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What Is Hip Hop Dance? What Is Hip Hop Dance?

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What Is Hip Hop Dance?

Written by: Tera Aiello

Discover the energetic and dynamic world of Hip Hop dance, a cultural movement that originated in the 1970s. Learn about the history, styles, and influences of this popular urban dance form.

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Table of Contents


Hip Hop dance is a vibrant and energetic form of movement that has captured the hearts of people worldwide. Born on the streets of New York City in the 1970s, Hip Hop dance has since evolved into a powerful cultural phenomenon and a recognized art form. Rooted in African and African-American traditions, Hip Hop dance combines elements of athleticism, creativity, and self-expression.

At its core, Hip Hop dance is more than just a series of steps; it is a reflection of the urban culture and social realities of its time. It serves as a platform for individuals to tell their stories, express their emotions, and challenge societal norms through movement. From the streets to the stage, Hip Hop dance has made a significant impact on popular culture, influencing music videos, fashion trends, and even mainstream dance styles.

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating history of Hip Hop dance, explore its various elements and styles, and examine the cultural and artistic significance of this dynamic form of expression. Whether you are a seasoned dancer, a fan of Hip Hop music, or simply curious about the art form, this article will provide you with a comprehensive overview of Hip Hop dance and its rich heritage.


History of Hip Hop Dance

The roots of Hip Hop dance can be traced back to the streets of Bronx, New York City, during the 1970s. It emerged as a form of self-expression for African-American and Latino youth who sought an outlet to channel their creativity and cope with the social and economic challenges of their environment. Hip Hop dance was heavily influenced by the cultural traditions and movements that came before it, including African dance, jazz, funk, and street dance.

One of the pioneers of Hip Hop dance is DJ Kool Herc, who is credited with creating the “breakbeat” style of DJing. He would isolate and repeat the instrumental “break” in songs, allowing dancers to showcase their moves and skills. This laid the foundation for “breaking,” also known as breakdancing, which became one of the most iconic and influential styles within Hip Hop dance.

As Hip Hop music gained popularity, so did its accompanying dance culture. DJ Afrika Bambaataa, known as the “Godfather of Hip Hop,” played a crucial role in spreading the movement beyond the Bronx and unifying diverse communities through music and dance. The rise of Hip Hop dance crews, such as the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers, further solidified the culture and created a platform for dancers to showcase their talent.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hip Hop dance continued to evolve, incorporating elements from other dance styles like popping, locking, and house dance. Artists like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson played a significant role in popularizing Hip Hop dance in their music videos and live performances, introducing the art form to a global audience.

Today, Hip Hop dance has become a worldwide phenomenon, with dance battles, competitions, and workshops taking place in cities across the globe. It has influenced other dance styles and genres, such as contemporary dance, jazz funk, and even ballet, as choreographers incorporate Hip Hop-inspired movements into their routines.

The history of Hip Hop dance is a testament to the power of grassroots movements and the ability of marginalized communities to create something extraordinary out of adversity. It has become a language of its own, connecting people from different backgrounds and cultures through the universal language of dance.


Elements of Hip Hop Dance

Hip Hop dance is characterized by its unique set of elements that distinguish it from other dance styles. These elements are essential components that contribute to the overall style and flavor of Hip Hop dance. Understanding these elements is crucial to mastering the art form and executing movements with authenticity.

1. Isolation: Isolation is the ability to control and move specific body parts independently while keeping the rest of the body still. It involves isolating movements in the limbs, torso, and even the head, creating a dynamic and visually striking effect.

2. Breaking: Breaking, also known as breakdancing, is a style of Hip Hop dance that involves intricate footwork, freezes, and acrobatic movements. It originated in the 1970s and remains a fundamental element of Hip Hop culture.

3. Popping: Popping is a technique that involves contracting and releasing muscles to create sharp and distinct movements. It emphasizes popping and locking of joints, such as the elbows, knees, and hips, to create a robotic or mechanical effect.

4. Locking: Locking is characterized by quick and rhythmic movements combined with pauses, or “locks,” in between. The dancer’s body moves in a fluid and coordinated manner, often incorporating large arm gestures and comedic elements.

5. House Dance: House dance originated in the underground club scene of Chicago and New York during the 1980s. It combines footwork, fluid movements, and improvisation, drawing inspiration from various dance styles, including Hip Hop, Latin, and African dance.

