With the coming of the 90s and the 21st century, "breakdancing" became and continues to be associated with an image in popular culture of fools jumping in the air and going crazy with physical maneuvers of the body that they seem to have little understanding of. In certain videos, breakdancing is characterized as moonwalking across the floor while performing some obscure wavy motions with the arms. But is that really what breakdancing is? How has it come to this?
Since the 90s,it's become a contentious issue regarding who and what a "b-boy"
and a "breakdancer" is to the b-boy community.
A b-boy is termed so because it means "break-boy". Breaking is the original term to describe the engagement in the dance in which a person dances or "breaks" to the beat provided by the DJ. The dance became widely popular within the 1980s and some breakdance crews in New York City, such as the Rocksteady Crew and NYC Breakerz, were recognized by the public. They performed in public and were featured on films such as "Beatstreet (1984)".
As the dance became popularized, the media naturally attributed the term “breakdancing” to the dance, perhaps to simplify and emphasize what it was to the general public.
But the coverage by the media of these phenomenal dancers who seemed to have come out of nowhere was a double-edged sword. In an effort to get the most economic value out of the
popularization of the dance, the media lumped breakdancing with motley of other forms of dance such as boogaloo and popping. It cheapened the structure and values of breakdancing, inevitably rendering it a mere fad in the eyes of popular culture. Sure enough, by the late 80s and early 90s, breakdancing seemed to have died out.
Yet it continued, out of sight from the public which allowed it to take the form it does today.
But this brings us to the question I attempted to address earlier. In technical terms, yes, breakdancing should be the same as b-boying. What the media failed and refused to understand was the fact that breakdancing was and is more than a capitalistic venture it thought it was; it entails an entire international culture and community. But now "breakdancing" has become a term associated with the wounds inflicted on the hip-hop community by the media and stands as a derogatory term—a term which stands as a testament to the way in which the media stripped breakdancers of the rich culture and
community they stood for and made it just another commodity.
The temptation is to solely blame the media. But at the same time, it should be understood that there was no formal establishment of what breaking was. There was either very little or no effort to differentiate and create distinct lines between “breaker” and “breakdancer” because there was probably no understood need to do so. There were no scholarly
or academic studies into the subject and even if there were any, they were drowned out by the popularization of the dance—the same goes for any opinions the dancers themselves voiced.
It was an arduous journey for these breakers, and in order to re-establish the true
foundations and identity of the breaking community, "breakdancing/breakdancer" was scrapped and "b-boying/b-boy" was adopted. Thus the tension regarding the terms b-boying
and breakdancing are paradoxical because while they are supposed to be and are technically the same, they are also different, leaving it a rather tortured relationship.
In recent years, the breaking community has been clearing its name and firmly re-establishing its identity through documentary films, one of the most famous being "Planet B-boy". It's not just a matter of enjoyment and fun that the b-boy community does all this, but one that involves a love and dedication to an art, expression, and culture.