Of Freestyle and Choreography

Sometimes people argue about stupid shit. A prime example for this is the discussion of freestyle vs choreography in hip hop dance. What this discussion misses is that freestyle and choreography are the same things but under different conditions. Both are about creating our dance; one is spontaneous, and the other is a slow and very reflective process.

Before we jump into the topic itself, for the sake of this article, I refer to freestyle as “improvisation within the boundaries of a dance style” and not “do whatever you want”.

Here are my two cents on why this discussion does not go anywhere and why you should be able to freestyle and create choreography. To clarify my point, I will use my favourite metaphor to compare dance to a language.

Our moves in any given style are comparable to words in a language and, therefore form our vocabulary. Our grammar is the flow of the style and how we connect our moves to form our dance being the text that has a meaning that is created by the combination of words. And finally in hip hop and it’s related styles, music is the topic we talk about.

The difference between dancing freestyle or a set choreography is like the difference of talking free versus reciting a poem. Both are fine at the correct time. You can make a serious impact by having the right poem at hand for the right occasion, but bringing a poem about the beauty of x-mas in a discussion about the ecologic crisis is just stupid.

At the same time, you miss out on a big part of the beauty of choreography if you don’t understand how the moves connect. This is the same as learning a poem in a foreign language when you can tell it to people but don’t know what it means.

And you can’t say you are a master of a language/dance if you can’t create a speech/choreography to a given topic.

This means there is no “which is better/superior/whatever”. You need to understand both to master your craft. There is nothing wrong in specialising in one or the other if you want. But if you do so, don’t divide what’s one in an artificial discussion and openly admit that you don’t care enough to work to learn both.


Mastering the Groove: How to Learn Hip Hop Dance

Join me on a rhythmic journey through the vibrant world of hip hop dance. This article is tailored to serve as your compass in navigating hip-hop’s pulsating beats and intricate moves, allowing you to immerse yourself fully in its dynamic essence. I will also give practical advice on how to learn, practice, and master it. Gear up to uncover the secrets of developing your unique style and expressing your individuality through dance. But first, let’s check out…

What is hip hop dance?

Hip-hop dance is a vibrant form of expression and kinetic poetry born from hip-hop culture’s energetic and resilient spirit. This culture, originating from the 1970s South Bronx, is a rich tapestry woven with various elements, each contributing to its diverse and dynamic identity. While breaking was the original dance form of hip hop culture, hip-hop dance came in later and can be considered the younger sibling of breaking. These dance forms are one of the four foundational elements of hip-hop culture, intertwined with rap music, graffiti art, and DJing. Working in harmony, these elements created a revolutionary artistic movement, echoing the voices, stories, and experiences of marginalized communities, thus providing a platform for self-expression, communication, and identity.

At its core, hip-hop dance is a physical articulation of hip-hop music’s rhythmic and lyrical components. Its improvisational nature, unique movements, and powerful expressions of individuality and freedom characterise it. In its pure form, it is a freestyle dance. The original moves of hip hop are based on social and party dances that people did together on jams, in clubs or simply in the streets. Often these moves were inspired by cartoons (e.g. the Bart Simpson, Roger Rabbit), fashion (e.g. the Gucci, Reebok or Fila) or movie stars (e.g. the Steve Martin).

Hip-hop dance is not just about the moves; it’s about the attitude, the swag, and often about the story it tells. It’s an eclectic blend of various dance forms and cultures, allowing for various movements and expressions. With its global reach and universal appeal, it has transcended boundaries, enabling individuals from diverse backgrounds to connect and communicate through the universal language of dance. It has transformed streets into stages, providing a canvas for dancers to paint their stories, struggles, and triumphs, fostering unity and mutual respect among different communities.

How to learn hip-hop dance?

Learning hip-hop dance offers unparalleled flexibility, allowing enthusiasts to adapt and tailor their learning experiences to suit their preferences, lifestyles, and learning paces. Whether you prefer the structured environment of a dance studio or the comfort and convenience of your living room, the journey of mastering hip-hop dance is accessible to all. With many resources available online and offline, anyone can immerse themselves in the rhythmic symphony of hip-hop.

Find yourself a teacher or mentor

The best way to learn hip hop dance is with capable teachers. No matter if that is in a studio or within a crew. Getting input from a trusted source and feedback on your progress also guarantees fast progress. Certainly, having a knowledgeable mentor provides a structured learning environment and fosters a space for constructive critique, honing your skills more effectively. Furthermore, a teacher’s experience and insights can help navigate the intricacies of hip-hop dance, ensuring a deeper, more nuanced understanding of each movement and its cultural context and enriching your overall dance experience.

