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History Of Hip Hop

By Cameron Cunningham, Executive and Artistic Director of Reverent Rhythms. 


The following information and videos will give you an overview of the history and origins of hip hop dance. Hip hop has a rich history in black culture that stemmed from the rise of hip hop music. Today hip hop has evolved into an urban commercial dance that has strayed far from its original roots. Hip hop music and dance still serve as a way for communities to gather together and share in the joy of movement and culture. Hip hop dance is directly related to the rise of hip hop culture and music and like most styles of dance and music, there has always been a strong political undertone to hip hop culture, reflecting the political environment of the era. 


Hip Hop Dance History: 

Hip Hop as a movement form is a fairly young art form in comparison to ballet, jazz and tap. Hip hop began to surface in the late 1960 and early 70’s. This is when individuals with no formal dance training began to utilize their natural inclination towards rhythm and movement, this became known as street dancing. This was for the public, not for dance academy students or those who had access to formal training. Hip hop is rooted in the inspiration from complex rhythms and the down-to-earth movement style of African dancing as it originated in the primarily African American economically marginalised community of New York, South Bronx, in the 1970s. Political influence of the current economic environment fueled the desire for a strong sense of community as hip hop music and dance began to evolve together through street dancing, deejays and M.C.s. As hip hop music evolved to include rap battles, dance battles also emerged. Breakdancing and other styles of hip hop surfaced with this new trend as the battles were to provide a platform for showing off the newest moves and skills of each dancer (Blackwelder, Carson.).” “While it wasn't yet called hip hop dance, this art form really began to develop when DJ Herc moved to Brooklyn at the age of 12, and started an informal performance career that would quickly turn him into one of the most popular DJs in New York City. Moving to New York City from Jamaica, Kool DJ Herc was the first DJ to make unique music by playing two record machines with the same record on both. The rhythms he created were one of the important founding elements of hip hop; he also extended the dance section of songs so the dancers could show off their moves for a longer interlude, laying the foundation for a significant dance culture (McFarland, Maerwydd.).”

“When looking at hip-hop dancing, you must look at the history of hip-hop music and how it gave birth to specific dance styles. You'll see an evolution from what started in the streets of America on both the East Coast and West Coast to a style of dance that has transcended and become a staple of pop culture (Blackwelder, Carson.).” Hip hop dance has its roots in Latino and Black communities from both New York and California during the 1970’s. Specific styles of hip hop began to surface as the style became more well known. These styles included: popping and locking, boogaloo, roboting, break dancing and uprock (Blackwelder, Carson.). “While the East Coast b-boys were Freezing in power moves in their breaks, West Coast hip hoppers were mimicking department store mannequins in theirs. Wanting to replicate the movement of artificial life… (McFarland, Maerwydd.).” “While for hip hop dancers, the popping and locking of the West Coast and the breaking of the East Coast are two very separate dance styles, the two regional variants often get blended and grouped into the genre 'hip hop.' As the dance form continued to evolve, many dancers retained the original styles respective to each region, while other artists brought in not only several different styles of hip hop dancing, but also additional existing dance styles such as swing (McFarland, Maerwydd.).”

Hip Hop Music History:

In 1979, the disco era was ending and  new sound began emerging out of New York block parties as local M.C. 's began rhyming over funk and disco tracks. The original pioneers of hip hop music included Afrika Bambaata, Spoonie Gee, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, Busy Bee Starski, The Cold Crush Brothers, and Grandmaster Flash. The word hip hop did not surface until 1978, trade marked by Keith ``cowboy”  wiggins, a member of the Grandmaster Flash. A few important terms that became increasingly prominent with the culture of hip hop  are “DeeJay” and “M.C.” B - boys and b - girls evolved in the early stages of hip hop culture as street dancers. The term was coined by DJ Kool Herc who is considered by most to be the father of hip hop. Street graffiti became closely associated with the rise of hip hop music and dance. In the 1980’s movies began to introduce hip hop culture on screen to a wider audience. Rhythm and Blues music culture eventually began to embrace the culture of hip hop as it became increasingly popular in the public eye, this was closely followed by the fusion of rock and hip hop music. As this happened, hip hop was exposed to more and more pop culture through screen time. The 1980’s began the era of hip hop fusion with new sound and new movement (“Hip Hop: The Early Years 1979 - 1986 (HD).” ). Beating boxing was one of the most prominent sounds that emerged in the mid 1980’s as a result of hip hop fusion . The beatboxing sound was made popular by The Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh. By the 1980’s, with the introduction of beatboxing, hip hop culture transitioned from what was known as “old school hip hop” to “new school.” The new school hip hop era brought more aggressive artists known for their delivery and lyric content. “Run DMC’s known for infusing rap with rock music and has a really big hit with  ‘walk this way’ featuring Aerosmith. Not too long after L.L. Cool J. debuted on the rap scene. In 1986, Def Jam Records released The Beastie Boys album Licensed to I11. The album  received favorable reviews and became the best selling rap album of the 1980’s (“Hip Hop: The Early Years 1979 - 1986 (HD).” ). “ Hip Hop music continued to center around urban black communities, and the struggles of marginalized demographics in a heated political environment. It is through the development of hip hop that a large part of the east and west coast black and latino culture were able to express political voice. This is how the genuine and authentic art form was born and cultivated through the years. Although it was believed that hip hop music appealed mostly to urban African American males, hip-hop became the best-selling genre of popular music in the entire United States during the 1990s. Hip Hop music had a global impact on art culture as it became popular in Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, Cape Town, London, and Bristol, England. Hip hop was responsible for the huge generation of sales in the fashion, liquor, electronics, and automobile industries. These industries were popularized by MTV and The Box and in hip-hop-oriented magazines such as The Source and Vibe (Blackwelder, Carson.). Like most art forms, hip hop has fused with many other styles of pop music and dance creating what we know today as hip hop. We have seen more artists evolve, such as Lil Wayne, Jay - Z, Ice Cube, Tupoc, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, 50 - cent, Eminem, Kanye West and many more, who are the face of our current hip hop culture. Overtime hip hop culture has strayed from its original roots in many ways however, is still used for artistic and political expression and as a way to identity with one's community.

Video Resources:

  • The 5 Street Dance Styles Everyone Should Know About

  • The History of African-American Social Dance

  • Hip Hop: The Early Years 1979 - 1986 (HD)

  • Difference Between Hip Hop and Urban (commercial) Dance :



Blackwelder, Carson. “Hip-Hop Dancing: How It Evolved From The Street To The Internet And Television.” A Plus, 16 Aug.


“Hip Hop: The Early Years 1979 - 1986 (HD).” 8 May 2011,    

McFarland, Maerwydd. “History of Hip Hop Dance.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp,

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