Elements of Hip Hop

If you ask several people to define the term "hip hop", chances are you will hear several different answers. Hip hop is much more than a way of moving to hip hop music...it is a way of life. Hip hop is a lifestyle that includes its own language, music, wardrobe style and style of dance.

Some people believe that hip hop dancing is simply moving to hip hop music. However, hip hop as a dance style is anything but simple. Hip hop dancers frequently engage in friendly battles or informal dance competitions. In an article appearing in Dance Teacher magazine, Rachel Zar discusses the top five elements of hip hop dance.

Source: Zar, Rachel."A Dance Teacher's Guide to Hip Hop: Breaking Down the Five Essential Elements of a Hip-Hop Curriculum." Dance Teacher, Aug 2011.

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Young woman in breakdancing freeze
Peter Muller/Getty Images

Created by Sam Solomon in Fresno, California and performed by the Electric Boogaloos dance crew, popping consists of quickly contracting and relaxing your muscles, causing a jerk in your body. These jerks are known as pops or hits. Popping is performed with other dance moves and poses to the beat of the music.

Popping Terms

  • Puppeting
  • Waving
  • The Creep
  • Tutting
  • Robotting
  • Ticking
  • Dynorama
  • Strobing
  • Vibrating
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Diversity performs locking dance on stage
Ollie Millington / Contributor

Created by Don Campbell in Los Angeles and introduced by his crew The Lockers, locking consists of performing a series of locking movements, which involves performing a quick movement, "locking" into another position, then holding the last position for a few seconds. The hips and legs usually remain in a relaxed position while movements of the arms and hands are more distinct and exact. Movements are big and coordinated closely with the beats of the music. Locking has a bit of a comedic flair and is usually performed to funk or soul music. Dancers who perform locking movements are called "lockers."

Locking Terms

  • Lock
  • Points
  • Throwback
  • Wrist Roll
  • Iron Horse
  • Muscle Man
  • Scooby Doo
  • Stop & Go
  • Scootbot
  • Skeeter Rabbit
  • Funky Guitar
  • Knee Drop
  • Leo Walk
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Hispanic woman break dancing under overpass
Peathegee Inc / Getty Images

Breaking (also referred to as b-boying or b-girling) is probably the most well-known element of hip hop dance. Breaking is very unstructured and improvisational, and evolved from a style of dance known as uprock. Breaking, or breakdancing, is composed of movements performed at different levels: toprock (performed while standing), downrock (performed close to the floor), power moves (acrobatics) and freeze moves (poses). Dancers who perform breakdancing are often called b-boys, b-girls or breakers.

Breaking Terms

  • Rock Steady Crew
  • Zulu Kings
  • Sal Soul
  • Crazy Commandos
  • Dynamic Rockers
  • New York City Breakers
  • Air Force Crew
  • Full Circle
  • The Bronx Boys
  • Seven Gems
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Dancers Shabbadoo and Boogaloo Shrimp, performs at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago
Raymond Boyd / Contributor / Getty Images

Boogaloo is a very loose movement, mostly using the hips and legs. Boogaloo seems to give the illusion that the dancer has no bones. This style is closely related to popping, with dancers involved in rolling the hips, knees, legs, and head.

Boogaloo Terms

  • Twist-o-flex
  • Walk-out
  • Fakey
  • Neck-o-Flex
  • Cobra
  • Snakin'
  • Slides
  • Glides
  • Old Man
  • Egyptian
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Social Dances

Social dances, or '80s party dances, came about during the 1980's as popular dances at the time were transformed by club dancers. Social dance is a freestyle dance style and is the element of hip hop that is often seen in music videos.

Social Dance Terms

  • The Wop
  • The Cabbage Patch
  • The Roger Rabbit
  • The Running Man
  • The Rooftop
  • The Humpty Hump
  • The Worm
  • The Kriss-cross