Learning to dance hip hop online

Learning hip-hop dance at home, leveraging the vast resources available on the internet, is a viable option for those who don’t have good teachers at hand. The online world is brimming with tutorials, workshops, and lessons that can guide you step by step on your journey through hip-hop dance. This method not only allows for flexible scheduling, catering to your pace and routine but also offers many styles and techniques to choose from, diversifying your learning experience. However, it demands discipline, self-motivation, and a discerning eye to select quality content, ensuring that the essence and authenticity of the dance form are preserved and respected.

There are full-fledged online courses out there, or you can pick and match tutorials from various online sources – mostly YouTube.

Take workshops

Opting to travel to various workshops led by esteemed teachers offers a balanced approach to learning the dance, allowing you to curate a personalized curriculum that reflects your interests and needs. This method combines structured, quality learning from reputable sources with the flexibility to choose specific styles, techniques, and teachers, enriching your repertoire with diverse insights and experiences. This tailored approach enables a deeper exploration of the dance form, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of its elements. It also allows connecting with like-minded individuals and communities, fostering a sense of belonging and shared passion within the dance community.

These workshops can always be an addition, even if you choose to learn in a studio or from online sources. Most big dance events offer workshops with their headline guests, so be sure to have your eyes open on those.

What to focus on when learning?

In my personal opinion, there are three parts you should focus on while learning hip hop dance. I will compare dance with language to make my point.

Moves and Steps are your Vocabulary

Consider each move and step as the vocabulary, the building blocks of your dance language. These elements are the expressions and words that you can use. Just as an extensive vocabulary can make conversations rich and expressive, learning a diverse range of moves and steps allows you to articulate your dance more vividly and precisely.

Grooves and Concepts are your Grammer

Next in line are grooves and concepts, the grammar of your dance language. They are the rules and structures that organize your vocabulary into coherent, meaningful “sentences”. Mastering the grammar of hip hop – understanding the foundational grooves and internalizing various dance concepts – enables you to create fluid, logical, and impactful dance sequences, that look like hip hop and something else. Just as grammar gives language its rhythm and flow, grooves and concepts lend your movements a natural, rhythmic coherence, allowing your dance to speak eloquently and fluidly.

Music is your topic

Lastly, the music is the topic of your conversation, the theme around which your dance language revolves. The context gives meaning to your vocabulary and grammar, shaping the mood, tone, and content of your dance narrative. An intimate understanding of the music allows your dance expressions to be in harmony with the song’s rhythm, melody, and emotion, making your dance conversation engaging, emotive, and in sync with the musical discourse.

So by understanding these three components (moves, grooves/concepts and the music) you will soon be able to speak freely in the language of hip hop.

What is the hip hop dance experience?

You wanna know what to expect – about the hip hop dance experience? Let me give you my two cents. You can anticipate a vibrant and welcoming experience, full of energy, passion, and creativity. On the other hand, this culture has its black sheep like every other scene. Meet the right people and everything is “Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun” – the credo of hip hop culture. Meet the wrong ones and you will meet narrow-mindedness and bigotry. The hip hop scene is a smaller mirror of our complex society, you will find everything in there, that you encounter somewhere else. We just have better music and the better moves. 🥳

Joining the hip-hop community opens up a world of opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, passionate about dance, music, and art. This community is a tapestry of people from different backgrounds, united by a common love for hip-hop, offering a supportive environment to grow, learn, and create. The camaraderie within this community is palpable, with experienced dancers and newcomers alike sharing knowledge, encouraging each other, and pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop dance can be. It’s a space where creativity flourishes, friendships are forged, and where each dancer contributes to the ever-evolving tapestry of hip-hop dance.

Learning the dance itself is not just about acquiring new moves; it’s about immersing yourself into the possibilities of expression within your physical and mental capabilities. It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time. It teaches you a lot about yourself if you let it and are open to reflect and think about what it does to you. Learning hip-hop provides an avenue to explore and understand the multifaceted world of hip-hop, music and yourself. It’s a trip you should at least take once.

In case you are looking for reasons to get into Breakdance aka Breaking, you might want to check out a story I wrote for Red Bull: 10 Reasons why you should start to break.

Online Resources to help you learn

The following links are online classes and resources that I can recommend wholeheartedly. I either know the classes from first-hand experience or personally know the people who offer them.

