The dance style primarily associated with hip hop is breaking, which appeared in New York City during the early 1970s and came to be popularly classified as one of the four primary "elements" of hip-hop (along with rapping, DJing, and graffiti). Funk styles, such as popping and locking, evolved separately in California in the 1960-70s, but were also integrated into hip hop when the culture reached the West Coast of the United States.
Though breaking and the original funk styles look quite different stylistically, they share many surrounding elements, such as their improvisational nature, the music they are danced to and the way they originated from the streets, mainly within African American and Hispanic communities. These similarities helped bring them, and other street dance styles, together under the same sub-culture, and help to keep them alive and evolving today. Yet, this has not been without problems, often involving the media, such as when the movie Breakin' put all various styles under the label "breakdance", causing a great naming confusion that spawned many heated debates.

In the late 1980s, as hip hop music took whole new forms and the hip hop subculture established further, new dance styles began appearing. Most of them were danced in an upright manner in contrast to breaking with its many ground moves, and were in the beginning light-footed with lots of jumping. Some moves hit the mainstream and became fad dances, such as The Running Man, but overall they contributed a lot to later hip hop styles, and heavily influenced the development of house dancing.

During the 1990s and 2000s, parallel with the evolution of hip hop music, hip hop dancing evolved into heavier and more aggressive forms. While breaking continued to be popular on its own, these newer styles were danced upright, and draw much inspiration from earlier upright styles. Classifying these newer hip hop styles as a unique dance style of its own has grown common with larger street dance competitions such as Juste Debout, which includes hip hop new style as a separate category for people to compete in. Today, we see many specific styles that first appeared on their own, such as krumping and clown walking, now being danced and accepted within hip hop new style contexts.

All hip hop styles from the 1980s and beyond are sometimes collectively called new school while the distinct styles from the 1960-70s, such as breaking, uprocking, locking and popping, are considered old school. However, this classification is controversial, and often old school hip hop (or, in some areas, hype) is used solely for the late 1980s upright and jumpy hip hop styles, excluding locking, popping and breaking, and new style hip hop for the heavier hip hop styles of today. Hip hop and break dance soon became popular among Asia. Today hip hop is well known all over the world and despite cultural differences among the hip hop dancers they all follow the same moves.