On the opening weekend of The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, my boyfriend and I lounged in the museum's courtyard listening to the musical duo 8-Bit Weapon. They were playing chip music -- a style that sounds like robotic electronic music. I was surprised when a few people got up from the crowd and started breakdancing. I thought breakdancing was done to hip-hop music on the street or at a party -- not to video game music at an art museum. I was also surprised because I've been reading about breakdancing as part of my research into the origins of hip-hop music in the Bronx for the Lemelson Center's upcoming exhibit on Places of Invention, and I didn't expect my professional life to pop up in my personal life.
Part of why breakdancing in the museum courtyard seemed so unusual to me is that it's so closely associated with hip-hop, not robotic-like music with auto tuners. After all, breakdancing was instrumental in the development of hip-hop music. Breakdancers flail their limbs, spin on their heads, and bounce their back or stomach off the ground. Dancers and observers encouraged DJ's to try to extend the instrumental sections (breaks) of songs to allow individual dancers to showcase their talents. To extend the breaks, DJs invented ways of manipulating sound systems -- turning the record player from a passive device that replays sound to an active instrument that creates sound. Record players no longer just played recorded music but, with the help of gifted DJs, created scratching noises, mixes of different breaks from different songs, and big, fat beats. Compared with electronic music, that's a pretty different sound to dance to. Do the two types of music have a connection?