Bridging the Gap Between Freestyle and Choreography

By Tarik Rollerson

October 9, 2023, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Tarik, male, African-American, wearing Royal Supply clothing brand, Dodge Challenger, neighborhood background.
Photo by Daniel Sun Media
[ID: Tarik, male, he/him, African-American, wearing Royal Supply clothing brand, Dodge Challenger, neighborhood background.]

Editor’s Note: 1Up Crew is a Spring 2023 CA$H grantee.

Here in the Bay Area, we have a very strong, talented and passionate dance community. Within the hip hop community there are two different ways to express yourself through movement: freestyle and choreography.

Freestyle started at parties and social gatherings. Individuals connected with music and passion through cyphers: a circle where dancers freestyle and exchange energies. Choreography is an organized movement created to provide guidance for self-expression. Freestyle is usually found in street culture, whereas choreography is led inside studios. 1Up Crew strives to bring these two worlds together.

Tarik, male, African-American, wearing Chicago Bulls red and white, in Krump pose, white Jordan 11s, dark background
Photo by Amy Elmer – Artful Eye Photos
[ID: Tarik, male, he/him, African-American, wearing Chicago Bulls red and white, in Krump pose, khaki color jeans, white Jordan 11s]

March 2013 is when Hollis Contreras and I started 1Up Crew. While starting this crew I was exposed to the freestyle scene. Coming from a choreography background I had a hard time adapting. I was told that I moved in a way that was too organized and predictable during my freestyling. While I had my own struggles transitioning into the freestyle scene, I was aware of the struggles others had as freestylers transitioning into choreography.

In choreography you are trying to match the choreographer’s movement. For a freestyler accustomed to creating your own version of movement, it is difficult to learn to match the choreographer’s posture, understand their weight-shifting, dance to counts. 1Up Crew had a lot of ups and downs adjusting so our dancers could participate in both choreography competitions and freestyle battles. Each of us had to work to understand both.

Freestyle and choreography complement each other when used together.

Freestyling supports choreography by expanding your creativity. When you freestyle, you find different ways to explore your own body. When choreographing, people often experience what we call “choreo block.” Freestyling can help prevent getting stuck. Choreography can help freestylers with retaining material. Material is used in battles when you are stuck in a pinch and need a “wow” factor or crowd pleaser to respond to your opponent. Doing choreography can also help freestylers when it comes to teaching and passing down information.

1Up Crew brings these two worlds together by hosting our own labs, sessions (where dancers get together to practice and exchange energy), classes, battles and showcases. We participate in both choreography competitions and freestyle battles to show others that dance is beautiful in all forms.

1Up Crew created an event format for choreography where we give dancers an opportunity to experience a battle-like tournament. They each perform their 40- to 60-second routine and judges decide the winner on the spot. We call this event “We Does This: Choreography.”

For freestylers, we created a 5 v. 5 team battle event called “Double or Nothing” (DON). At DON, teams are required to use commandos (a quick team routine) and utilize each member during each round. This battle is timed and inspired by the movie You Got Served.

We also started 1Up company classes for both dancers who do choreography and freestylers to participate in. In these classes you can learn a specific style such as popping, locking, turfing, afro and heels. We hope those who take choreography classes are willing to come and learn freestyle, and those who freestyle come and learn it in choreographic fashion.

1Up Crew is bridging the gap between freestyle and choreography. Through classes and events we can bring all dancers in our hip hop community together so we can further grow the culture while remembering the foundation of hip hop.

This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of In Dance.

Tarik Rollerson was born in Richmond, CA in 1993. He is the co-founder and director of 1Up Crew, established in 2013, based out of Oakland, CA. He has been the executive producer of Prelude NorCal, a dance competition series, since 2022. Tarik is a teacher and choreographer at In The Groove Studios and Sunset Academy of Dance. @1upcrew_ @tslidah