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What is Popping?

Jennifer Fenn
Jennifer Fenn

Popping, also known as Electric Boogie, is an innovative style of hip-hop or funk dancing. Poppers achieve the dance style’s jerky or twitchy movements by continuously and rhythmically tensing and then relaxing muscles in the arms and legs. These jerks or twitches are called hits, ticks, and pops. These moves give the dance a robotic or cartoon-ish appearance. Popping can be combined with other styles of dance to make unique and entertaining performances, but is distinct from break-dancing, with which it is often confused.

This type of dancing can be done in many different styles and with many different moves. Animation is a type that mimics stop motion cartoons with its jerky movements, creating the illusion that dancers are moving frame by frame. Boogaloo is a fluid technique that dancers use to create the illusion that their bodies don’t have bones. Boppers isolate their jerks or pops in their chests, while crazy legs is a technique that focuses on the legs.

Popping may look like jerky or twitchy movements, where the dancer tenses and relaxes muscles.
Popping may look like jerky or twitchy movements, where the dancer tenses and relaxes muscles.

Fast forward, ticking and slow motion involve variations in the speed of dancing. Strobing recreates the visual effects of a strobe light upon the dancer. Liquid movements create the illusion that the body is made of liquid while puppet is meant to imitate a marionette. These are just some of the countless styles and movements that encompass popping, and poppers may combine a number of styles and moves while dancing.

Popping entered the mainstream in the 1970s when dance group the Electric Boogaloos performed it in a routine on Soul Train. While the exact origins of the style are difficult to determine, some trace the dance to 1960s Oakland, California, where it was allegedly inspired by the popular robot character on Lost in Space. Miming may have also influenced it.

Well-known and influential poppers include Don Campbell, who in 1969 put out the album Do the Campbellock. Campbell became known for combining the dance with comical expressions and costumes. In the early 1970s, Campbell assembled a dance crew that dancer and later singer Toni Basil helped get booked on Saturday Night Live. Today, respected poppers include street dancers Steffan "Mr. Wiggles" Clemente and Timothy "Popin' Pete" Solomon.

Discussion Comments


I used to love dancing like this! I got my older sister to show me how to pop and lock, and I was addicted to it.

This dance move seems to fall in and out of style over the years. Like fashions from different decades, it always seems to return, though.


@feasting – That is funny, but I do get where you are coming from. I was a bit creeped out by the pop and lock dancers of the early eighties when I was a child.

They looked more like robots to me than zombies. Still, it just didn't seem like a natural way to move, and it did seem like their bodies were being controlled by an outside force. They almost seemed possessed by computers.


I used to do popping when I was a teenager. I tried it after a few decades of not dancing, and I could actually hear various body parts popping in protest!

If someone my age had kept in practice over the years, it might not have been so painful for them. However, my body had totally fallen out of shape for this, and it took me days to recover from the soreness and slightly dislocated body parts after one attempt at popping!

It's sad to me that my body has become so old and rickety, but really, popping is an extreme form of dance. Those jerky movements are not easy on the body at any age, but young people are just more well equipped to handle the shock of the sudden motions.


Popping and locking always looked so creepy to me! I may be the only one who thinks this, but the dancers look like zombies when they do these moves.

I feel as if a zombie is starting to chase me when I see someone start popping. If I'm on the dance floor and someone does this, I get as far away from them as possible. I once left a club when a group of people started popping, and my friends teased me endlessly about this!


I learned how to pop and lock from my brother when we were kids.

He loved to dance and spent all of his free time on the corner spinning around on a piece of cardboard.

He hated me hanging around, but I shadowed him for years and picked up a lot of his moves. Now, undeniably, I am the better dancer!


It used to be that you would have to find other dancers in order to learn popping and locking. But there are now a ton of internet videos that can give you a really good tutorial on how to do a hole range of moves. Amazing dancers are coming out of the wood work. Rural kids who don't have access to other dancers can now get a really good introduction on their own.

This is more than a little embarrassing to admit, but when I was in college at my small liberal arts school in Wisconsin I actually suggested and got approved to do an independent study in break dancing. I was not much of a dancer, and definitely not funky, but I figured what the heck, its college, when would I get to do that again?

What I quickly discovered though is that real break dancing, the stuff that impresses at least, takes years of practice and tremendous amounts of strength. I had 5 months to put on a show. So I ended up falling back on popping, a dance style that looks cool but is more about rhythm and flow than feats of strength and balance. The show went well and I can still do a lot of the moves. I am 39 now but I can burn down a dance floor when I have to.

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    • Popping may look like jerky or twitchy movements, where the dancer tenses and relaxes muscles.
      By: dima266f
      Popping may look like jerky or twitchy movements, where the dancer tenses and relaxes muscles.