Thoughts on Modern Dance

I had a school assignment on modern dance, that I found interesting. I have decided to post some of  it here for people to read and maybe learn something, or be introduced to something new. I like looking at things from a historical perspective and my research came across some interesting facts about modern dance history. First of all, the term breakdancing covers a wide rang of modern styles, but for this article I use the term to mean styles more closely related to hip hop.

Breakdancing, what is it, and where did it come from? To be able to answer that question we need to go back to the early 1970s. This was a time in which many changes were happening in the music and dance industry. Disco had just taken off and the Hustle was prominent there. Things like Saturday Night Fever, lent to the art of battling; where two or more dancers would try to prove who was the better.  This concept appealed to many youths, including street gangs.

The Hustle, as it was generally accepted, was a mixture of the swing, the salsa and many other dance types; it had its root in the Latin and African cultures. When you combine the battle versions of the Hustle you get an interesting choreography of solo and group movements. These movements were the precursor to old style breaking. Enter the fame of James Brown during the early ‘70s. In fact, it has its origins in Capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance and music. It was created in Brazil mainly by descendants of African slaves James Brown took some of the more entertaining movements and used them in is performances. His style and his dance, the good foot, led to more freedom of movement on the dance floor. This increase of movement brought more opportunity for improvisation. People began to take dance movements to the limits in a way no one had considered. As we near 1980 you start to see a change in this dancing culture. The disco was dying, but the Good Foot dance was morphing into something new.  A mix of Hip hop and the new dance was born during this period.

During the early 1980s we see how one man greatly influenced the whole culture of hip hop, creating a culture of its own. A young man named Afrika Bambaataa lived the life of a street gang member, who rose to prominence and eventually lead his own gang. His gang became one of the largest due to his ability to form relationships with other gangs. Things changed after he won an essay contest that sent him on a trip to Africa. He became fascinated with the Zulu people, their history, and their solidarity; so much, that when he returned home he devoted his time to building piece. He vowed to draw angry kids out of gangs using hip hop. He then formed the Universal Zulu Nation, an integral part of his fledgling hip hop community. The Zulu Nation was the first hip-hop organization, with an official birth date of November 12, 1973. In 1982, Bambaataa and his followers began touring the world in hopes of spreading hip hop culture. He tried to establish using hip hop and b-boying in “battles” as a way to solve differences without violence. His successes led to the embracement of the culture and dance.

It was after 1983 that breaking began to rise in popularity. Choreographers started to work with dancers and the number of professional b-boy crews increased exponentially. The film industry recognized the growing fad and incorporated the dancing into various movies and screen plays. During the 1984 Summer Olympics, breaking punctuated Lionel Richie‘s performance and Michael Jackson brought moonwalking, or backsliding, to the masses. Advertisers also took advantage of the dance craze; everything from fast food restaurants to clothing lines used breaking as an advertising platform.

After a brief recession of popularity during the late ‘80s, the breaking and hip hop culture emerged, once again, fresh and new. The dance styles began developing an increasing tie to acrobatic movements and poses, but there was something else. The dancers began taking movement from just nearly every other style of dancing, including ballet. With all this material to work with some might ask, “What is the purpose in breaking?” The b-boy would answer with something of this nature, “We’re struttin’ our stuff to show off and prove what we can do, and it’s our way of being graceful; it’s an art man.” Because of the origins of breaking, I would have to agree that it is a way to show off, or prove yourself, but it does have its own artistic quality.

This type of dancing really has no direct religious connections. Its history is more of war, fighting and battles. While some could attribute different religious connotations to various styles and movements, the overall dance genre of breaking is not religious. This dance is inherently social by nature. It doesn’t lend well to direct contact with a partner, but the dance, overall is a social one. Either one or many dancers will dance in view of others watching, and the unofficial audience usually gathers in a circle. This structure is reminiscent of various commune and tribal dances. There is very little, of the ‘court’ dance qualities to this genre, with exception of the ‘show’ and the status of dancers and crews. It is more of an earth style dancing, with focus on the ground, and moving in a crouched or hunched way.

In conclusion, I would place breaking, as a modern war dance. It transcends the expected and creates aura of wonder around it. Those who practice are some of the most athletic and talented people in the industry.

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