The first significant wave of hip hop influence and participation in New Zealand occurred in the early 1980s. It centred on b-boying (breaking or breakdancing), and other urban American dance forms such as popping and locking. ‘Bop’ was a term used by many in New Zealand to collectively refer to all these forms, though some dancers distinguished between the undulating, vertically danced ‘bop’ (popping) and the close-to-the floor footwork and spins of ‘break’ (breaking).
While there is evidence of the initial introduction of these dance forms through Samoan kinship connections to the United States, their widespread popularity resulted from the influence of imported US media. In the mid-1980s breaking and popping featured in music videos, an episode of That’s incredible and the movies Flashdance and Beat Street.
A handful of young Samoans began bopping as early as 1981 after seeing it through family networks that stretched to the US and its territory of American Samoa.
The local popularity of bop prompted the organisation of national competitions such as 1984’s Bop Olympics at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland and the televised Shazam Bop Competition in 1985. Bop was also documented in the 1985 book Street action Aotearoa by Mark Scott and Peter Black, and dancers featured in a range of locally produced media, including television news specials, commercials and music videos. Joe Moana’s cameo dance segments in the video for the Pātea Māori Club’s 1984 number one hit ‘Poi e’ were especially significant.
New Zealand has achieved international recognition in choreographed, competitive forms of hip hop dance. Auckland choreographer Parris Goebel, whose Palace Dance Company has won numerous international competitions, coined the term ‘Polyswag’ to encapsulate the unique energy and attitude of her choreography.
Although the first flush of enthusiasm died down, hip hop dance experienced a resurgence after the mid-1990s. In addition to the b-boys and b-girls traditionally associated with hip hop, New Zealand produced a number of internationally competitive crews practising more choreographed forms of hip hop dance, including the Parris Goebel-led Royal Family crews and DZIAH (renamed Prestige in the early 2000s), which won numerous international titles in the 2000s.
Hip hop remained strong within Pacific Island communities. In its choreographed forms, it also spread into dance schools around the country (attracting more boys than any other form of dance) and was integrated by some contemporary dancers into their practice. Annual competitions such as the Wellington-based Body Rock were held, and hip hop dancing featured on television and film.