I’ve encountered countless discussions about the terminology used to describe this dynamic dance form. One of the most common questions I hear is, “Why do you say ‘breaking’ instead of ‘breakdancing’?” Today, I’m going to dive deep into this topic, exploring the history, cultural significance, and reasons behind the preferred terminology in the breaking community.

This is why we say breaking instead of breakdancing
This is why we say breaking instead of breakdancing

The Origins of Breaking

To understand why terminology matters, we need to start at the beginning. Breaking emerged in the early 1970s in the Bronx, New York City. It was born out of the larger hip-hop culture, which also encompassed elements like DJing, MCing (rapping), and graffiti art. Breaking developed as a way for young people, primarily African American and Latino youth, to express themselves, compete peacefully, and escape the harsh realities of their environment.

The dance form got its name from the “break” in music – the instrumental section where the rhythm becomes more pronounced. DJs would extend these breaks by using two turntables to loop the same section, allowing dancers to showcase their moves for longer periods. These dancers became known as “B-boys” and “B-girls,” short for “break-boys” and “break-girls.”

The Cultural Significance of Terminology

In any subculture or art form, the language used by its practitioners carries deep meaning. For breakers, the terms they use to describe themselves and their art are intimately tied to the history, values, and identity of hip-hop culture. Here’s a breakdown of the preferred terminology:

  1. Breaker: A gender-neutral term for someone who practices breaking.
  2. B-boy: A male who practices breaking.
  3. B-girl: A female who practices breaking.
  4. Breaking: The act of performing the dance.

These terms are rooted in the culture and carry with them the weight of history, struggle, and artistic expression that birthed the dance form.

The Rise of “Breakdancing”

So, if “breaking” is the original term, where did “breakdancing” come from? The answer lies in the dance form’s explosion into mainstream popularity in the 1980s.

As breaking began to capture public attention, mainstream media needed a way to describe this new phenomenon. Unfamiliar with the cultural context and existing terminology, journalists and commentators coined the term “breakdancing.” This new word quickly caught on with the general public, who found it easier to understand and use than the insider terms like “breaking” or “B-boying.”

The term “breakdancing” spread rapidly through movies, TV shows, and news reports. Films like “Flashdance” (1983) and “Breakin'” (1984) further popularized the term, cementing it in the public consciousness. For many people outside the hip-hop community, “breakdancing” became the default way to refer to the dance form.

This is why we say breaking instead of breakdancing
The Rise of “Breakdancing”

Why “Breaking” is Preferred

While “breakdancing” might seem like a harmless alternative, there are several reasons why those within the culture prefer “breaking“:

  1. Cultural Authenticity: “Breaking” is the original term used by the pioneers of the dance form. It connects current practitioners to the roots of the art and the broader hip-hop culture.
  2. Respect for Heritage: Using the original terminology shows respect for the creators of the dance and acknowledges its history in African American and Latino communities.
  3. Precision of Language: “Breaking” more accurately describes the dance form, as it refers specifically to dancing to the “break” in the music.
  4. Avoiding Commercialization: Some breakers feel that “breakdancing” represents a commercialized, watered-down version of their art form that doesn’t capture its true essence or complexity.
  5. Community Identity: Using insider terminology helps maintain a sense of community and shared identity among breakers worldwide.
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The Impact of Terminology on the Art Form

The choice between “breaking” and “breakdancing” goes beyond mere semantics. It can significantly impact how the art form is perceived, practiced, and respected.

When people use the term “breakdancing,” it often conjures images of the 1980s fad – neon clothes, windmills on cardboard, and simplified, commercialized moves. While this era was crucial for spreading awareness of breaking, it doesn’t represent the full depth and ongoing evolution of the dance form.

Breaking, as understood by its practitioners, is a complex, physically demanding, and highly creative art form. It requires years of training, a deep understanding of music, and a strong connection to hip-hop culture. By using the term “breaking,” dancers emphasize the seriousness and cultural significance of their practice.

