Exploring the 4 Distinct Styles of Hip Hop Dance

by Patria

When it comes to the vibrant world of hip hop, the term is often associated not only with a genre of music but also with a dynamic and diverse style of dance. Hip hop dance has permeated popular culture, becoming a global phenomenon that transcends boundaries and unites people through rhythm and movement. In this article, we will delve into the world of hip hop dance and explore the four distinct types that have evolved over the years. Whether you’re a seasoned dancer or just curious about the art form, understanding these four styles will deepen your appreciation of hip hop.

Breaking: The Pioneering Spirit of Hip Hop

One cannot discuss hip hop dance without giving due credit to the foundational style known as breaking. Also referred to as b-boying or b-girling, breaking originated in the South Bronx of New York City in the 1970s. This style embodies the raw essence of hip hop, as it emerged directly from the marginalized urban communities of that era. The term “breakdancing” is often used colloquially, but breaking is the authentic term within the hip hop community.

Breaking is characterized by its acrobatic moves, intricate footwork, and a strong emphasis on improvisation. Dancers, known as b-boys (for males) and b-girls (for females), engage in battles where they showcase their skills, creativity, and flair. Elements such as toprock (dancing in a standing position), downrock (floor-based movements), power moves (dynamic and impressive spins and freezes), and freezes (static poses) are all integral components of breaking.

The roots of breaking lie in the need for self-expression and an outlet for urban youth to escape the harsh realities of their environments. It is a physical manifestation of the hip hop spirit – rebellious, energetic, and authentic.

Popping: The Electric Pulse of Hip Hop

While breaking was making waves on the East Coast, the West Coast was brewing its own distinct style of hip hop dance known as popping. Popping emerged in California during the 1970s and was closely associated with funk music. Unlike breaking, which is characterized by fluid and continuous movements, popping is all about creating sudden, sharp, and isolated movements that sync with the rhythm of the music.

The name “popping” is derived from the technique of flexing and contracting one’s muscles in a way that gives the illusion of body “pops” or “hits.” Dancers, often referred to as poppers, use a combination of animation (robotic movements), tutting (angular arm and hand movements), and strobing (quick and jerky motions) to create visually captivating performances.

Popping is all about control and precision, as dancers strive to hit every beat and accent in the music. It’s like an electric current running through the body, with each movement a jolt of energy that captures the essence of hip hop. While breaking may be the rebel of hip hop dance, popping is the cool, calculated technician.

Locking: Grooving to the Funky Beat

As we continue our journey through the world of hip hop dance, we come across locking, another style that has its roots in California’s funk and soul scene of the 1970s. This style, pioneered by the charismatic Don Campbell, is all about grooving to the funky beat while incorporating distinct and exaggerated body movements.

The name “locking” originates from the practice of “locking” one’s joints and then suddenly releasing them to create a dynamic and rhythmic effect. Locking is characterized by its playful and theatrical nature, with dancers often engaging in comical facial expressions and storytelling through their movements.

One of the signature moves of locking is the “lock,” where a dancer briefly freezes in a pose before transitioning into another movement. Another hallmark of locking is its use of “points,” where dancers accentuate certain body parts, such as the fingers, elbows, or knees, in time with the music.

Locking is all about infectious energy and charisma. It’s the life of the hip hop party, where dancers bring their personalities to the forefront and interact with the audience through their vibrant performances. In the hip hop family, locking is the entertainer, always ready to put on a show and make you smile.

Krumping: The Raw and Emotionally Charged Expression

In the early 2000s, a new and powerful style of hip hop dance emerged from the streets of Los Angeles – krumping. Krumping is not just a dance; it’s a raw and emotionally charged form of self-expression that serves as a release valve for the frustrations and struggles of urban life.

Krumping is characterized by its aggressive and frenetic movements, often involving chest pops, stomps, and intense facial expressions. Dancers, known as krumpers, engage in “battles” where they use their movements to convey emotions such as anger, pain, and empowerment. The term “krump” itself is said to be a combination of “clown” and “crump,” signifying the duality of emotions that krumpers express through their dance.

Unlike the structured and competitive nature of breaking battles, krumping battles are more about personal expression and connection with the audience. Krumpers engage in a cathartic release of emotions, often shouting, screaming, and fiercely challenging each other in a non-violent and artistic way.

Krumping brings us back to the roots of hip hop as a means of self-expression and empowerment. It’s the embodiment of raw energy and a powerful channel for inner emotions, making it one of the most emotionally resonant styles within hip hop dance.


In conclusion, hip hop dance is a multifaceted and ever-evolving art form that encompasses a wide range of styles and expressions. Breaking, popping, locking, and krumping represent just a fraction of the diverse tapestry that is hip hop dance. Each style has its own unique history, movements, and cultural significance, contributing to the rich mosaic of the hip hop dance world.

Whether you find yourself drawn to the acrobatics and improvisation of breaking, the precision and isolation of popping, the charismatic grooves of locking, or the raw emotion of krumping, there’s a hip hop style that resonates with every dancer and enthusiast. Hip hop continues to thrive and evolve, with new styles and fusions emerging as the culture spreads across the globe.

So, the next time you hear the unmistakable beat of hip hop music, remember that beneath the surface lies a world of dance that embodies the spirit of rebellion, precision, entertainment, and emotional release. Hip hop dance is not just a movement; it’s a way of life, a culture, and a force that unites people across borders and backgrounds, all under the banner of hip hop.

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