The worldwide competition Redbull BC One recently finished, and Lil Zoo took home first place this year. Despite being a corporate creation, the competition generally adheres to the culture of breaking. The judges this year were from the 90s, but previous years have featured more OG judges. The breaking style has expanded to incorporate other elements like house rock, gymnastic power moves, and even ballet over the years, and breakers also push the limits of variations within moves, yet the sport as a whole keeps within the spirit of breaking. As a competition, cleanliness of form and artistic expression have become major factors of the sport.
The use of commandos is popular in contemporary breaking, which is a practiced routine that a crew will often use to open up for one of their individual members. Routines show unity and creativity as a group, but are also great spectacle. To a degree, this combines the freestyle element of breaking with other practiced performance dance forms. The bboy crew Morning of Owl is often cited as one of the best and most creative routine makers, although at the same time many traditionalist bboys consider them to be a hybrid crew rather than a purely breaking crew.
Morning of Owl has also been featured on NBC’s World of Dance. Where competitions like Redbull BC One retain their urban identity and can keep to the breaking spirit, the World of Dance isn’t restricted to a particular style, and leaves room for hybridization. World of Dance, and other act-competition shows like America’s Got Talent, provide a space that forces its competitors to be constantly improving and evolving throughout. World of Dance also features a “battles” section in their season run, where two groups will be pitted against each other to avoid elimination. Compared to breaking battles, the World of Dance battles is simply two performances that are ranked against each other, rather than the multiple rounds and back-and-forth communication that breaking—and most urban/hip-hip battles–constitutes.
The format that World of Dance uses doesn’t mesh well with the more freestyle jive that urban dance and hip hop prefers. Rounds are rehearsed, choreographed, and set to music, and restricts bboys and b-girls in a way that the form normally doesn’t. Restricted in performance by the creation of a piece, by the choice of a specific song, by the choreographers or directors. Breakers featured in music videos are often in a similar situation, where the urban dance is taken and put into a particular set and form for a marketable audience. For an art and sport like breaking, these sorts of things really alter the spirit of it. It’s no longer about expression in freestyle and letting yourself become one with the music, but choosing to impose yourself against a beat instead.