The truth about biting

Jason Pu
4 min readSep 15, 2019
Painting: Cloudy Path at Mount Wu, by Zhang Daqian
Cloudy Path at Mount Wu, by Zhang Daqian (1899–1983, Chinese artist and master forger)

Bite. Biter. Biting. It’s easily one of the most stigmatized words within the breaking culture.

Most breakers would agree that biting is:

  1. Defined as copying “a move, style, step or concept that was created by someone else, without flipping, changing [it]”.
  2. Not good.

Now, let’s challenge the second point and consider that biting is good — or at least, copying is good — because it’s a necessary step in learning. We’ll reach this conclusion in three progressive levels.

Level 1: Biting the basics

There is one obvious situation where biting isn’t really biting. When a move is considered to be universal, anyone is free to use it without having to modify it.

In fact, beginners are often encouraged to learn “foundation” techniques that make up breaking’s core vocabulary. Six step, windmill, baby freeze, and other moves have recognizable standard forms. These moves can be performed as is, or they can be used as starting points for more customized techniques. A strong grasp of the basics allows you to express yourself more effectively, especially in a dialogue setting.

Though the set of basic moves is established to some extent, it’s unclear how or when an individual’s personal technique becomes part of these basics. Poe One states that the criteria is widespread use or application:

“It’s hard to say when something becomes a basic [technique]… when people begin to use it as a doorway for other things, then that becomes the platform.”

Poe One and others discuss biting and its implications. (Source: Catch the Flava)

Level 2: Biting anything and flipping it

The doorway of universal techniques supposedly leads to innovation. But discovering new ways to use what’s been available for decades isn’t easy. And like Poe One said, it’s hard to tell when a technique belongs to the individual or to the community.

The productive approach is to copy anything that has the potential to be useful. Someone had to be the first person to bite Crazy Legs’ continuous backspins for windmills to become universal. Someone was the first to bite Poe One’s airchair, which came from biting another breaker’s chair freeze. Breaking has grown through the copying and subsequent spread of its now-common vocabulary.

“Start copying. Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes.”

-Austin Kleon, Steal Like An Artist

Eventually, copying and becoming familiar with others’ techniques will pave the way to devising your own. This “flipping” — personalizing someone else’s concept — is a commonly mentioned as a remedy for biting. But both are part of the same process. To flip a precedent, you must master it, and to master a technique, you must copy it.

Level 3: Biting anything

In the context of breaking, your movement is a reflection of your individuality. If you perform a technique attributed to another dancer without flipping it, the authenticity of your self expression is called into question. Yet, some Eastern cultures see it differently:

“The Chinese have two different concepts of a copy. Fangzhipin (仿製品) are imitations where the difference from the original is obvious. These are small models or copies that can be purchased in a museum shop, for example. The second concept for a copy is fuzhipin (複製品). They are exact reproductions of the original, which, for the Chinese, are of equal value to the original. It has absolutely no negative connotations.”

-Byung-Chul Han, Why, in China and Japan, a copy is just as good as an original

Perhaps one’s identity can manifest as true reproduction of another’s technique. In that case, we shouldn’t immediately discredit breakers for using “someone else’s” move. It would certainly be hypocritical to limit the language of a culture where freedom of expression is key.

So although it’s unlikely, if performing someone else’s exact technique is the best way to truly express yourself, you should be free to do so. The possible outcomes are:

  • The move feels unauthentic and ineffective, so you discard it
  • The move is effective, so you integrate it into your vocabulary

If enough people copy a move and achieve the second outcome, the move becomes universal, and the circle of bite repeats. Whether it’s to establish a common foundation, flip existing techniques, or provide freedom of expression, breaking needs biting.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or feedback; I’m on Instagram @glissando. If you liked the article, I’d appreciate it if you hit that clap button or share this link with someone. Thanks for reading — peace!



Jason Pu

Amateur dancer, analyst by trade, and aspiring hip hop scholar.