The Differences Between Freestylers & Choreography Dancers

Dance Culture

The Differences Between Freestylers & Choreography Dancers

Ben Lee
January 23, 2024
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Today, I want to speak on the fundamental difference in attitude between the freestyle and choreography communities. Also, this is really long. So if TL;DR, I completely understand.

The freestyle maxim can be distilled down to "DON'T FAKE THE FUNK". It is a necessary part of becoming free in any of the street styles to understand one's history and place in the overall continuum.

The movements are truly communal: these styles came from specific TIMES and PLACES, done for specific reasons. Understanding how and why the same step can be changed from breaking to house to popping to locking to salsa and so on, is truly impossible without an understanding of why these dancers felt the need to move that way in the first purpose in New York, Chicago, California, etc. The NEED. Not a want. The need.

Many of the OG's that I've spoken to have said that without the dance, they would have been into gangs or drugs. They spoke about how grateful they were to the dance and how many people ended up in jail or dead as time went on and the passion for the movement faded or life got in the way. As the dancers that are doing these styles start coming out of places that are more distant from these cultural epicenters, it is EVEN MORE important for them to understand the historical context and individual anthropologies.

These dances came from the cultures of the regions, not the other way around. For our young dancers to believe otherwise, is to have a fundamental misconception about what they are doing and why.

The choreography maxim is one I've heard quite a bit over the years, which is "FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT". The primary purpose of choreography is for performance, mainly on an elevated stage where the crowd is watching from the front. It is also entirely possible for the crowd to be in a circle (cypher style) but the majority of performances that I've seen tend to be from the front (aka 2D).

When the main reason for gathering is for the sake of the performance, it becomes necessary for people to do movements that are outside of their normal range. When they are uncomfortable with said movements, it shows, which is why we tell them to just keep trying to do it, to the best of their ability.

If doing the movement with skill is impossible, then the next best thing is to raise the level of expression in the face so that the crowd doesn't know that you can't do it. Eventually, the practiced movement will look natural and the performance aspect will just enhance the move in a way that COULDN'T have happened without that initial compensation.

When you're learning/creating so many sets in a year, understanding the purpose of each movement pales in comparison to not embarrassing yourself on stage. However, something that I've also noticed is that in this community, the culture has mostly been created by the teams/choreographers themselves. It's why I think the freestyle people label what this community does as "trendy".

I bring this up because over the years many self-labeled "choreo-heads" have come to me and asked me how to freestyle. It is a question that truly confuses me because I've totally seen them dancing on stage or in the club. Many of the movements are the same between styles, it's just that the mentality is so different due to the difference in purpose.

What I know is that the dance is the DANCE. The REASON you dance today may be different, your understanding of history, or how to learn a set of movements may seem completely alien to each other. But this separation of the dance will inevitably lead to a deeper schism than the one that exists now. The freestylers tend to have more time to develop their own personal styles, yet they may have a lack of familiarity with other movements. The choreo-heads have a broader vocabulary but may lack the experience and confidence to express themselves within their style, or any other style.

What has been impressed on me from my experience with so many dancers is that we have much to learn from each other. That we have the ability to be happy and be grateful for each others' existences. That without the others, what we do wouldn't mean nearly as much. And that regardless of what we use the dance for, almost all of us are dancing for the same reason. To be CONFIDENT IN OUR FREEDOM in a world that would make us feel and believe otherwise.

Many thanks for reading if you made it this far. Let's keep learning, growing, and becoming together. Are you a freestyler or choreo-head? What have you learned from exploring different styles?  Let us know by leaving a comment below! Want to develop your own personal style of dance like Ben Lee has expressed above? Click here to build your freestyle foundation!