Every month we here at Break Mission share with you a little bit of knowledge from the history of Hip Hop culture. Knowledge is power.
Notes on Footwork Styles
The core of breaking is FOOTWORK, because if you take that out of the equation then it’s no longer breaking. – Ken Swift (VII Gems)
Before I begin, I would like to give special thanks to a few people for dropping gems: Cholly Rock, Trac 2, Aby, Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Alien Ness, Maurizio aka The Next One, Karim, Freeze, Mr Wiggles, Floor Phantom, Que Rock, Profo, Poe One and Bounce. Without them, young cats like myself would never have the opportunity to understand the roots. This note is basically my interpretation when it comes to the development of footwork styles, and as different OGs have different perspectives that may result in varying history, this note is made for my self reference to better understand the craft...
The earliest bboys at Kool Herc’s parties back in 1973 – 1974, such as Clark Kent, Trixie, Sa-Sa, Eldorado Mike, James Bond, Amazing Bobo and The Twins (Keith & Kevin Smith), mostly danced on top. They would incorporate steps from social dances (e.g. Charleston, Lindy Hop) as well as James Brown’s “Good Foot”, and some would also go down to simple floor moves with a Knee Drop/Colt 45 (created by Sa-Sa) or a Corkscrew (created by PHASE 2). But it was only until the Zulu Kings got established by Afrika Bambaataa in 1975 when the idea of footwork came about. Profo (Floor Gangz) shared with me that there are three footwork styles today – New York (Bronx) style, Euro style and Toronto style.
New York (Bronx) Style
The New York (Bronx) style is the most traditional and perhaps the most complex style of footwork, because there are so many foundational moves and concepts. Many people call the Zulu Kings’ style as “boi-yoing style” and I think it is an apt description of the style. If you look at Pow Wow’s “Indian Step” or Beaver’s “Sporadic Footwork”, you will realize that the Zulu Kings have a particularly bouncy and sporadic style, be it in their top rock or their footwork. Good examples will also be Frosty Freeze (Rock Steady Crew), Alien Ness (MZK) and Wayne Blizz (Float Committee), I think they really preserved the essence of the “boi-yoing style”. Beaver was also the first bboy to receive “ghetto celebrity” status and he helped to usher in a new era by introducing his sporadic style of footwork, that is very similar to what Sammy Davis Jr did on the floor. Lil Boy Keith, another first generation Zulu King, is credited with creating the Zulu Spin (also known as Around The World).
The year 1975 is significant in that the Puerto Rican bboys are also getting involved, especially with pioneer Puerto Rican DJs such as Disco Wiz and Charlie Chase hosting block parties. Trac 2 (Starchild La Rock) shared that Vinnie (Salsoul) and Beaver (Zulu Kings) went to the same school and that is how the merger of styles came about. The first Puerto Rican bboys would incorporate elements of Latin dances (e.g. Salsa, Hustle) into breaking, and they built upon the boi-yoing style. Vinnie’s Salsoul Shuffles, for example, is still very similar to Beaver’s sporadic style of footwork. Trac 2 also shared that Batch (TBB) did his own variation of Vinnie’s Quick 3 Step by adding a kick-out, and that is how he created the 3 Step. The Bronx Boys, or TBB for short, is the first Puerto Rican bboy crew. Aby (TBB) got inspired by Fonzie’s dance in the 1976 TV show “Happy Days” to come up with the Russian step, and he also created the Helicopter (also known as Coffee Grinder). If you look at Batch getting down, he will incorporate kick-outs, shuffles and sporadic movements.
The Crazy Commandos (CC) built upon what Salsoul and TBB created, and helped to make the blueprint. Bboys such as Crazy Legs (Rock Steady Crew) and Ken Swift (VII Gems) are heavily influenced by the “CC style”, and by Spy in particular who is also known as “the man with a thousand moves”. Many foundational moves came from the Crazy Commandos: Shorty Rock created the 6 Step, then known as “CC Long Footwork”, which was done in an elongated form to open up the circle; Spy created the 4 Step and the Swipe; Lil Julio created the 2 Step (then known as Salsoul Float) and the Knee Rock; Karate Manny created the CC (some call it Russian Taps or Switches); and Jojo created the Hop Skippy.
Another crew that was also influenced by Salsoul is Starchild La Rock, established in 1977. Trac 2 was the first to incorporate gymnastics into breaking. His 1990 (then known as Handstand Pirouette) and Air CC (a variation of the “CC Long Footwork” that incorporates Virgin Flare), for example, are both originally done on the pommel horse. In Alien Ness’ “Operation Get Down”, he demonstrated Trac 2’s Trac 2 Shuffles. Bounce (MZK/Boogie Brats) also shared in his workshop a variation of the CC done by Trac 2.