  • Hip Hop Moves List: this is a collection of steps I know. It’s free and will be free forever. When I have time, or somebody sponsors a coffee for an extra night shift, I try to add more to the list or find tutorials to add.
  • B-Boy Dojo’s Mr. Wiggles Original Hip Hop & Party Rock: This is one of the best online classes if you want to learn original steps from one of the pioneers.
  • Beyond The Moves: The BTM platform has a lot of of different training programmes for all levels.
  • Steezy: is a mainstream-focused platform for dance classes. If you want to dig hardcore in your own style, go with BTM, but if you like choreography Steezy might be the place for you.

Books that can help you learn

  • Dance Smart: I wrote this book to guide people on their journey with dance concepts, which can be used to create your freestyle dances or choreography. It might be too heavy for total beginners, but when you have a few moves down already, this will help you find your own way of creating dance.
  • Performance Skills: Another one of my own, for those who are afraid of dancing in front of people or those who want to improve their stage presence.
  • Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies: This one is a compendium of research around all topics hip hop dance. If you like to explore stuff from a scientific perspective, this books is for you.

The book links above are affiliate links and will take you to Amazon.

dance dance concepts

The Art of Letting Go: How to freestyle in dance

Freestyle dance is an art in itself. When we watch someone dance, more often than not, it’s the raw, unscripted moments that leave us awestruck. That’s the beauty of freestyle dance – it’s an unfiltered expression, a dance of the soul, unique to the dancer. It’s like a painter’s brushstroke, distinct and telling a story only they know. While choreographed sequences have their place and charm, freestyle is where the spirit runs wild, unrestrained by sequences or patterns. How does one channel this freedom without getting lost in it? Over the years, amidst my various dance endeavours, I’ve found that while freestyling can be spontaneous, it often thrives on a subtle structure. I’ve played with countless methods, but three have consistently resonated with me and enhanced my dance: Rhythm, Concept, and Storytelling. And to answer the question “How to freestyle in dance?”, from my perspective – we will journey through each of them.

1. Rhythm – Carving Your Own Dance Path Through Music

Music and dance share a symbiotic relationship. However, while many listen to music, few truly hear it. When freestyling, dissecting the track, understanding its highs and lows, and allowing it to guide your movement is essential, if you want to move away from generic repetitions of the same moves, you always do. True mastery lies not in merely following the rhythm but in showcasing your unique interpretation of it. It’s about how you ride the wave, emphasize certain beats, and sometimes choose to defy them. Your dance becomes a visual representation of the song, punctuated with your individual flair.

To do this, you need to practise active listening. Listen to the music carefully, trying to hear the different instruments separately. Most music we dance to has many layers, and it is impossible to dance to all instruments simultaneously. So the art of this freestyle approach is to find your own way through all the instruments. When you decide to switch from one instrument to the next or how you show multiple layers at the same time becomes your signature and it will be different from everybody else.

This way of freestyling benefits a lot from having a good understanding of isolations and polyrhythms so you can add layers of details to the basic moves you use. An amazing example of how far this journey of showing multiple layers can go is the dancer Brian “Footwork” Green. Check out the clip below and pay attention how he showcases different parts of the music.

2. Concept – The Guiding Star of Your Freestyle

Dance can be abstract; sometimes, having a guiding concept can shape your freestyle into a coherent masterpiece. This is akin to giving yourself a delightful challenge or a puzzle to solve. Whether it’s a task like ‘add a pop on every snare drum’ or an abstract idea like ‘water flowing through obstacles’, a concept provides a thematic consistency. It keeps you grounded, gives direction to your movements, and offers endless possibilities to explore within its framework.

If that sounds too abstract to understand, have a look at Paradox exploring a concept called “Tracing,” where you either trace the shape of your body or your movement with your hands or other body parts.

Concepts can be as easy as “movements alternate between left and right” or as complex as “separate your body in three areas and change the instruments you dance to every 3 bars.” The creativity dancers display while coming up with their own concepts is crazy. I wrote a few articles about dance concepts here on the blog and published the book Dance Smart, which introduces 36 basic concepts.

