1980s – Breakdance, Punk, Moonwalk

Significant dances

In Breakdance, New York City, inner-city youths “break out” of stylized disco, reaching back to the acrobatic styles of performers from the 1930s such as the Nicholas Brothers and Earl “Snakehips” Tucker. Combined with traditional African movements that isolate body parts and with its athletic, gymnastic component, it was a competitive form of dance performed primarily by males. Born on the streets, it prompted breakdance contests at parties and nightclubs. It remains the most athletic form of individual dance competitions of the 20th century.

Punk is an aggressive style of music and dance expressing dissatisfaction with traditional society. Punk expressed impersonal violence with “Pogo” dancing and “slam dancing.”

The Moonwalk is a step made popular by Michael Jackson. It symbolized the early MTV era.

Historical context

  • US Presidents are Reagan and Bush.
  • Iran Contra scandal takes place; US aids Nicaraguan rebels.
  • Chernobyl nuclear accident takes place.
  • The Berlin Wall is demolished.
  • Chinese Students rebel in Tiananmen Square.
  • The Soviet Union collapses.


  • Vidal, Asimov, Irving, Amis, Didion, Sontag, and Wolfe


  • Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, MC Hammer, Madonna, Phillip Glass, and Talking Heads.
  • Musicals: Evita, Les Miserables, and Cats.

Visual arts:

  • Christo, Robert Mapplethorpe, Performance Art.
  • Movies: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark , Amadeus, Gandhi, Flashdance, and Rain Man.


  • Apple produces the first mass-market personal computer, the Apple I.
  • Doctors accomplish laser surgery.

Daily life:

  • AIDS is identified and becomes an epidemic.
  • Exxon Valdez spills oil in Alaska.
  • Crack plagues U.S. cities.
  • Martin Luther King Day declared a national holiday.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II 20th Century: Breakdance, Punk, Moonwalk

HISTORY AND CONCEPT OF HIP HOP DANCE: The Street Culture that became a Global Expression: Breakdance

GERMAN LINEAGE IN MODERN DANCE: Solos by Wigman * Hoyer * Holm * Nikolais * Louis

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