Influences, sources of inspiration outside of breaking that have helped shape aspects of the dance. While breaking is perhaps mostly a product of the music, the battle mentality, and individuals' imaginations, external influences have always existed. Ken Swift said,
This page offers brief descriptions of some of the more well-documented influences.
What influenced dancers during the early-to-mid 1970s are considered here. Naturally, the dancers' environment was a source of inspiration, which included dance seen outside or in clubs, gangs, and anything on TV or in movies. These influences contributed the early movements of breaking (e.g. toprock, drops, footwork) as well as its practice and overall approach.
James Brown, Nicholas Brothers
Some professional dancers were familiar to early breakers. James Brown's dancing is cited as an influence by Kurtis Blow, Sasa, the Legendary Twins, Imperial JC, and Trac 2 , among others (his music likely affected all early breakers). While one can imagine the influence of Brown's intricate footwork, or funky style combining fluid movement with sharp accents (and even complete freezes) driven by his music, it is his drops (e.g. a knee drop, drop into a push-up, and split) that early breakers tend to cite in particular . The drops also reflected the great physicality of his dancing, and were usually only used during the "bridge" of the song—aspects of his dance echoed in breaking.
Brown's attitude expressed in his dance may also have been an influence, especially in contrast with other mainstream dancers. Alice Echols writes on this distinction, "there was no mistaking the tough-looking James Brown with his streetwise swagger for the Temptations, whose dance steps were taken from the street but who possessed the sort of supper-club sheen characteristic of crossover black entertainers" . Coupled to this was Brown's "lack of restraint, his embrace of "His Bad Self'" , which manifested in his energetic moves.
James Brown discusses his eponymous dance,
The Twins also mention the Nicholas Brothers as a major influence . Their style has been described as, "a melding of jazz, tap, acrobatics, and black vernacular dance," sometimes incorporating "daredevil splits, slides, and flips" . Like Brown, their moves, physicality, and performativity were early sources of inspiration.
West Coast Funk Styles
Hip Hop Dance
While breaking is the original dance of hip hop, subsequent dances that would come to be called hip hop dance would influence breaking in turn. The influence of hip hop dance can be seen, for example, in the "leg hop" thread , and some breakers' toprock.
Hip hop dance is an improvisational dance that incorporates elements of numerous other styles, including social dances, breaking, popping, locking, the hustle, Memphis Jookin, and many others, on top of each individuals' style. It is often danced to hip hop music, lending the dance its name . Some choreographed dances are occasionally called hip hop dance, as well.
Breakers drew inspiration from capoeira in the 1990s , with some claiming its influence began earlier . Jelon Vieira, the first teacher of capoeira in the USA, arrived in New York in 1975 , although whether or not any breakers saw him is uncertain. A significant collision of capoeira and breaking occurred in 1993 when Mestre João Grande shared a performance with the Rock Steady Crew . It is difficult to estimate the extent of capoeira's influence on modern breaking due to the substantial overlap in both movement and philosophy. Some examples of similar movements are corta capim and the sweep or helicopter, queda de rins and the baby, and aú batido and nike. Julie Delgado theorizes that, "though they came to be hundreds of years and thousands of miles apart, both cultures maintain the traditions of the African Diaspora: movement as a vehicle for mental transcendence, oral history, respect to musicians and transgression of oppressive circumstances" .
Capoeira has been described as "an Afro-Brazilian cultural practice – simultaneously a fight and a dance – that can be interpreted as a tradition, a sport and even an art form" , and a "dance-fight-game" . Its complex history spans several centuries, with early written accounts appearing in 1770 and 1809 . Regarding its origin, Nestor Capoeira writes, "the origin of capoeira, whether African of Brazilian, has stimulated many discussions up to the present day. Even the most important mestres, such as Bimba (1900–1974) and Pastinha (1889–1981), had different ideas on this subject" .
While many flips and kicks in breaking were inspired by gymnastics, street performance, martial arts, etc., it has become increasingly common for breakers to cite the influence of tricking.
Tricking has been described as a combination of martial arts, parkour, breaking, and gymnastics . Steve Terada recalls that in the mid-1990s, before the name "tricking" was widespread, "they would call them tricks. 'Cause there were only, I don't know, five foundational moves, really. 540 aerial, pop 720, maybe... And everything else was just considered martial arts" . Precursors to modern tricking (alternatively, early tricking) can also be seen in Xtreme Martial Arts competitions. Tricking experienced a significant rise in popularity in the 2000s, aided by websites like club540.com, bilang.com, and later youtube.com .
- Here, "gang" refers to groups such as the Black Spades, Ghetto Brothers, Savage Skulls, etc.