The term "breakdancing" refers to the breaks in music, and the movements that can be associated with these breaks. It emerged relatively recently, from the Bronx in the 1970's. It became popular with its introduction onto the New York street scene. When a record was changed, or a break in the music of the New York disco scene occurred, dancers would feel the air with movements corresponding to the break.
The predecessors of this dance are unusual. It is possible that this dance comes partially from the lindy hop, and also from the Charleston. Several moves are inspired from Kung-fu, and once or two have support actions that are almost balletic. Breakdancing is associated with the streets of New York, and often when competing teams would dance to win, a real fight would break out. Inherent in the term "break" is an element of the dangerous. HTe muscles developed under this kind of dancing are the same used for fighting. The harsh and foolhardy nature of the dance is almost a game of chicken against an assailant. The best breakdancer, in the early 1980's, was often the best fighter or gang member on the street.
A whole genre of dressing is also associated with the breakdancing scene. Breakdancers typically wear low pants, T-shirts and a hat tipped sideways. The dance must be done in sneakers, for the dancer's safety. Breakdancing is known as an especially dangerous sport for several reasons. It is not unusual for a dancer to get something caught, stubbed or stopped while moving in air. This dance is never done on a soft surface. It emphasizes the rough, raw urban feel of fighting. As a consequence, several dancers have broken their necks, and one died notably in 1982, due to a breakdancing move gone wrong.
Breakdancing includes moving the feet sideways and onto the toes, spinning on the knees, head, hands and elbows, mock fighting moves, and pantomime, an element introduced in California in the 1980's. Movies in the 80's made these moves famous, like Beat Street, Spinnin' and Breakin'. The nature of the dance was that it was improvised, never learned, so upon seeing these films, American kids immediately began making up their own breakdancing moves in basements across America. Michael Jackson's famous "moonwalk" and M.C.Hammer's pumped-up dance style are just improvised forms of breakdancing. Elements of this dance are still present today, in rap videos.
Breakdancing has evolved into the dancing that is seen today in music videos and rap. The "boy band" phenomenon and leading pop stars like Britney Spears use elements of breakdancing in their work. Breakdancing brought new ideas onto the world of social dance. It indicated that full body-contact with the ground was ok, spinning and other moves were possible through careful manipulation of the body and fighting moves could be part of dancing. Dancing is freer, more pumped-up and less controlled because of this. It is safe to assume that social and nightclub dancing throughout America since has never been the same.