What Is Popping In Hip Hop Dancing?

In this post let’s explore what is popping in hip hop. Popping is my favourite style of hip hop and I also like it because there is not too much jumping, so even old people like me can learn to do it.

Popping In Hip Hop

what is popping in hip hopPopping in hip hop is a style of dancing that started in the late 1960’s and 70’s. 

Popping is characterized by sudden tensing and releasing of the muscles (“hitting”) to the beats in music.

One has to be careful not to overexagerate the popping style. Think of it more as a nerve impulse as the muscles pop. The movements are small rather than big and the effect is rather robotic if done corectly.

History of Popping Dance

It is quite difficult to research the history of any of the hip hop styles, as there are so many different accounts and so many conflicts.

Sometimes the styles are so similar that they could be bordering on another type of style.

So I have gathered that different forms of popping happened in different regions and different circles of influence.

It is mostly thought to have started amongst teenagers in deindustrializing parts of cities. The dancers would invent and practice moves and then show them off at clubs or in dance battles.

In addition to being a great hobby, Popping dance gave dancers an escape, an identity, and a family.

Over time, the word “Popping” or “hitting” started being used to describe the collection of moves and techniques invented by the early ‘Poppers.’

Soul Train helped to popularize and publicize Popping in hip hop dance.

The Electric Boogaloos’ performances served as a catalyst for developing different styles of Popping dance in other parts of the country.

Popping and other street styles then started to be featured in Hollywood films, such as Beat Street, and Breakin’.

What Are The Signature Steps in Popping Dance

Popping dance is related to hip hop dancing and the other street/funk dance styles (such as Waacking and Locking), but is its own distinct style of dance.

It is often performed in battles and cyphers, or incorporated into choreography.

These Popping foundations have been viewed, learned, and modified by generations of dancers all over the world.

Poppers aim to maintain the authenticity of the techniques and traditions of the dance style.

With a better understanding of these origins, all dancers can learn to innovate their own Popping style while staying true to the integrity of the culture.

Here is a list of some of the movements that make popping well pop.

Hitting or Popping

Flexing your muscle groups suddenly. You can hit continuously to a steady rhythm, combined with different poses and pathways.

Here is a great explanation from Poppin John.

Gliding, Floating or Sliding

These are variations of footwork techniques that create the illusion that your feet are moving smoothly across the floor. The first time I noticed this was with Pop Icon Michael Jackson.

The backslide (which people commonly confuse as the Moonwalk), is a move that incorporates this technique.

Notably, Michael Jackson had learned to dance from Pop’in Pete and Pop N’ Taco. 

In 1983, he performed the Backslide on national television (but incorrectly called it the “Moonwalk”).

Here is a great video tutorial on some sliding techniques done by Poppin John. Enjoy.


Animation was inspired by the Dynamation films by Ray Harryhausen. It is meant to simulate an animated character moving frame-by-frame. 

The technique involves abrupt tensing of the muscles to create a stop-motion illusion. 


The Boogaloo was invented by Boogaloo Sam, is a loose, fluid motion that gives the impression of the body having no bones. 

It incorporates isolated circular rolls of body parts.

The Robot Or Botting

This is when the dancer imitates a robot using several different popping dance techniques like hitting and gliding.

Dime Stop

Moving at a steady pace, then coming to a clean halt without any shaking or reverb. 

The effect comes from being able stop suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, or “stopping on a dime”.


When you keep the rest of your body still while you separate and move a part of it.


Inspired by classic mimes, miming is when you utilize isolations to create pictures and illusions of an object or scenery that isn’t actually there.


Moving and hitting with pictures that imitate a puppet or scarecrow with strings attached to your joints.

Snaking Or Waving

Fluid rolls of the chest and body. It’s a style that involves full body waves as if you’re slithering around with your body like a snake. I like to think of it like waves of the ocean.


Moving and stopping your body quickly in steady increments using dime stops to make it look like you’re moving within a strobe light. 

Poppers commonly use pedestrian movements (such as walking) with strobing.

The effect is like slow motion movement.


Strutting is a dance style that originated from San Francisco. It involves hitting angles with your limbs as you hit.


Ticking is a series of hits. You break up your pathway of movement into small increments and hit or pop at each one. 


Tutting or ‘King Tut’ is when the you create angular shapes and pictures with your body parts, usually your arms or hands. 

Its name and moves were inspired by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Dancers need to have quite flexible wrists and fingers to look good doing this style.

Famous Poppers And Popping Crews

what is popping in hip hopHere is some more on the history of popping, as these crews developed popping into what it is today.

Boogaloo Sam

In 1975, Sam Solomon (AKA Boogaloo Sam) created a dance called the Boogaloo in Fresno, California.