Dance Smart at the Open Qualifier for Circle Industry 2020. Photo: Christian Poschner

3. Storytelling – Narrating Tales Through Movement

Every dance tells a story. Sometimes it’s vivid, with clear characters and narratives, other times, it’s abstract, leaving much to the imagination. When you approach freestyle with the intent to tell a story, your dance becomes a dynamic play. It could be a story of triumph, a portrayal of a day in your life, or even the narrative of the song you’re dancing to. Each move becomes purposeful, each transition is a plot twist, and your entire dance becomes a journey that the audience embarks upon with you.

With storytelling, there are two different paths you can follow. The easier one is, “How would you portray the story with dance.” Your steps, gestures and facial expressions are a danced version of the things happening in your story. Kinda like impro dance theatre. The second approach would be “how would the dance of a person experiencing the story look like.” Here you would immerse yourself in the emotional world of the story, but don’t mimic the story with your moves. Instead, you would interpret the dance moves with the emotional load from the story. Mostly people travel the spectrum between those two during their storytelling freestyle.

You can watch some great examples in the clip from Freestyle Roulette presented by Galen Hooks below.

Freestyle dance might seem like a world of chaos from afar, but once you’re in it, with the right tools and mindset, it becomes a universe waiting to be explored, one move at a time.


The Matrix Metaphor

The movie “Matrix” from 1999 is referenced daily to describe moments where people are aware of or unaware of different situations. We use the Matrix Metaphor to state that some newly gained knowledge changes the way we think or radically perceive our surroundings.

Typical moments of insights in a dance career are:

  1. The connection to the music is more profound than the regular drumbeat.
  2. There is something like the quality of movement.
  3. It’s seriously interesting if people come up with their own creative moves.
  4. That music is telling a story.
  5. Some dancers tell stories with their dance.
  6. You can dance to multiple instruments at the same time.
  7. I must learn and master everything.
  8. (years later) I don’t.

Of course, everyone has personal insights that transform his way of thinking.

In the dance field (and I guess in all arts), I feel the tendency that we want to consume the work of people that explore the same topics as we do. Another side of the matrix is that things, once understood, can’t be unseen.

You know… I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth; the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy, and delicious. After nine years… you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.

―Cypher justifying his decision to betray his friends and re-enter the Matrix.

This means that we might perceive the dance of others who did not experience the same insights as we did as immature and unformed. And the more we learn about dancing, the more we take for granted and postulate it has to be a certain way. We neglect that others are on a different point in their development or maybe even on a different path.

This is one reason why many experienced dancers state that they are bored with events. The longer you are in the scene, the more you have seen and the further you move away from the average level of knowledge.

What we sometimes don’t think about is that the dancer we see might explore an aspect of the dance that is beyond our comprehension. So, let’s not be too quick to judge.

This article is a translation (and slight rework) of an old text that was originally in German. Comments might reflect that.

dance concepts dance espresso

Why we need to separate creation from evaluation

Why do many people get stuck when they try to create new moves or routines? The answer is simple, but its impact is often underestimated, and therefore, people tend to ignore it. Creation and evaluation (analysis, assessment) are very different processes:

In creation mode, you want the ideas to flow freely.
Creativity is what you need.

In evaluation mode, you need to analyse your results from creation.
Logic is taking the lead here.

A popular scientific theory says that different sides of your brain are responsible for these two different tasks. And they don’t work well together. So if you try to do both at the same time, you are doing both inefficiently.

I can not comment if this theory is right or not, because I lack the scientific understanding. But I know that I work better when I only create at one time and judge later.

When you get stuck in your creation process, try to get rid of the voice in your head that wants to evaluate immediately. Film yourself and do that later. You will see the differences.

And finally, let’s grab a Dance Espresso over this topic:

blog documentation

Dance Smart Available Now

Finally “Dance Smart: Dance Concepts for all Hip-Hop Styles” is available. From Dec 23 to Dec 29, you can grab it at a discounted introductory price of 1 Euro for the ebook and 10 Euro for the paperback. Exact prices will vary due to your local VAT rate.

Dance Smart - Concepts for all Hip Hop Styles is now available

Here are some first reaction from early readers:

A very well written ragbag of how to improve your dancing! For me a dancer’s must-read!


Very useful tool-kit for everybody who wants to level up their dance!


I also received very valuable feedback on how to improve my writing and presentation of the concepts, that will, for sure, find its way into an updated version later down the road.

Thanks everyone for the support.

dance concepts

Creating more Moves with Transmutation

An extensive vocabulary of moves helps you to look fresh in a cypher or on stage. Create multiple steps from the same source material by changing the details of a move. We call this transmutation.

This concept teaches you how to create similar moves that flow well together from one single original movement.