Even though breaking was considered “played out” in the Bronx by 1979, it soon got revived by crews such as Rock Steady Crew, Dynamic Rockers and New York City Breakers in the 80s. Many moves done by the bboys back in the 70s were being brought to the next level – Karate Manny’s CC became Ken Swift’s Bouncin’ CCs; Jojo’s Hop Skippy became Baby Love (Rock Steady Crew)’s 12 Step (also known as Scrambles); Trace 2 (TBB)’s W Freeze became Greggo (Executioners)’s Traveling W; Spy’s 4 Step became Icey Ice (New York City Breakers)’s Air 4 Step; and Swane (Zulu Kings)’s Knee Spin became Buck 4 (Rock Steady Crew)’s Diamond Knee Spin. Bboys such as Spy and Mongo Rock (TBB) were known for their combinations and I think this is also evident with Ken Swift and Fast Break (Magnificent Force). Ken Swift has the concept of “8-Ball Footwork” that is also applied by Alien Ness (with his “8-Ball Sweeps”) and Fast Break was able to rock incomplete footwork with simple, yet effective transitions (he used to say “combinations for the nations”).
Apart from foundational moves, I think a big part of the New York (Bronx) style is the concepts, which I’m still having a hard time comprehending. Notable concepts include “Misdirection” (taught by Alien Ness and Lil Lep), “Staircase” (The name was shared by Bounce, I know Crazy Legs, Alien Ness and Karim would use this concept) and the use of burns while doing footwork facing an opponent (one example will be Fever One aka Gunblazin’). When it comes to the all-round bronx bboy style, personally I think Floor Phantom (MZK/Ready To Rock) really carries the torch as a bronx native.
With the spread of breaking and hip-hop culture across the Atlantic to places such as France, Germany and the UK (e.g. 1982 New York City Rap Tour), the European scene begins to develop its own style around the mid 80s. I’d say you can’t talk about the Euro style without mentioning Karim (Aktuel Force) and Storm (Battle Squad). France is really where it all began, with crews such as Paris City Breakers and Aktuel Force getting down at Châtelet–Les Halles (a major commuter train hub in Paris). Paris City Breakers has Nicholas and Aktuel Force has Karim, Gabin, Karima and Hassan. Karim, in particular, was known as the “king of french flow”. His style is very fluid-like and he uses a lot of sweep, hook, sling and legwork to create patterns. To my knowledge (this was shared by Freeze), he was inspired by Buck 4 and Kuriaki’s sweep routine in the 1982 Rock Steady Crew documentary (aired on British TV) and incorporated the ideas into his own footwork. This later on became the basis of Storm’s Pretzel. I think the style difference is also attributed to the fact that bboys in New York often dance on rough concrete surface (hence the emphasis on “steps”), whereas bboys in Paris dance on smooth marble surface (hence the emphasis on “flow”).
Personally I think the Euro style framework was really established in the 90s, if you look at footages of Karim and Storm. You can also see the difference in the way a 6 step is done – when bboys such as Ken Swift and Alien Ness do a 6 step, there is a whip but if you look at how Storm does it in his instructional video, there is no whip. Maurizio aka The Next One (VII Gems), who was also a member of Battle Squad alongside Storm, Swift Rock and Emilio, has a dynamic style that is ahead of his time. I remember chatting with Lil John (Straight Up Raw) and Iron Monkey (Renegade Rockers/Rock Force), and they told me that Maurizio was the best bboy in Europe. Maurizio’s “Space Flow” and “Power Footwork” concepts are particularly intriguing, and Profo also shared Maurizio’s knee switches. It is also worth noting that when Magnificent Force (Fast Break, Icey Ice, Mr Wiggles, Popmaster Fabel and Freddie Fresh) toured the Europe, they influenced the European scene as well. Again, France has always been put on the map with its heavy-hitters of different generations, such as Laos (Creteil Style/Def Dogz), Ibrahim (The Family), Hurricane (Just 4 Rockers), David Colas, Bruce Wayne (Total Feeling) and Jey (Legiteam Obstruxion).
Pervez (7$/Live To Break), in my opinion, is one of the greatest foundation masters to rep the UK, and he was cited as Mad Nico (Throw Down Rockers)’s biggest inspiration. Also giving a shoutout to Asa (Second To None), Evo aka Demon Smurf (Rock Steady Crew), Tuff Tim Twist (Rock Steady Crew) and Hanifa Queen aka Bubbles (UK’s first bgirl). Sweden’s Mad Nico really helped to shape the “nordic flow” with his own style and character. You also have Freeze (Ghost Crew, Sweden), ATA (Ghost Crew, Finland), Dark Marc (Ghost Crew, Norway), PAY2 (Atomic Bboys, Norway), Focus (Flow Mo, Finland), Taya aka T-Flow (Flow Mo, Finland), Lisa aka Lee Lee (Flow Mo, Finland), AT (Flow Mo, Finland), Torb (Norway) and Elvis aka Jam One (Moves Per Minute, Sweden) just to name a few. Nordic bboys/bgirls utilize the space well to create a three-dimensional flow.