Furthermore, the use of authentic terminology helps preserve the link between breaking and its origins in marginalized communities. It reminds us that this dance form emerged as a means of self-expression and empowerment for youth facing social and economic challenges.

Breaking in the 21st Century

As breaking has continued to evolve and gain recognition, the importance of terminology has become even more pronounced. In recent years, breaking has made significant strides in the world of competitive sports:

  1. Youth Olympic Games: Breaking was included as a medal event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
  2. Olympic Games: Breaking is set to make its debut as an official Olympic sport at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In both cases, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose to use the term “breaking” rather than “breakdancing.” This decision was made in consultation with the breaking community and represents a significant acknowledgment of the culture’s preferred terminology.

The choice to use “breaking” on such a global stage helps legitimize the art form and educates the wider public about its proper name. It also ensures that as breaking reaches new audiences, it does so with respect for its cultural roots.

This is why we say breaking instead of breakdancing
Breaking was included as a medal event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.

Bridging the Gap: Education and Understanding

While the breaking community strongly prefers the terms “breaking” and “breaker,” it’s important to acknowledge that “breakdancing” remains widely used by the general public. Rather than dismissing those who use this term, many in the breaking community see this as an opportunity for education.

When I encounter someone using the term “breakdancing,” I take the time to explain the history and cultural significance of “breaking.” Most people are genuinely interested to learn about the origins of the dance and are happy to adopt the correct terminology once they understand its importance.

This educational approach serves several purposes:

  1. It spreads awareness about the rich history of breaking and hip-hop culture.
  2. It helps break down stereotypes and misconceptions about the dance form.
  3. It invites people to engage more deeply with breaking as an art form and cultural practice.

The Role of Media and Popular Culture

While the breaking community has made significant strides in promoting the use of correct terminology, mainstream media and popular culture continue to play a crucial role in shaping public perception.

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Many news outlets, TV shows, and movies still use “breakdancing” as their default term. This perpetuates the use of the term among the general public and can frustrate breakers who see their art form being misrepresented.

However, there are signs of positive change. As breaking gains more mainstream recognition, particularly with its inclusion in the Olympics, more media outlets are making an effort to use the correct terminology. This shift, while gradual, is helping to bridge the gap between the breaking community and the wider public.

The Ongoing Evolution of Breaking

It’s crucial to remember that breaking, like all art forms, continues to evolve. While respecting its history and cultural roots is essential, breaking is not frozen in time. New generations of breakers continue to innovate, creating new moves, styles, and interpretations of the dance.

This ongoing evolution underscores the importance of using the term “breaking.” Unlike “breakdancing,” which can feel tied to a specific era or style, “breaking” allows for the continued growth and development of the art form. It encompasses both the historical foundations and the cutting-edge innovations that keep the dance fresh and relevant.

Conclusion: The Power of a Name

In the end, the choice between “breaking” and “breakdancing” is about more than just words. It’s about respect, cultural identity, and the power of language to shape perceptions.

By using the term “breaking,” we:

  1. Honor the originators of the dance form
  2. Acknowledge its roots in hip-hop culture
  3. Recognize breaking as a serious, evolving art form
  4. Connect with a global community of practitioners
  5. Educate others about the rich history and cultural significance of the dance

As breaking continues to gain popularity and recognition worldwide, it’s more important than ever to use terminology that accurately reflects its cultural heritage and artistic depth. Whether you’re a longtime breaker, a casual fan, or someone just learning about this dynamic dance form, using the term “breaking” is a small but significant way to show respect for the art and the community that created it.

So the next time you’re tempted to say “breakdancing,” remember: it’s breaking, and the people who do it are breakers, B-boys, and B-girls. By using these terms, you’re not just saying words – you’re acknowledging a rich cultural heritage and joining a global conversation about one of the most dynamic and expressive dance forms in the world.

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