6. Freestyle: Freestyle is a highly improvisational and spontaneous style of Hip Hop dance. It allows dancers to express themselves freely to the music, showcasing their creativity, musicality, and individuality.

7. Musicality: Musicality is an essential element of Hip Hop dance, as it involves the dancer’s ability to interpret and embody the music through their movements. It includes hitting specific beats, accents, and rhythm changes, creating a strong connection between the dancer and the music.

8. Expression: Hip Hop dance is a form of self-expression, allowing dancers to convey their emotions, stories, and experiences through movement. It encourages authenticity, vulnerability, and the exploration of personal style.

These elements serve as the foundation of Hip Hop dance and provide a framework for dancers to develop their skills and creativity. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced dancer, understanding and incorporating these elements into your practice will enhance your ability to connect with the music and fully express yourself through Hip Hop dance.


Styles of Hip Hop Dance

Hip Hop dance encompasses a wide range of styles that have emerged and evolved over the years. Each style carries its own unique movements, techniques, and cultural influences. Here are some of the prominent styles of Hip Hop dance:

1. Breaking: Breaking, or breakdancing, is a dynamic and acrobatic style that originated in the streets of the Bronx. It comprises various elements, including toprock (standing dance moves), footwork (floor-based movements), power moves (athletic and gravity-defying tricks), and freezes (posing and balancing positions).

2. Popping: Popping is a style that focuses on quickly contracting and relaxing the muscles to create sharp and isolated movements. It is characterized by hits, tuts (hand movements resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics), boogaloo (fluid and rolling movements), and robot dancing.

3. Locking: Locking is a funky and high-energy style known for its quick and humorous movements. It involves shaking and pausing, or “locking,” the body in specific positions while incorporating large arm swings, knee drops, and footwork.

4. Hip Hop Choreography: Hip Hop choreography is a fusion of various Hip Hop dance styles with elements of jazz, contemporary, and street dance. It often combines intricate footwork, dynamic movements, and storytelling to create visually captivating dance routines.

5. House Dance: House dance originated in the underground club scene and is characterized by its fluid and rhythmic movements. It incorporates footwork, jacking (fast upper body movements), and lofting (elevated and flowing movements).

6. Krumping: Krumping is an intense and expressive style that originated in the early 2000s. It involves aggressive and exaggerated movements, showcasing raw emotion and energy. Krumping is often performed in battles and showcases the dancers’ individuality and personal style.

7. Waacking: Waacking, also known as whacking, is a style influenced by disco and funk dance. It emphasizes arm movements and poses, combined with fast and precise footwork. Waacking is known for its elegance, grace, and dramatic flair.

8. Jerkin’: Jerkin’ is a dance style that emerged from the West Coast hip hop scene. It is characterized by energetic footwork, jerky and exaggerated movements, and a playful attitude. Jerkin’ often incorporates elements of popping, locking, and krumping.

These styles are just a glimpse into the vast and diverse world of Hip Hop dance. Dancers often mix and layer these styles, creating their own unique fusion and personal expression. Whether it’s the intricate footwork of breaking, the isolated movements of popping, or the fluidity of house dance, each style adds to the rich tapestry of Hip Hop dance and carries its own cultural significance.


Influences on Hip Hop Dance

Hip Hop dance is a product of various cultural influences that have shaped its evolution and contributed to its dynamic and diverse nature. The following are some of the key influences on Hip Hop dance:

1. African Dance: Hip Hop dance takes inspiration from traditional African dances, which emphasize rhythm, polyrhythms, and body isolations. The use of syncopation, complex footwork, and expressive movements can be seen in many Hip Hop dance styles.

2. Jazz Dance: The syncopation, improvisation, and individuality found in jazz dance have influenced the freestyle and creative elements of Hip Hop dance. Many Hip Hop dancers incorporate elements of jazz dance, such as isolations, fluid movements, and dynamic footwork, into their routines.

3. B-boying: Breaking, or b-boying, played a pivotal role in the formation of Hip Hop dance. It draws inspiration from martial arts, gymnastics, and street dance styles, combining power moves, freezes, and footwork. B-boying laid the foundation for many Hip Hop dance styles that followed.

4. Funk Styles: Funk music and its associated dance styles, such as popping and locking, heavily influenced the development of Hip Hop dance. Popping, with its sharp and isolated movements, and locking, with its rhythmic pauses and energetic flair, are integral to the Hip Hop dance vocabulary.

