Coming to a mall near you

It was a distinctly suburban scene at the mall. Inside Media Play, an enormous storehouse of music, videos, games and electronics, a quintessentially urban event was taking place: a break-dance competition. Teen-agers were facing off to battle with footwork and jumps, somersaults into head spins, and back dives into windmills.".

Break dancing, the hip-hop dance form that emerged on street corners and discos in New York in the late '70s, once seemed like the ultimate fly-by-night cultural fad. It was already passe by the time it hit the mainstream. But the dance form re-emerged in the early '90s. Urban companies like Rhythm Technicians demonstrated that the dance had continued to evolve with more complex moves, and in 1995 GhettOriginal Productions put on "Jam on the Groove," a break-dance musical, at the Minetta Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Since then the dance has resurfaced in music videos and television commercials.


Now a growing tide of interest is sweeping up teen-agers who were not even born when break dancing made its debut. A new cadre of hard-core breakers appears at national competitions like the B-Boy Pro-Am in Miami, the B-Boy Summit in Los Angeles and Freestyle Sessions in Seattle, Houston and Chicago. And, break dancing and its variations - popping and beat dancing - are once again showing up at parties, clubs and raves.

The inevitable trickle-down has begun. Break dancing is becoming a suburban phenomenon, with youngsters studying hip-hop movies like "Beat Street," "Wild Style" and "Breakin' " from the 1980s or collecting videos of current hip-hop competitions to mimic the moves. Suburban ballet studios are offering classes, and some California high schools even have break-dancing teams. Teen-agers are practicing head spins in family rec rooms and then crowding into malls and community centers to face off with what they have learned.


While the original urban break dancers, or b-boys, were largely Puerto Rican and black, youngsters who are taking it up in the suburbs today are just as likely to be of Greek, Filipino, Japanese or Haitian descent. And there are many more girls involved in breaking today as well. Chris Wright, 25, in San Diego, organizes Freestyle Sessions, a national break-dance competition that takes place all over the United States. Each one, he said, attracts 500 to 1,500 young breakers. He also produces videotapes of the events and sells them through the Web to youngsters around the world who are trying to learn the style.

Words to the wise

A brief vocabulary of break dancing:

Popping: Isolating muscles, or "popping" parts of the body like the shoulder or the neck. Created on the West Coast.

Locking: Freezing in a particular pose, after doing wrist rolls or pointing a finger in different directions.

Beat dancing: Moving the body to each beat in a song, combining break dancing and popping moves. For hip-hop, that can mean moving to 90 beats a minute; for what is known as jungle music, the dancer must keep up with about 168 beats a minute.

Going off: Doing something (in this case, dancing) a lot, constantly.

New York Times News Service