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September 13, 2012

Filed under: music»performance»dance

Style Wars

On Google Plus, for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, I've started writing posts about dance videos on YouTube--either footage of events I've been to, or cool examples that I've seen other dancers posting elsewhere. It's a fun chance to introduce people to urban dance culture, as well as good mental practice.

In DC, and particularly as a part of Urban Artistry, I got used to seeing people switch between styles regularly--and in some cases to unexpected combinations, like African or waacking. Here, that seems less common: there's a lot of b-boys and a lot of dubstep poppers, and most of them stick to their particular specialty. Which is a shame, because I'm starting to realize, both from watching events live and on YouTube, that a great all-styles battle is pretty much my favorite kind.

What makes all-styles battles so great? I think it's a combination of factors:

  • They can be surprising. I've been to long b-boy battles, and by the thirtieth crew it doesn't matter what they do, the crowd is dead from watching so many windmills, jackhammers, and flares. In all-styles, by comparison, the moves are probably less strenuous but you never know what's coming up next.
  • They're more musical. The tricks of a given style take on more importance in single-style battles, but when two dancers come from completely different traditions, what they have in common is dancing, not power moves or acrobatics. That makes these match-ups a lot more inviting for newcomers, too.
  • They're more challenging. You never know what music someone will be dancing to. At some jams, I've seen the contestants allowed to pick their own genre, but most of the time it's just whatever the DJ feels like playing--and I think they use these as opportunities to dig out some real oddball tunes. If nothing else, watching some poor hapless dubstepper forced to dance to disco music is always amusing.

Dancers often talk about movement as a conversation. But battling across styles, especially when all the participants have more than one skillset, is a great way to literalize that. Take this clip from Northwest Sweet 16 a few months ago, where both crews trade exchanges back and forth, often beginning their turn in one genre as a response and then transitioning to another as a challenge. It's a ridiculously good show from a group of talented Vancouver dancers.

I wish there were more jams like that. Just as outside the cypher, diverse workplaces have higher productivity, all-styles battles are great inspiration for dancers of all types. I'm trying to take that lesson to heart, and keep learning new dances (even ones I don't really like). A couple of weeks ago I took a class in waacking (best Wikipedia article ever). I have no hope of ever being good at it, but learning how its distinctive arm movements work gave me a ton of new ideas for strutting and locking (and it was a great workout). Specialization would have robbed me of that experience.

I'm always amazed by people who say that you should focus solely on a single style. Almost everywhere in my life, learning in one area has enriched and illuminated others, and dance is no exception. For that matter, if I weren't trying to stay open to new influences, I wouldn't have started b-boying in the first place. Whether you're a dancer, a writer, a coder, or whatever, it's almost always a good idea to take a moment once in a while and do something strange and uncomfortable. It might be inspiring, or a surprising mix with what you already know. You might like it.

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