His brother, Timothy Earl Solomon, was a huge influence in Sam’s dance style.

Later, in 1978, their family moved down to Long Beach, California, where he and other dancers formed the Electric Boogaloo Lockers.

Tick’n Will And Darnell Twist-o-Flex McDowell

William Green Jr. (AKA Tick’n Will) met his best friend Ricky Darnell “Twist-o-Flex” McDowell in the West Fresno projects in the 1970’s.

They started making up dance moves and called themselves the Ace Tre Lockers, even though they didn’t Lock.

“We didn’t call it Popping because to us it was just dance moves.”

The two would invent their own dance moves, and added their own interpretation to existing dance moves. 

From then, they’d prepare dozens of steps and enter local battles.

Will and Darnell came up with different variations of Popping dance, as well as techniques for Ticking, Creeping, and the Backslide.

Some examples include The Old Man, Twist-o Flex and Neck-o Flex. In 1976, Will and Darnell met Sam Solomon at Roeding Park in Fresno.

They started practicing together at the Mary Ella Brown Community Center, learning and drawing from each others’ flavor.

The group named themselves the Electric Boogaloo Lockers.

The Electric Boogaloo Lockers

Once formed, the crew started performing together at local talent shows and started to expand to different areas. 

They quickly gained popularity for their originality and talent in all of Northern California.

When the group moved down to Long Beach, they introduced the style to Southern California dancers – recruiting newer members and polishing both their technique and group performance routines.

The Electric Boogaloos also performed on the streets of Hollywood, trying to get discovered to work in the entertainment industry.

They met and started working with Jeff Kutash in 1978, who produced dance shows in casinos.

Their tour, titled “Jeff Kutash’s Dancin’ Machine featuring the Electric Boogaloo” was testing for the group. 

The production repeatedly misrepresented their identity, and they felt compromised as dancers trying to stay true to themselves.

For this and other reasons, members eventually stopped working under Kutash.

The Electric Boogaloos still continued to dance, innovating a number of different Popping dance moves.

Fluid motions, incorporating rolls of the hips, knees, and head were signature characteristics of their dance style.

The Popping dance crew appeared on national television on a show called Hot City, were featured at the Chicago Playboy Club, and performed opening numbers for various vocal artists.

But the most pivotal appearance of The Electric Boogaloos was their debut on Soul Train in 1979.

So I hope I have enlightened you on the history of popping as well as what is popping in hip hop. Please feel free to ask any questions or comment below.


9 thoughts on “What Is Popping In Hip Hop Dancing?”

  1. Interesting information.  When you first mentioned the term popping, I thought what the heck is that?  I should know.  Once you explained, then yes now I know!  I didn’t really think of it as related to hip hop, but I do see that.  I just know that I have used it when I danced….a while ago LOL  But not to hip hop lol

  2. I’ve always love to see people dance. 

    I remember there was once I went to a mall and there was this event where various people were showcasing their moves. It was really enjoyable to watch. And from this article, I now know some of the names of each of the signature steps or moves. 

    I had a hard time trying to explain to my daughter what those moves were when she was with me at the mall back then. With this, I think I can always refer back. I love the video embeds to explain the steps, as visualising is much better for me. 

    Thanks for writing this post. 

  3. Hi, I loved your website. I teach line dancing and I do it enjoy it immensely. I love your article on Hip Hop as a form of exercise I enjoyed watching the videos.

    The adverts are a bit distracting as they are placed within a paragraph, but your site content is so interesting I kept on reading. I wonder if you could have placed the links to the right so that we can see them but the flow of reading does not get interrupted.

    I wish you all the success with your website and keep on dancing 

  4. Hello there! This is a really cool article! I used to be someone who felt insecure (I guess from all the times of being forced to dance in public due to losing some type of game/bet). It got so bad to the point that when watching others dance, it brought up memories of the insecurity. Fortunately with time though, I tried to break out of that in order to prepare for those moments of getting picked to dance due to losing some game, and I eventually learned to accept dance as a form of self expression. It actually started to become something that was fun to watch and it really became a form of art. Popping is just one of the forms of dance out there and it is fun to watch. I didn’t practice it or anything and I didn’t know very much about it either, but thanks to this article, I now know about it some more.

  5. I really love dancing and sometimes I use dancing for my daily exercise. I knew about hip hop but I never knew it as popping. Thank you for this post Michel, I have learnt a lot more about dancing. From reading this post, popping seems to be a part of hip hop, what are the other parts of hip hop? 

    • Hi Juliet,

      Popping is just one style of hip hop. There are many and there are always new movements coming in as people invent them. Popping, Stepping, Locking, House and Krumping are just some of the popular styles out there at the moment.


Leave a Comment