5. Latin Dance: Latin dance styles, including salsa, mambo, and samba, have contributed to the diverse rhythmical elements and hip movements seen in Hip Hop dance. The fusion of Latin dance elements with urban street dance forms has given rise to unique styles and movements within the Hip Hop dance community.

6. Street Dance: Street dance encompasses a wide range of dance styles that originated in urban communities, including Hip Hop dance. Street dance contributed to the improvisational, freestyle nature of Hip Hop dance, as well as the emphasis on self-expression and individual style.

7. Past and Present Artists: Influential dancers, choreographers, and artists have left their mark on Hip Hop dance. Legends such as Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Janet Jackson introduced innovative choreography and performance elements that pushed the boundaries of what Hip Hop dance could be.

8. Cultural and Social Movements: Hip Hop dance is deeply connected to the social and cultural movements that have shaped the Hip Hop culture. It reflects the experiences and struggles of marginalized communities, giving voice to social issues and serving as a form of resistance and empowerment.

These influences have contributed to the vibrant and ever-evolving nature of Hip Hop dance. By drawing inspiration from various dance forms, cultural traditions, and social movements, Hip Hop dance continues to push boundaries, defy norms, and serve as a powerful mode of self-expression for individuals around the world.


Popular Hip Hop Dance Moves

Hip Hop dance is known for its wide array of iconic and popular dance moves that have captivated audiences and influenced dance cultures worldwide. These moves showcase the creativity, athleticism, and unique style that characterizes Hip Hop dance. Here are some of the most well-known and widely recognized Hip Hop dance moves:

  1. The Roger Rabbit: This move involves a quick and repetitive motion of crossing the legs and hopping from one side to the other. It creates the illusion of movement while remaining in place, giving it a signature and visually striking effect.
  2. The Running Man: The Running Man is a classic move where dancers alternate lifting and extending their legs as if they are running in place. It requires coordination, sharp footwork, and precise timing to achieve the illusion of running.
  3. The Dougie: The Dougie is a popular dance move that originated from the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” by Cali Swag District. It involves swaying the hips, moving the arms in a wave-like motion, and incorporating various freestyle elements.
  4. The Cabbage Patch: The Cabbage Patch is a fun and playful move that involves bending the arms at the elbows and quickly moving them back and forth in front of the body, resembling the motion of picking cabbages in a field.
  5. The Wop: The Wop is a dance move characterized by a quick and rhythmic knee-bending motion. It originated from the 1980s dance craze and hip hop song “The Wop” by the group Digital Underground.
  6. The Twerk: Twerking is a dance move that involves vigorously shaking and moving the hips in a rhythmic manner. It gained mainstream popularity in recent years, drawing influence from African and Caribbean dance styles.
  7. The Harlem Shake: The Harlem Shake is a viral dance move that involves a sudden burst of erratic and spontaneous movements. It became popular through online videos where groups of people would suddenly start dancing to the song “Harlem Shake” by Baauer.
  8. The Robot: The Robot is a dance style that mimics the movements of a robot or machine. Dancers use precise and mechanical movements, isolating different parts of their body to create the illusion of being a robot.
  9. The Dab: The Dab is a distinctive move where the dancer extends one arm out to the side and lowers their head into the crook of the other arm, resembling the motion of sneezing. It gained popularity through the influence of hip hop artists and athletes.
  10. The Floss: The Floss is a dance move that involves swinging the hips in one direction while swinging the arms in the opposite direction, creating a pendulum-like motion. It gained widespread popularity through its inclusion in the popular video game Fortnite.

These moves represent just a fraction of the vast repertoire of Hip Hop dance. Each move carries its own unique style and requires a combination of coordination, rhythm, and individual flair. They have become iconic within Hip Hop culture, influencing dance styles, music videos, and even popular dance challenges on social media platforms.


Hip Hop Dance Culture

Hip Hop dance is more than just a collection of moves; it is a culture that encompasses a unique set of values, beliefs, and practices. It is rooted in the history and experiences of African-American and Latino communities and has grown into a global phenomenon. Hip Hop dance culture encompasses various elements that contribute to its vibrant and dynamic nature.

One of the fundamental aspects of Hip Hop dance culture is community. Hip Hop dance has always thrived through its close-knit communities where dancers come together to share their passion, exchange knowledge, and support one another. These communities provide a space for dancers to connect, collaborate, and push each other creatively.