  1. Choose a move that you want to work with. It can be a move from your vocabulary or a move from someone else. We will flip it, so don’t worry about biting now.
  2. Change one part of the move. Either detail or a sequence. Just pick something to change. The result is your first variation.
  3. Go back to step #1 but with this variation as the move to change.
  4. Repeat as many times as you want.
  5. If your original material was from someone else, consider not using the first few variations as someone might call you out for biting. You should be safe after flipping it 3 to 5 times.
  6. When creating your variations, take your time & dig deep.

This easy way to works with moves helps you to create a consistent type of moves that is similar but not the same. It will help you to create more transmutations of the stuff that feels right and therefore enhances your performance on the dancefloor.

The idea for this concept came from the concept of melody variation in music. I already published it a while ago in the German language. Now it is back in English.


From a Different Point of View

Having a strong opinion, based on facts and experience, is a valuable thing. However, so is seeing tasks or processes with the eyes of others. Especially if those others are the people that we want to reach with our work.

A change of perspective helps us to understand our customers. It helps us to design our marketing strategy better. It shows us the optimization potential in our Artist Identity. In general, trying to see with the eyes of others helps to understand business. It also helps to understand life and why our society works as it works.

So whenever you commit to a new strategy or whenever you evaluate parts of your work, try to switch perspective.

Does your offer add value to the lives of your potential customers? Could it add more value with a reasonable amount of change from your side? Is it real value or just a short status boost?

If you create postings on social media, check if they would affect you the way you want them to affect your followers. If they don’t, why would they do it with others?

If you are doing business with companies, understand what’s in for them when hiring you. Do they consider you an influencer in your scene, an expert for specific topics, both, or something else?

Make it a habit to do this in your business life. The insights will surprise you.

business dance concepts understanding music

Digging Deep & Deep Work

Today is not about business, marketing, music, or dance alone. It is about a mindset thing that is beneficial in all of those.

We live in a world of distractions. That sounds like an exaggeration, but is a brutal truth that results in a decline of real productivity and creativity. We think we are experts in multitasking, but we are not. We are experts in being distracted, which leads to a culture of superficiality. We wear “being busy” like a badge of honor when it is only a sign of lacking priorities.

As an artist and entrepreneur that is in the game to stay (without burning out), we shall cultivate a habit to dig deep in what we do. At least for all the things that matter (the ones that align with your bigger picture).

Digging deep means:

  • to give ourselves the time that is needed to work things out
  • to look at a topic from different angles
  • to do additional research when we miss information instead of assuming things
  • to ask questions
  • to find the reasons behind symptoms
  • to take ideas far

Deep Work means:

  • to commit to a specific task
  • to immerse yourself in the work
  • to shut out distractions (flight-mode is a lifestyle)
  • to spend enough time with a topic to allow our conscious and subconscious mind to get involved

You will only do your best work when you reach depth. So avoid today’s culture of mediocrity and dig deep when you create your art and set up your business.

dance concepts

How to Start Your Freestyle with Micro-Structures

Out of the many possibilities to start a freestyle, I find “micro-structuring” to be one of the easiest and at the same time most versatile. The concept is straightforward and similar to last week’s “Structure through Timing and Topics“. Here is “how to freestyle with micro-structures”.

You take a short timeframe (I recommend anything between one and four bars) and define where you put your focus on any given time. If you are new to the idea of structuring your dance in general or have a hard time counting music, go with one bar for a start.

Now define your focus for every time within that bar. For example: on the 1 and 2 of the bar you do a step, and on 3 and 4, you work with an isolation movement. That only means you make moves that are based on steps for two counts and then isolation-based moves for another two counts. After a bar (or the duration you chose) you repeat the idea.

Your structure can be as easy the example above or more complicated: You could also choose a chest pop that starts a travelling movement on the 1. Glides with rotations that carry you through 2 and 3 and finish with a hard stop on the snare drum on 4. Now you accent only the head on the “and” before you come around to the chest-hit on 1.

Again, your structure can be as straightforward or as sophisticated as you wish. For beginners, I recommend making the differences between the elements very clear. Like, Steps on one part, hand styles on the next, then isolations and so on. If you are more advanced, you can do more stuff at the same time and shift only the emphasis from one element to the other. You could keep doing steps all the time and add isolations for the first half of the bar and switch to counter-movement in the second half.

Go crazy with your ideas but don’t fall into the trap to make your structure too specific, so that it becomes choreography.