Hip hop dance is a vibrant, expressive form of movement to beat-based music. It’s much more than a style of choreography, however; it’s a unique culture that addresses significant political, social, and racial issues. Unlike classical dance, hip hop requires both physical and mental depth to understand and excel in.
The roots of hip hop dance can be traced to the streets, clubs, and underground venues in poor neighborhoods of New York City in the 1970s. Its creators were often members of street gangs and groups, such as the Black Spades, led by Afrika Bambaataa (also known as DJ Kool Herc). This era was rife with violence, drugs, and crime, but also a rebirth of youth culture inspired by beat-based music.
Breaking, an acrobatic style of dance, is one of the most identifiable elements of hip hop. Performing to the beat of the drums and a call and response between the DJ and crowd, breaking was a way for young people to express themselves. Dancers were encouraged to challenge one another and compete in back-and-forth dance battles. This battle culture remains to this day, with ad-hoc and announced competitions still a regular part of a night out in hip hop clubs.
As hip hop grew in popularity, it began to be commercialized and influenced by more formal styles of dance. The emergence of the “new school” in the 1980s saw a shift toward more choreography, while retaining its original spirit and energy. This style absorbed all the elements of old school dancing and incorporated them into a style that is both fun and challenging to perform. Recent research has shown that expertise in kinesthetic activities, such as dance, is linked to cognitive skills, including problem solving, concentration, and working memory.