Self-expression is another vital aspect of Hip Hop dance culture. Dancers use their bodies as a medium to express their unique stories, emotions, and perspectives. The freedom to create and showcase individual style and creativity is highly valued, allowing dancers to make each movement their own and bring authenticity to their performances.

Hip Hop dance culture also promotes a sense of empowerment and resilience among its participants. Through dance, individuals can overcome personal struggles, channel their energy into something positive, and find strength and empowerment in the movements. Hip Hop dance has often been a form of release and rebellion against social injustices, challenging societal norms and giving voice to marginalized communities.

Education and skill development are highly valued in Hip Hop dance culture. Dancers constantly strive to improve their technique, learn new moves, and expand their knowledge of the history and foundations of Hip Hop dance. Workshops, classes, and competitions are common avenues for dancers to enhance their skills and gain recognition within the community.

Furthermore, music plays a vital role in Hip Hop dance culture. Hip Hop dancers are deeply connected to the rhythms and beats of the music they dance to. They interpret the music through their movements, accentuating the beats, and expressing the essence of the songs. The synergy between the dancer and the music is a crucial element in creating an electrifying and immersive dance experience.

In recent years, Hip Hop dance culture has gained increased recognition in mainstream media, with television shows, movies, and dance competitions showcasing the talent and creativity of Hip Hop dancers. The culture continues to evolve and expand its reach, creating new opportunities for dancers to showcase their skills and gain visibility in the entertainment industry.

Overall, Hip Hop dance culture fosters a sense of community, self-expression, empowerment, and continuous learning. It celebrates diversity, creativity, and the ability to use movement as a form of storytelling and connection. Through its rich culture, Hip Hop dance has become a global phenomenon, uniting people of different backgrounds and providing a platform for artistic expression and social change.


Hip Hop Dance in the Media

Hip Hop dance has had a profound impact on mainstream media, influencing music videos, movies, television shows, and popular culture as a whole. It has become a prominent and celebrated form of entertainment, captivating audiences around the world. Here are some key aspects of Hip Hop dance in the media:

Music Videos: Hip Hop dance has played a significant role in shaping the aesthetic and visual style of music videos. Artists such as Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, and countless others have integrated Hip Hop dance into their videos, showcasing innovative choreography and creating iconic dance moments. Music videos serve as platforms for choreographers and dancers to showcase their creativity and collaborate with top musicians.

Movies and Television Shows: Hip Hop dance has been featured prominently in movies and television shows, contributing to their popularity and cultural impact. Films like “Step Up,” “You Got Served,” and “Breakin'” have brought Hip Hop dance to the forefront, while shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” have given talented dancers a platform to compete and gain recognition.

Dance Competitions: Dance competitions, both on television and in live events, have become a major showcase for Hip Hop dance talent. Shows like “World of Dance” and “Hip Hop International” highlight the technical skill, creativity, and artistry of Hip Hop dancers. These competitions not only entertain viewers but also inspire and motivate dancers to push the boundaries of their craft.

Social Media: Social media platforms have become central in promoting Hip Hop dance and connecting dancers worldwide. Dancers share their performances, challenges, and tutorials, inspiring and influencing others in the community. Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have provided a space for dancers to gain exposure, collaborate, and build their fanbase.

Street Dance Battles: Street dance battles, where dancers compete against each other in freestyle or choreographed routines, have become a common feature in both underground and mainstream Hip Hop dance culture. These battles are now regularly recorded and shared on social media and attract millions of views, creating a vibrant and competitive environment for dancers to showcase their skills.

Hip Hop dance in the media has not only popularized the art form but also elevated its status as a recognized and respected discipline. It has brought attention to the incredible athleticism, creativity, and storytelling ability of Hip Hop dancers. The visibility of Hip Hop dance in the media has also opened doors for dancers to pursue professional opportunities in the entertainment industry and has helped to break down stereotypes and barriers in the dance world.

As Hip Hop dance continues to evolve and influence popular culture, its presence in the media will undoubtedly grow. It will continue to inspire future generations of dancers, shaping the landscapes of music, film, and television with its infectious energy and creative expression.


