“Freestyling” or “improv”, is the “process of spontaneously creating movement. Development of improvised movement material is facilitated through a variety of creative explorations including body mapping through levels, shape and dynamics schema”. It is an exploration of thoughts subconscious and feelings suppressed. An evanescent moment of oneness, it is oneness with self, with music, and with audience. Freestyle dance is Truth. It is getting lost in the music, improvising on the fly, and living in the moment (yassss). It’s the root of this art form we call Hip-Hop, and as dancers, it is our voice.
So then why is it that freestyling is so difficult to do? If you’re anything like me, your first freestyle attempt was nowhere remotely close to the poetic beauty described above. It was awkward, repetitive, and probably embarrassing. You hopped in that circle so convinced you were about to put it down like it ain’t never been put down before… only to chicken out, retreat to the nearest corner, and cry. Okay – maybe it wasn’t that bad (hopefully), but you still yearned to one day have the confidence to walk in that circle and hold your own.
Don’t fret – it will happen, because Steezy has got your back! Like most things, the art of Free-styling is a skill that can be cultivated through diligence and practice. We want to make sure you start off on the right track, so I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips you can utilize today to build the confidence and skills necessary to improve your freestyle ability.
1. Just Move
You might be thinking “but I clicked on this blog to learn how to freestyle and you’re telling me to just move!?” Yes. JUST MOVE. As aforementioned, to freestyle is to exercise our own voice as dancers. Our natural way of movement is what makes us unique in comparison to other dancers. But the only way to discover this said voice is to explore our own movement. This is surprisingly easier to do than you would imagine. Start by putting on one of your favorite songs and just vibing to it. Play close attention to the nuances of the music and how it makes you feel, and then – just move. React to the music. Let your body take control; trust me, it’ll know what to do. When doing this, it helps to NOT utilize a mirror. Utilizing a mirror at this stage of the game will cause you to feel self-conscious. You’ll be too worried about trying to look a certain way, or be clean. Throw that out of the window. It’s just you and the music. Experiment with different levels and textures and try your best to emulate the sounds in the music. Think of your body as an instrument, a vehicle with which to provide a mental image of the sounds your hear in the music. DON’T worry about how you look or if you’re being repetitive. Getting comfortable with your body and increasing your movement vocabulary takes time. In time, your ear for music will develop and your vocabulary will expand. You’ll be able to quickly identify the rhythm of a song and know how to move accordingly. But that won’t happen unless you move, so start moving now.
2. Utilize YouTube To Expand Your Movement Vocabulary
Once you’ve gotten comfortable exploring your own natural movement, it’s time to search for some inspiration and expand your movement vocabulary. I’ve found YouTube to be an excellent resource for this – it is easily accessible, and contains thousands of instructional videos on a variety of different styles. Search for a particular style you are interested in or a freestyler/mover whose style resonates with you. Study the movement, imitate it, and master it. Dancing is a kinesthetic exercise and your movement quality will only improve after hours and hours of training your body to move in a specific manner.
There are great videos out there that teach basic House, Popping, and Krump. Start off with these basics, then add them to your dance repertoire and build upon them. Improvise, experiment, and make them your own. Remember, your purpose here is to find your own unique voice. Simply imitating an already well-established freestyle monster will do you no good; there is nothing exciting about becoming a carbon copy of someone else. Instead, use these videos/dancers as resources for expanding your movement vocabulary and developing your own unique style.
3. Stimulate your Creativity
One of my favorite quotes by adman extraordinaire George Lois is:
“Creativity is not created, it is there for us to find—it is an act of discovery!”
Understanding this concept has tremendously helped my creative process. We live in a world in which our creativity is often stifled. We’re forced to think a certain way, learn a certain, act a certain way, etc. Through that, our originality is lost. In order to break free of this mold, we must actively stimulate our creativity. Visit an art show, go to a museum, watch cartoons, study body language. Immerse yourself in all things creative as much as possible and observe the world around you. It’ll provide you with the inspiration needed to fuel your creative spirit. Then, take that with you into the lab. Undo some of the structure you’ve been taught. Move like water; imitate the movements of a wild animal, etc. Channel the personas of some of your favorite movers (my personal favorites are Aang the Airbender and Bruce Lee!). Experiment and go crazy! Remember, there are no limits. Your goal is to discover and develop your own unique voice. Get as creative and original as possible!
4. Take Class
Now that you’ve explored your own movement, utilized available resources, and stimulated your creativity, it’s time to take class. Taking class in fundamental styles will expand your movement vocabulary while also challenging you to retain choreography and adapt to a different mover’s style. Furthermore, you’ll have access to mirrors and an audience (cue nervousness). Don’t worry – the class audience is usually a passive one. Everyone is too focused on properly retaining and executing the choreography to be watching you. Don’t be nervous! Use this as an opportunity to get accustomed to dancing in front of a mirror and with others around you. Pay attention to the choreographer and other movers in the class. How do they execute their movement? Ask questions, engage in conversation with them. Take mental notes, and take it back to the lab.
***Be sure to take traditional choreography classes in other styles as well. Doing so will (you guessed it) expand your movement vocabulary and give you much more material to work with. It’ll also give a structure with which to organize your own choreography in case that’s something you want to get into. Keep building that vocabulary.
5. Session/Visit Jams
Now the real fun begins. After you’ve gone through steps 1-4, it’s time to put your skills to the test. Set up a session with some friends or go to a jam. Do both! Sessioning with friends is a great way of practicing your material and exchanging concepts. It’s also a goldmine for learning something new or refining something you’ve been working on. It’s a bit challenging because there is an element of being put on the spot, but with discomfort comes growth. Sticking to the same routine will only guarantee a plateau. Challenge yourself to grow, grind it out. Your future self will thank you. Then, visit a jam and sign up for a battle! Don’t worry about losing. The objective here is to expose yourself to as many experiences as possible and maintain exponential growth. As a dancer, there is always something new for you to learn. Go out there and find it.
There you have it: your 5-step guide to paving the path to becoming a freestyle monster. After completing these steps, you’ll be well on your way to confidently holding your own in a circle or at a session. There should be no embarrassment, no drama, just fun. Remember, dancing is supposed to fun! So go ahead, explore and express. Share your own unique style with the world!
How did you get started in freestyling? Tell us your story in the comments below!
Transitioning from freestyling to choreography? Here’s 5 tips to help you pick up choreography faster.