scene.
“Because it is male dominated, women get a little more respect
and a little more encouragement simply just for trying,” said Kelly
Mackey, a University of Colorado b-girl.
Mackey has been dancing her whole life, but has only been
breaking for 13 months.
“I had always wanted to break, but just never really pursued
anything,” Mackey said.
Break dancing has become a movement that includes everyone.
“Size doesn’t matter and girls just shouldn’t be intimidated,”
Brunner said. “Because you create your own style and you learn to
adapt to what your body can do.”
Break dancing is more about strength and momentum, which anyone
can learn, O’Keefe said.
“People just need to be open and take initiative to learn,
because if you do it more and more then you become better,” O’Keefe
Break dancing is an art that was developed out of violence but
emerged as something positive and high-energy. Although it
developed in larger cities like Los Angeles and New York, break
dancing continues to grow and evolve into the next level.
“The break scene is so eclectic right now that people are doing
all kinds of things and all kinds of styles,” O’Keefe said.
With professional hip-hop companies like Motion Underground,
which O’Keefe is a member, and instructional classes for youth and
adults, break dancing can only get better.
“I’m confident that breaking is here to stay,” O’Keefe said.