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Breakdance vs. Breaking (Bgirl/Bboy)


I am excited that our first blog of 2020 is a guest artist Maggie Waller. Maggie is a local dancer coming out of AZ. She has been a past and present student of mine in and out of academic settings. From home studio sessions, to Cyphers (TCFUA) and presently at Arizona State University. The following writing / reflection is in response to a Red Bull article www.redbull.com/us-en/b-boy-and-b-girl-vs-breakdancer written on the topic of what we call ourselves in Hip Hop culture as practitioners within Breaking. Enjoy this perspective from young woman with great curiosity.


Maggie Waller

DCE 333: Urban Movement Practices III

09 February, 2020

Breakdance vs…

I am glad that there is an article written about this conversation, and I am glad that this conversation is being had in the first place. Words are important, words hold meaning, and terminology matters. I appreciated how clear this article was in explaining the terms ‘b-girls’, ‘b-boys’, ‘break-girls’, and ‘break-boys’ through historical and sociopolitical context. I learned that the term ‘breaking’ also comes from dancers coming to a breaking point on the dance floor because of their living conditions and everyday struggles; I think that’s really beautiful. The article states that the reason it is so important to use the correct terminology is not only to preserve history correctly, but also to refer to someone who actually lived/lives the breaking lifestyle (dress, music, dialect, walk, etc.). The term ‘breakdancing’ comes from the media’s interpretation of what breaking is, so it is an incorrect marketing tool that the media created and used (and that some dancers themselves are guilty of using). Another interesting layer that goes back to the weight of terminology is that a ‘breakdancer’ was/is seen as someone who only did the dance of breaking, but was not a part of the culture. At the end of the day, the correct terminology all goes back to culture. I love the line, “Battling is a large part of the dance, but competitions on their own don’t define someone as being a breaker” because it goes back to a conversation that I have been having with some dancers in the community about what it means/looks like to be a dancer, or a waacker, or a locker, or a popper, etc. While battling is an integral part of the culture, it is not the only way that someone has to be a breaker; it is more about the connection to the dance and the culture, the lifestyle, of hip hop and breaking.

There is an example in here of why learning from multiple sources is important. Towards the beginning of the article when they are breaking down where the break comes from and the context for the foundations of breaking, the article mentions that, “When the break dropped, people at the parties would hit the floor and go off, dancing wildly to the energizing break part of the music”. But, in the documentary “Freshest Kids”, we learned that breaking started as really just top rocks for the first couple years until b-boys and b-girls started hitting the floor later. So, there is a discrepancy. I understand thought that the narrative might have been shortened and simplified in this article because it is for the general public and is a small detail in the conversation of ‘breakdance vs…’. I just wanted to bring up something that I noticed because I am always comparing new resources and knowledge to past pieces of information.

Thinking about where else this conversation is happening or a similar conflict is taking place, I immediately thought about ASU in its relationship to the hip hop community in Arizona. There is this difference between ‘Urban Movement Practices’ and hip-hop…I think it all goes back to how academia and dance are trying to figure out how to co-exist, and sometimes academia swallows the dance. I have heard some people in the community look down upon ASU or make fun of ASU (even some dancers within the program who are from the community, which I am also guilty of) for using the term ‘Urban Movement Practices’ to fancify what really is, in theory and in practice, hip hop. I understand the intention behind labeling the classes and program this way, but I am also curious why we do not just call it ‘Hip-Hop’ or ‘Breaking’…Postmodern Contemporary is called Postmodern Contemporary and Contemporary Ballet is called Contemporary Ballet. I feel like this terminology debate also could discredit these forms and classes in the whole of ASU because of their lack of specificity. This difference and conflict in terminology is part of, in my opinion, the disconnect between the community and ASU (which is something I have noticed ever since I was a kid in the community attending Urban Sol).

I feel like this discrepancy is never really handled, or at least not on a large scale. Conversations are had but there is rarely action. People still have biases or make assumptions and people still operate in their groups. Maybe it is time for a large conversation on the terminology, or maybe it is time for a change? I’m not sure what the answer is, all I know is that calling it ‘hip hop’ or ‘breaking’ feels a lot better than calling it ‘urban’. But I also understand that these are forms coming out of urban communities and contexts…but then isn’t salsa also an urban form? It just makes me feel weird when people ask ‘what did we do in urban?’ and not ‘what did we do in breaking?’. It’s hard to explain, but I know that the disconnect is there. And it doesn’t help that it is happening in the isolated culture of academia and university.

This whole conversation of terminology matters, for many reasons. Dance is a fleeting art form, meaning that once the dancer dances, the only account of the product is either a video of it or words written about it. This means that the words we use to talk about and document what we are doing are important for historical memory and historical account, especially when the dances and forms come from marginalized communities whose stories are rarely told, recorded, or spread. Terminology also matters because it is important for people in a culture to all be on the same page to keep the strength of the culture high and to keep the culture going. Like I said in the beginning, words are important and words matter. Conversations about words matter, and I am glad that this conversation is being had and that people are being made aware of what is correct and what is not and the weight of the words that they speak.

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