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Pied Piper
Photo by Paul Hampartsoumia

Ten years in British hip hop

As hip hop dance festival Breakin’ Convention reaches its tenth year, we cast an eye over a decade’s worth of landmark moments

By Lyndsey Winship
This May, Breakin’ Convention stages its tenth festival dedicated to the art of hip hop dance. Hip hop culture arrived in London in the early ’80s, but the last decade has seen power moves, popping, locking, toprock, krumping and hip hop theatre surge in quality and popularity on every level, from club battles to West End stages and primetime TV.

Here’s how it happened...

Jonzi D
Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian

2004: International invasion

The first Breakin’ Convention, curated by Bow-born B-boy Jonzi D, put hip hop on stage at Sadler’s Wells and brought major international artists to the UK for the first time. Original California popping crew the Electric Boogaloos shared the bill with Philly hip hop theatre pioneer Rennie Harris and LA’s Tommy the Clown, inspiring UK artists to up their game.

Pied Piper, Frank Wright, Sandy
Photo by Robert Day

2006: ‘Pied Piper’ comes calling

East London crew Boy Blue Entertainment won an Olivier award for their urban take on the Pied Piper story (think sewer rats and sub-bass). Jonzi D credited Boy Blue’s artistic director Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy with inventing the tightly choreographed group routines of short, sharp moves and tricks that would become the default style of TV street dance crews across the world.

THEATRE_Into The Hoods_press 2010.jpg

2006: Hip hop takes the West End

ZooNation’s feelgood hip hop fairytale ‘Into the Hoods’ became the longest-running dance show in the West End. Choreographer Kate Prince went on to further success with ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’ and her star dancers Tommy Franzen and Teneisha Bonner later became the first hip hoppers to win National Dance Awards.


2009: Primetime fame

Street dance broke into mainstream TV in the biggest way since Michael Jackson did the moonwalk, thanks to London crews Diversity and Flawless storming ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. Simon Cowell called winners Diversity ‘sheer and utter perfection’, then declined to sign them to his management company. Probably for the best.

Photo by Belinda Lawley

2010: Record spinning

Brit B-girls Roxy, Eros and J-Kay became B-Girl World Champions and Roxy headspun her way into the ‘Guinness Book of Records’. Let’s hear it for the lasses.

Soul Mavericks
Photo by BigWanPro

2012: World ranking

Top UK crew Soul Mavericks were runners up at the UK B-Boy World Championships, the first time a British group had reached the final in more than a decade. Crew member Sunni also qualified for the BC One competition, battling among some of the best in the world. ‘He’s the Luke Skywalker of UK B-boying,’ says Jonzi D. ‘He’s our only hope!’


2013: The next generation

Six-year-old B-Girl Terra of Soul Mavericks wowed the judges, and 5 million YouTube viewers, with her feisty battle antics at Paris’s Chelles Battle Pro. Breakin’ Convention celebrates homegrown talent in an all-UK line up on May 6, with Boy Blue, ZooNation, Avant Garde Dance, Bad Taste Cru, Plague, Impact Dance, Unity, BirdGang and more, all leading the way for a new wave of British dance creators. Boom!

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