Kings of New York | Exploring the Birth of the B-boy in the Bronx of the 70s

“It’s a story about art and the resilience of human beings,” says street photographer Ricky Flores, who captured the nascent b-boy subculture

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Nov 30 2018, 2:00pm

The first rule of b-boying is that it is not called breakdancing. Most b-boys consider the term “breakdancing” to be an obsolete one, invented by the white media as an umbrella term, which conveniently packaged together a number of street dances into a unified, nonthreatening spectacle. Breaking’s explosion into mainstream culture robbed it of its historical, social and political context, turning it into a frivolous form of “urban” expression.

Today, those distracted by awe-inspiring head spins are likely unaware of the integral role b-boys and the b-boying subculture played in the creation and development of hip hop culture at large. Breaking was one of the five foundational pillars of the movement that emerged from the Bronx in the 70s, when the neighborhood was subject to extreme urban decay. As property values crashed, over 40% of the South Bronx was burned (by landlords for their insurance value) or abandoned between 1970 and 1980. Breaking, along with DJing, Mcing and “writing” (graffiti), rose from the ashes.

“It’s a story about art and human beings’ resilience, and their ability to use art as a tool to rebuild themselves and create beautiful things out of tragic situations,” says Bronx native Ricky Flores, the celebrated street photographer and who captured the spirit of the nascent b-boy subculture.

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“Some say hip hop some begins with the DJ. But actually hip hop culture itself begins with the b-boy. We’re the x factor,” says first generation b-boy Cholly Rock aka Anthony Horne. He traces breaking back to the 60s, when Latinos across New York started “rocking” or “uprocking,” setting mambo-inspired moves to the latest rock and soul hits. Rocking was inspired by battle dances and performed like a showdown. Those who honed in on its more aggressive components called these elaborate dance-disses “burning.” The provocative style became popular amongst feuding New York City gangs, and took hold in one borough in particular: the Bronx.

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