Rock Steady Crew: The Origins
Breakdancing, which started in the Bronx block party scene over 40 years ago, has become a global phenomenon. This series travels to New York, Berlin, Paris, and Seoul to see how the next generation of dancers is pushing the genre to new heights.
Man: [ Echoing ] B-boys!
First time that I saw anything similar to b-boying was on TV,
and then physically being there to see it done
was first by my cousins up in the Bronx.
And I started seeing guys doing these corkscrew kind of spins
and then going on the floor, doing a sweep,
and then popping up.
And I'm like, "Oh, wow. That's it.
I got to learn that, man. That's cool."
The first time I ever saw something that intrigued me
in a way where I felt like I had to live this
was in a place called 1130 Anderson Avenue.
It's where I lived.
Every weekend, I remembered they play a lot of music
out of a particular person's apartment,
and people would get together,
and they would form a circle, and they would battle.
Now, of course, not understanding
at age 7, 7-8 what a battle is,
but I was able to visually understand
that one person was mocking another.
And at that time, they were doing a lot of, you know,
Bronx rocking is what we called,
which was to do gestures to humiliate the other one,
like grab the head, cut it, shake it up, throw it,
cock the gun, and shoot it.
And I remember like it was yesterday.
I remember we're in a circle, watching.
Now, mind you, at this time, I'm just watching.
There's a gentleman that jumped up in the air
and went down to a pose,
which now we call a freeze, of course.
But everybody was completely mesmerized by it,
especially me as a little boy.
And it was that instant that I remember for me
of when breaking, b-boying, started.
My first experience with watching breaking, b-boying,
happened in 1976.
It was my brother, Robert Colón,
and he was actually in front of my house
with Afrika Islam of the Zulu Nation.
I was 9 years old.
I was looking at him and thinking
"Why is my brother throwing himself on the floor
and embarrassing my family?"
My cousin comes to me a year later
and tells me, "Yo, Rich,
you got to come with me to the jam!"
I'm like, "What?!"
"The jam, man.
Yo, they'll be going off. They're rocking.
People are breaking.
Got emcees, deejays cut --
you know, playing beats and --bow-bow-bow-bow! --
all this stuff."
It's not like I could think about,
"Okay, wow. This is hip-hop."
No, 'cause the word didn't exist like that yet by definition.
And I just fell in love with this environment.
I was like, "Wow."
It's the first time I ever wanted to dance
without being afraid of humiliation
or insecurity or shyness.
You know, that's when I felt like I was really born,
when, you know, just like witnessing breaking.
[ Hip-hop music plays ]
Man: It started in the Bronx and part of Harlem.
It started in Freeze's house. Aw, shut up!
His moms used to break.
Don't be talking about my mother, now.
Man: Billy, go, go --
Just don't talk about my mother.
The term b-boy, from what I know
from my perspective and what I live
originates from the word, from the saying Bronx boy.
And then, eventually, it became the break boys
and break girls and things like that.
So it originated from being called the Bronx boy.
Brooklyn style was more top-rocking,
more Apache line top rock, the rock.
And then the Bronx was more get down on the floor, b-boying.
We always called it b-boying.
I also knew it as rocking.
People in Manhattan used to call b-boying rocking.
The word breaking came from the music.
You guys use the break, we used to break
because the music we heard
made us reach this breaking point.
The music drove us so crazy,
and we felt so amazing that it made us break.
♪ Watch me now
♪ Feel the groove
Crazy Legs: That's not to say that versions of rocking,
dancing on top didn't exist in other boroughs.
I'll give props where props are due.
But when it comes to what we consider the B-boy style,
it's definitely the Bronx.
♪ Watch me now
♪ Feel the groove
♪ Into something
♪ Gonna make you move
We came from very aggressive surroundings.
We were raised in the Bronx, and...
We were poor.
You know, we had very little to look forward to in life.
It is what gave us life.
It's what gave us the opportunity
to have social gatherings and build bridges
between different cultures, different communities.
Initially, it was a way of us to calm the static
that was prevalent in the streets of New York at the time.
This new dance form that was born a few years ago,
I didn't know that I needed it in my life.
I just wanted to be competitive, practice,
get some props.
♪ Day or night
♪ We had fun
We were the kids who wanted to have a good time.
We saw a lot of our friends
and a lot of big brothers and cousins
go get incarcerated, getting hooked on smack.
And we were like, "Nah. We don't want this.
The killing has got to stop.
That's when Bambaataa, Flash, and all the rest got together
and all the different crews from the Bronx
and kind of united into this one family of hip-hop, you know?
♪ They here
♪ Rocking it
[ Gong crashes ]
What happened in the '70s was very interesting,
because the dance itself was developing.
You know, everything was very pure and organic.
We kind of took what we saw, and we kind of, like, played with it
and added a few more gymnastic moves and more acrobatic moves.
The other inspiration was kung-fu movies.
Like, every Saturday, we'd go to 40 Doo-Wop,
42nd Street and Times Square,
and we'd spend all day watching six, seven kung-fu movies.
Crazy Legs: Sometimes we would imitate how they fought
and kind of utilize those methods
in the way we moved with our dancing,
but with a different kind of rhythm.
And then there's also the idea of being Puerto Rican
and utilizing the dance steps
from salsa, mambo, and things like that
that have a direct influence on us
because we are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, whatever.
So, the moves come from many different places,
many different backgrounds --
some gangsters, some churchgoers [laughs] you know?
♪ Better work that body...
We were a part of the second generation,
I guess you could say, of b-boys.
So all the other guys, the old guys, we looked up to them.
We emulated them to a tee.
And then we go back into the basements of our friend's houses
or into the hallways of the lobbies of the projects
and just start practicing there.
And that's how we formed crews,
and then we formed local crews in our neighborhood,
like the Young City Boys,
the D.A. Boys, Salsoul Brothers.
Mr. Freeze: The Mexican Crew, the Seven Deadly Sins,
Rockwell Association, the TBB,
The Incredible Crew, The Suicide Crew.
Every crew had a little shop of b-boys in it.
It was just incredible at the time.
Everyone had different shirts.
You all knew who was who.