Right now I’m kinda curious about how the slavic bboys/bgirls got their style because again, Eastern Europe has a very interesting geopolitical history (I know there were already bboys back in the 80s but as a scene on its own I’d say 90s). Yan (All The Most) shared with me that in the 90s, most focused on power only. In the late 90s, however, they began to watch VHS tapes of Rock Steady Crew and Style Elements and got really inspired by the idea of creating endless creations with one’s movements. Thus, the Slavic style is very dynamic and creative. Through watching footages of Jam Style and Da Boogie, I can see that they are influenced by hip-hop freestyle and put a lot of emphasis on character. I remember the two crews battled together against Suicidal Lifestyle in the BOTY Eastern Europe Finals in 1999. The slavic bboys will also incorporate elements of traditional dances into their footwork, because they don’t want to look the same as bboys in New York or other parts of Europe. First people to adopt this approach are Yan, Boch Rock and Mark Beard. Once they bring it worldwide, more and more bboys in Russia began to follow and now this approach is very popular amongst bboys in the region. I think it will be great if I can exchange with crews such as Top 9 (Kosto, Tony Rock, Robin), All The Most (Yan, Boch Rock, Mark Beard), Da Funky Style (Nadia) and Ruffneck Attack (Intact, Pluto, Well) to better understand their inspirations.
Last but not least, the Toronto style. From my perspective, I really see the Toronto style as being influenced by three aspects: hip-hop freestyle, the Euro style (in particular the legwork) and New York’s boogie boys. For example, if you look at early footages of Bag Of Trix, they were all hip-hop freestyle dancers. Gizmo (Bag Of Trix)’s style is very dynamic and he would often do the same thread consecutively. Thread, to my knowledge, comes from Mr Wiggles (Rock Steady Crew). He would use the concept of thread that the boogie boys often do with his own flava, for example going into a thread from Trac 2’s Floor Track. His footages were featured in Crazy Legs’ “Bootleg Betty” VHS tape that was sold in a hip-hop shop in Toronto (late 80s/early 90s) after the Ghettoriginals Canada Tour. That is most probably how the Toronto bboys were able to extend his concepts. Supernaturalz also created complex thread patterns and if you look at Lego (Supernaturalz)’s Leg-O-Leg for example, it is a higher level legwork transition that was meant to create an illusion so that no one can bite it. What is intriguing about the Toronto style is really the fact that the bboys, back in the golden era of hip-hop, are cypher killers who put a lot of emphasis on being original.
Megas aka Vengeance (Boogie Brats) was also a member of Supernaturalz, who later on joined Boogie Brats. He and Gadget (Boogie Brats) created this concept called “Origami”, which simply put is an approach to breaking that incorporated threads, Spiderman Footwork as well as transitions and flow that were heavily influenced by Storm. Spiderman Footwork is another move by Mr Wiggles and according to him, it originated from a move called the Spider that was done by Rock Steady Crew’s Chino and Crazy Legs. He took that “folding” concept and used it in footwork. I remember looking at footages of Storm and he would also do the Spiderman Footwork. But of course, when it comes to the entire “Origami” concept, credits go to Megas and Gadget of Boogie Brats. Another underground bboy that has to be mentioned is Deadly Mike (Dirty Defiant Tribe). He is no doubt a true Toronto style pioneer and has a dynamic style that incorporates a lot of legwork transitions.
I think now with the gap between scenes getting smaller (thanks to greater connectivity), the distinction between styles is also blurred. A lot of footwork masters, such as Flo Master (Footwork Fanatics), Wicket (Renegade Rockers/Footwork Fanatics), Zulu Gremlin (Medea Sirkas), Easy Roc (Concrete All Stars), T-Rock (Funk Freaks), Koolski (West Coast Rockers), Keebz (Flipside Kings), Kwon 138 (Starchild La Rock), Poe One (Style Elements) and Bounce (MZK/Boogie Brats) actually have an approach that draws influence from different schools of thought. And I think rather than to categorize every bboy/bgirl to a particular style, it is more important to understand the history behind a particular move or concept. Just like what Teknyc (Skill Methodz) said, without foundation you can’t create style.
Skee (Break Mission China)