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Birmingham Breakdown, circa 1927
The Breakdown
            The Break-Down was an African-American Slave dance that was popular around the Reconstruction-era of the 1880-90's. There are different versions of the breakdown and variations from one era to the next such as the Birmingham and Cincinnati breakdowns. The Breakdown was later mixed with other dances such as tap, Jazz and Swing dances. The dance has its roots in the Hornpipes, jigs, Strathspeys, and reels, Hoe-downs, Clogs etc.

     In the Notebook "Jig, Clog and Breakdown Made Easy by Wm. F. Bacon he states the "Plantation breakdown" as thus:
1st Breakdown STEP:
"Jump on both feet crossed, then throw right foot as high as possible, at the same time hop on the left foot, (2 motions). Repeat it, leaving the right foot up in front. Then hop on left foot, bring the right down, tap it and carry it behind. Hop on left foot, (3 motions). Then make five taps quick, commencing with the right foot, which is crossed behind the left. This is the first part of the Breakdown step, and is repeated on the other foot, reversed. Then done again same as first time. Then make a Cross and five taps quick, moving forward and commencing with the right foot.

2nd Breakdown STEP:
Shuffle right foot, hop on left, carry right foot behind and tap it firm (3 motions). Then hop on right foot, lift up left high and bring it down solid, (2 motions). Repeat it. Then hop on both feet together, jump up and strike the ankles together, bringing down the left foot first, then the right solid. Tap left foot, then spring, bringing the right foot down first, then the left. Then repeat all, commencing on the other foot, and reversing everything.

3rd Breakdown STEP: Tap left foot. Tap right, carrying it high in front, hop on left foot. Tap right, carrying it behind, hop on left foot, tap right, carrying it high in front, hop on left foot (7 motions). Shuffle right, hop on left, tap right, carrying behind.

Hop on left, tap right, hop on left, tap right, hop on left, tap right. Now repeat the whole, commencing on the other foot and reversing it. Then do it again same as first time, make a cross and three very firm taps, commencing with the right foot, with the feet wide apart.

The following Breakdown steps are to be done all together directly after the third step:-- Do the cross four times, reversing it each time, then bring the toes together with heels apart (1 motion). Then turn the left toe out, and at the same time carry the right far behind and across the left foot (2d motion). Then repeat it 3 or 7 times (reversing it each time), at the option of the performer. Tap left foot, shuffle right, tap right, tap left, slide back slightly on both feet (5 motions). Then repeat it a number of times, optional with the performer. Turn around on left foot, describing a circle with the right foot. Tap right, tap left, shuffle right.

Tap right foot, tap left. Then loop on left foot, at the same time slide the right in front and across the left foot. Then repeat it, commencing with the right foot, and reversing it all through. Then retire, jumping on both feet, with cap in hand, or any way that may suggest itself" (end notebook).

     Basic Step for: The "Cincinnati Breakdown" (9/1927- Dance Magazine.) ...
Feet apart, Hop up and come down with one knee bent. Come up with short jerks. It is optional as to whether one or both knees are bent on coming down. This can be mixed with other movement to lengthen the dance.

    Basic Step for: The "Down East Breakdown" (Music: Clog Dance.) ... Form as for Spanish Dance, except two couples face each other up and down the room. Eight hands round, all right and left--ladies chain--all forward and back, forward again and pass onto next couples (every other couple raise their hands while the others stoop and pass through then turn around at each end of the set.

Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

USA Popular by 1870s (1760's) African-Americans Solo

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Sheet Music Covers

Music Titles

n/a 1942 - Harmonica Breakdown Blue Grass Breakdown - Bill Monroe (Clip)
    Break Your Neck?
    Breakdown, the
    Carpet Alley Breakdown (dodds 1926)
    Chicago Breakdown (1926 - Morton)
    Dueling Banjos
    Foggy Mountain Breakdown - Flatt & Scruggs (Clip)
    Jelly Roll Breakdown
    Kansas City Breakdown - Bennie Moten (Clip)
    Sebastopol Breakdown
    Whaelans Breakdown

Night Clubs etc.



Barn Dance n/a Congo Square
Hurdy Gurdys   New Orleans
Juke Joints   New York
Plantations / Farms    
River Boats    

Films / Movies


Ballets / Stage

1894 - Grundy and Frint n/a 1894 - the South before the War
1932 - Jungle Jinx   Showboat
    1938 - Harmonica Breakdown (Jane Dudley)


    9/1927 - Dance Magazine

Other Related Dances of the time...

Ballin' The Jack Charleston Old Zip Coon strathspey
Baltimore Buzz Hornpipe Plantation Breakdown Suzy Q
Bamboula Jazz Reels Tap
Big Apple Jigs | Clogs Ring Shout Texas Tommy
Black Bottom Juba Dance Shorty George Truckin'
Buck Dance Jump Jim Crow Square Dance Virginia Reel

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


Buddy Bradley (1927) Tally Beatty n/a
Jane Dudley (1949) Master Juba | Jack Diamond  

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Publisher
Jig, clog, and breakdown dancing made easy Wm. F. Bacon 1873 n/a
Harmonica Breakdown Staff Writer 8/1946 Dance Magazine




Poets / Writers

n/a n/a n/a n/a

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Clog Dance African-American Dance Buddy Bradley Master Juba
Negro Dance Race Music Low Down, the Plantation / Slave dances