Hip Hop Dance as an Art Form

Hip Hop dance has transcended its roots in the streets and has emerged as a recognized and respected art form. What was once considered a form of self-expression and entertainment within urban communities has now found its place on prestigious stages and in galleries around the world. Here are some reasons why Hip Hop dance is regarded as a powerful and influential art form:

Creative Expression: Hip Hop dance allows individuals to express their unique creativity and tell their stories through movement. Dancers use their bodies as instruments to convey emotions, ideas, and personal narratives, communicating with audiences on a profound level. The ability to create and execute choreography that resonates with people is a testament to the artistic nature of Hip Hop dance.

Individual Style: In Hip Hop dance, individuality and self-expression are highly valued. Dancers are encouraged to develop their own style and unique movements, which distinguish them from others. This focus on individuality highlights the artistic freedom within Hip Hop dance, allowing dancers to explore and push the boundaries of movement.

Rhythm and Musicality: Musicality lies at the core of Hip Hop dance. Dancers interpret and connect with the rhythm, beats, and lyrics of the music, emphasizing accents and syncing their movements to create a visual representation of the sound. This seamless integration of movement and music is an integral part of the artistic expression within Hip Hop dance.

Choreography: Choreographed Hip Hop dance routines showcase the creativity and versatility of the art form. Choreographers blend various styles and influences to create visually captivating and emotionally powerful performances. These choreographed pieces often explore themes, narratives, and social issues, demonstrating the depth and complexity of Hip Hop dance as an art form.

Social and Cultural Commentary: Hip Hop dance has always been closely connected to social and cultural movements. Dancers often use their art form to shed light on pressing societal issues, challenge stereotypes, and advocate for change. The ability to convey powerful messages and provoke thought through movement demonstrates the artistry and influence of Hip Hop dance.

Cross-Cultural Collaboration: Hip Hop dance is a global phenomenon that transcends borders and brings people from diverse backgrounds together. It fosters cross-cultural collaboration, allowing artists to exchange ideas, techniques, and styles. This collaboration enriches the art form, resulting in fresh and innovative approaches to Hip Hop dance.

Through its artistic qualities and cultural significance, Hip Hop dance has gained recognition within academic institutions and arts communities. It is now taught and studied in dance studios, universities, and community centers around the world. Hip Hop dance choreographers and performers have also been recognized with prestigious awards and nominations, further solidifying its place as a legitimate art form in the eyes of critics and audiences alike.

Ultimately, Hip Hop dance embodies the spirit of creativity, self-expression, and connection. It combines technical skill with emotion, personal experiences with social commentary, and individuality with collective unity. Hip Hop dance has etched its place in the world of art, continually evolving and challenging perceptions, and leaving a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of those who witness its power.



Hip Hop dance is a dynamic and influential art form that has evolved from its roots in the streets of New York City to become a global cultural phenomenon. It encompasses a wide range of styles, techniques, and expressions that reflect the creativity, individuality, and resilience of its practitioners. From its humble beginnings, Hip Hop dance has grown into a respected and recognized art form, showcasing not only the athleticism and technical skill of its dancers but also the ability to convey stories, emotions, and social commentary through movement.

The history of Hip Hop dance is intertwined with the history of marginalized communities, who found solace and empowerment in its expressive nature. It has been influenced by diverse cultural traditions, from African dance to jazz and funk, and has evolved through the creativity and innovation of dancers across the globe. Hip Hop dance has crossed boundaries, transcended language barriers, and united people from different backgrounds through a shared love and appreciation for the art form.

Hip Hop dance culture fosters a sense of community, individuality, and self-expression. Within this culture, dancers find support, inspiration, and opportunities to hone their skills and showcase their talent. Hip Hop dance is not only a means of creative expression but also a platform for social activism and change, challenging stereotypes, and advocating for justice and equality.

In the media, Hip Hop dance has made an indelible mark, influencing music videos, movies, television shows, and even social media platforms. It has brought the art form into the mainstream, exposing audiences to the intricate footwork, expressive movements, and vibrant energy of Hip Hop dance. Through these channels, Hip Hop dance has gained greater visibility, inspiring a new generation of dancers and propelling the art form into new creative territories.

As Hip Hop dance continues to evolve and adapt, its impact will reverberate through future generations. It will continue to inspire, challenge, and empower dancers around the world while bridging cultural divides and celebrating the universal language of movement. Hip Hop dance is not merely a dance style; it represents a way of life, a form of self-expression, and a powerful force for artistic and social transformation.

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