The Roots of Hip Hop Dance

Kids and adults everywhere from the suburbs to the inner city love hip hop dancing for it’s edgy style and complex beats. What once began as just a fad among urban youth has now become one of the most popular dance forms around. But how and why did this unique style of dance become so prevalent today?

While many think that hip hop began in the 80’s, this trendy dance style has roots that date back to the late 60’s and early 70’s. Inspired by the earthy moves and intricate rhythms of African dance, hip hop really emerged as a dance “for the people”. Young men and women with no professional dance training would take to the street to express themselves through movement. As the trend caught on more and more people became attracted to the competitive spirit of the dance. 

Many people claim that the dance style really started in New York City but hip hop actually has origins from both coasts of the United States.

East Coast Roots

Many credit the birth of hip hop dance in New York to Kool DJ Herc. A Jamaican boy who moved to New York City in the late 60’s, he was the first DJ to ever make music using two record machines. His revolutionary rhythms would become the founding element of hip hop music. To accommodate the new dance scene that was evolving on the streets at the time, he prolonged the dance section of his songs. 

West Coast Origins

While dancers on the east coast enjoyed the new rhythms of DJ’s like Kool DJ Herc, dancers on the other side of the country came up with their own dance that appealed to the masses. Inspired by the robots in movies of the 60’s and 70’s, influential dancers emerged on the scene. Boogaloo Sam created the infamous “popping” style and Don Campellock developed “locking”. Both techniques are prevalent and used in hip hop choreography and improvisation today.

These three founding styles merged to create the hip hop we are all familiar with in the 21st century. Truly an art form for the people, it keeps expanding to include other dance influences like swing and jazz.

An Evolving Dance Form

Hip hop dance reached its heyday in the 1980’s and 90’s when informal competitions of the dance became more widespread. Dancers would meet on the street or in gyms to have dance-offs. While some of these competitions would be scheduled, often they would arise spontaneously on the dance floor. People dancing in a crowd would move aside and make room for the best two dancers to compete. Eventually the dance form became more institutionalized and began to be taught. As it evolved, more formal venues and performances became common and hip hop clubs began to advertise dance competitions to bring in crowds.

21st Century Hip Hop Dance

Now that hip hop is an established dance form that is taught in dance schools across the country, it has become more mainstream than ever before. While competitions still exist in clubs, you’ll also see hip hop performed on traditional stages, in music videos and in film and T.V. Shows like So You Think You Can Dance? have helped familiarize American audiences with the art form.

Many aficionados complain that the form of hip hop we mostly see on MTV is not the true form of hip hop dance, but rather just “pop dancing”. The truth is that hip hop itself has broken off into many different sub-styles within the context of hip hop. Clowing, krumping, breaking, locking and popping are all different but can all be considered a form of hip hop.

 Hip Hop dancers performing

Why It Still Remains So Popular Today

So why do people still love hip hop now, more than ever?

Hip hop appeals to just about everyone. It really started as a dance form for the people and has remains so over the years. Unlike classical dance that is limited to those of a certain age with a particular body type, hip hop can be performed by anyone who wants to commit to learning how to do it well. No matter how old or young you are, you can enjoy dancing hip hop either in a club or on stage.

Now performed by locals and celebrities alike, it has gained mass appeal. Just about everyone has now seen some form of hip hop dance, whether it’s on T.V. or at a local dance show.

Not to mention hip hop is incredibly fun to both watch and perform. No one can deny its ability to captivate spectators with its juxtaposition of sharp and fluid movement. For now, hip hop remains the most popular dance form around.


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