Five Basic Elements of Hip Hop

If you ask a dozen people to define the term "hip hop", chances are you'll hear a dozen different answers. Hip hop is much more than simply a way of moving to hip hop music. Hip hop is a lifestyle that includes its own language, music, and fashion, as well as dance.

Some people might tell you that hip hop dancing is simply moving to hip hop music. However, as a dance style, hip hop is anything but simple. Hip hop dancers frequently engage in friendly battles or informal dance competitions. The acrobatics involved often rival those of highly trained gymnasts. As with ballet dancers, the best hip hop dancers can be considered true athletes.

Here are five essential moves anyone who wants to learn hip hop dancing should know.

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Young woman in breakdancing freeze
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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 involves a series of quick movements, each followed by "locking" into another position, and 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
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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, emerged during the 1980s. The popular dances were adopted by and subsequently taken to another level by club dancers. Social, a freestyle dance style, is the element of hip hop frequently featured in music videos.

Social Dance Terms