Breakdancing, also known as breaking and b-boying by its practitioners and followers, is a street dance style that evolved as part of the hip hop movement in the South Bronx of New York City during the early 1970s. Breakdancing is one of the four original elements (or 'pillars') of Hip-Hop, the others being Rapping, DJing, and Graffiti.
In its early form, breakdancing was divided into three distinct forms: Breaking, dancing, and popping. Breakdance is commonly associated with, but distinct from, popping which is one element of the funk styles that evolved independently in California during the 1970s, however elements of popping or poppin itself may have existed as a style or subculture of dance as early as the 1920's when it, or the general sub culture of dance associated with Afro-Americans was known as Boogaloo. Evidence of this is found in the form of statements made by certain "founding" poppers or originators of the modern styles, regarding witnessing or having knowledge of senior citizens and elders whom could either pop or boogie, or taught them about some aspect of the art. Other styles of dance associated with the funk styles include locking, tutting, krumping, boogaloo and liquid dancing. These styles are sometimes more "contortionistic" than "athletic," although they are often incorporated by breakdancers who wish to widen their expressive range.
All of the above styles factor heavily into the breaker's movements while standing, called toprock. Toprock is the name given to any part of a breakdancing routine that is performed principally from a standing position. Toprock moves depend upon coordination, flexibility, and style. They are less physically demanding than most downrock moves, but perfecting them is a never-ending process. Toprock often begins the routine, and while it serves as a good warm-up for the more athletic moves that may follow, it is first and foremost a display of style. It is unorthodox-looking in general, and breakdancers take pride in inventing ever-more unique toprock. (Note: Uprock is sometimes used inappropriately as a synonym of toprock)
As opposed to toprock, downrock encompasses all moves performed with hands, arms, or a part of the torso in contact with the floor. Footwork is nearly synonymous with downrock, but is a more restrictive term usually applied to any downrock moves which are not power moves. Downrock is generally much more athletic, acrobatic, and akin to gymnastics. The two are often discussed independently, but good breakers can combine them seamlessly, especially once they master some basic transitions.
One of the greatest divides in breakdancing is the give-and-take between style and technique (or power). Devotees of each aspect are commonly known as styleheads and powerheads. Styleheads show dancing side of breakdance. They may look down on powerheads as hack gymnasts who have eschewed the fundamental dance aspect for flashy acrobatics. Powerheads would respond that styleheads are little different than dancers from other styles because they neglect the difficult athletic moves that make breakdancing so radically different.
Much of being a successful breakdancer is about having style. The constant debate between b-boys is a debate of who has the most style. Since, in theory, anyone can learn the basics of breakdance, the dancers must deviate from the set dances to use their own style. In this way they can show-up other breakdancers during battles, thus winning the battle.
Battles are breakdancing events in which breakers form a circle and take turns trying to show each other up through better style, more difficult moves, and/or combinations of both. Battles can pit individuals against one another, but often take place between two opposing breakdance crews.
The largest competition each year is probably Battle of the Year (BOTY), held in Germany since 1990, and featuring crews from around the world. Despite its name, BOTY focuses on choreographed routines. Recent winners have been from France, Korea, Germany, and Hungary.