Today's breaking scene is overloaded with hype videos of bboys and bgirls performing near-impossible feats of nature thanks to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc. At times, the core of what makes this dance such an amazing culture can seem like it's completely drowned out. Luckily, there are some historical resources surfacing dedicated to preserving the history of breaking. The one we are highlighting today is Break Tapes!
Originally started as part of breaking practitioner Greg Fisk's graduate school thesis, this growing archive of breaking history encompasses the VHS collection of Moon Patrol Crew based out of Portland Oregon and Shawn Stevens (Shogun) from Deadly Venoms Crew out of Baltimore. As of now, the collection spans from the 1980s to the early 2000s. However, Break Tapes is accepting VHS submissions from anyone with relevant footage to be added to the archive.
The VHS Era of Breaking
To understand why this video collection is so dope, it's important to understand why the VHS era of breaking is so important to the styles that we see throughout the world today. Imagine a time when you wanted to start dancing but your only resources might be what you saw on a TV show or a few clips from Hollywood movies like Beat Street or Breakin' 1 and 2. You probably wouldn't even know where to start. Step one for most people in this time frame was to copy and improve on what little parts of the dance they had seen in those movies and TV shows. But what do you do after you that? Information was thin and if you wanted to know more you had to seek out information in the real world.
If you were lucky someone in your local scene may have gotten their hands on VHS tapes of dancers from another area. But just because they had a tape, that didn't mean that they were likely to share that footage with you. Much like today, information was King and whoever had the most knowledge of the dance would become the best at it. If you wanted access to these tapes, you would have to trade something. Either more tapes or something else.
Pro Tip: If you want some interesting hip hop stories, try asking your local OG what tapes they were influenced by and how they got their hands on those tapes.
Up until the early 1990s, the VHS era of breaking culture was a time when information traveled much slower and individual scenes throughout the world felt much further away. Because you couldn't find the next hype move from around the world like we can today, each local scene developed its own individual styles with different values towards the dance. That's why when you watch the videos in the Break Tapes archive, each dancer's style is closely linked to the styles of the people they were in close physical proximity to.
But around 1994-1995, the internet started to connect people from different breaking scenes around the world. There was an online forum called Cardboard Only that connected some of the legends we know in Hip Hop today including Buddha (Canadian Floor Masters), Cros1 (Creator of Freestyle Session), Seth (Circle of Fire), Emile YX, and Paulskee (Rock Force Crew & Mighty 4). Back then, interest in breaking alone wasn't really a thing like it is today. People were interested in all the elements of hip hop so trading of tapes wasn't only for breaking footage but also included DJ mixes, graffiti tapes, rap shows and more. Slowly, through the Cardboard Only forum, the pockets of breaking and hip hop throughout the world started to feel closer together.
Another important thing to understand about the influence of VHS tapes was the economy that these tapes created for the breaking scene. Around 1995 some entrepreneurial minds in the scene like Cros1 (creator of Freestyle Session) and Paulskee (creator of Mighty4) realized the business potential behind the need for footage. They originally got the idea to sell footage when they saw Mr. Wiggles of Rock Steady Crew selling his personal tape. They started to sell the footage that they had and those sales helped to create some of the biggest brands and events in the scene that we know today. Cros1, Paulskee, and other organizers worldwide would organize huge hip hop events and fly out the top-level bboys and bgirls to battle. They then sold the tapes to people in different scenes as they traveled the world through breaking. They would use the money they earned from sales to organize bigger events, offer bigger prizes, and give opportunities to up and coming dancers. It was at events like Mighty4, Freestyle Session, and other like them that the legends of the dance scene we have now were made and a lot of it is thanks to the economy created by the VHS era.
Thanks to Break Tapes, much of the historical footage that influenced so many of the dancers who are legends or world champions today are available in one convenient location and you won't have to trade anything for it. Not to mention, it has a slick web site design that feels like you're searching through a chest of VHS tapes just like back in the day.
Where To Start With The Break Tapes Archive
Since the archive is growing and there is quite a bit to sift through, we chose 3 tapes that we think will help you get started and gain a fresh perspective on breaking. Whether you've seen the footage before or this is your first time, if you're a serious practitioner of the dance there is something to be found in each of the selections below.
The remind solo has a depth of information about how he developed his style, where he came from and who his influences were in his dance. A definite highlight in the footage, aside from the actual dance styles he is putting out in the VHS, is the story of how he got into breaking and treats it as his ghetto martial arts. That story is some real hip hop and definitely worth watching.
Hands down one of the most influential events in breaking history! Organized by Lil Cesar and the Air Force Crew out of Los Angeles California, this event was where the legendary Renegades VS Style Elements battle went down. Highlights include seeing Ivan Urban Action Figure and Wicket from Renegades going head to head!
This tape caught battles from some of the most influential dancers in breaking when they were just coming up. Our favorite exchange was in the 2 on 2 battles when Cloud and Flipz from Skill Methodz Crew battled Megus from Boogie Brats and Lego from Flipside Kings. It's one of those east coast classic battles that gives a glimpse into the rawness that was growing in the Florida breaking scene at the time. Who Can Roast The Most as an event series created a lot of moments that defined careers. Bebo and Ground Zero Crew definitely contributed a lot to the scene by organizing this event so watching this tape is definitely a must!
More About Break Tapes
Hopefully, you are able to use this resource to push your breaking forward and the breaking scene as a whole. However, building this type of resource takes work! If you see value in what Greg is doing with Break Tapes please make sure to donate so that he can keep doing what he is doing. The donation link is easily found on his site.
Additionally, we want to give a huge shout out to Paulskee from Rock Force Crew for sharing his knowledge of the VHS era of breaking.