On the subway home I caught myself thinking about how happy I was when I got to see Grandmaster Flash live here in Stockholm.
The majority of that joy came from the relief of not having to listen to the DJ switch from house, to Sean Paul, to ”Afrobeat” (which I refuse to recognize as a real thing), to Usher and so on. I got to listen to Hiphop (with the occasional funk song) for the whole night and that’s been long overdue.
So, here I am now, writing a piece about all styles battles, and why they’re a nice thought but something that clearly doesn’t work in practice.
My experience is that people grow from challenge. Regardless of what level you are, meeting someone at an undisputedly higher level, is gonna inspire you and drive you to work harder in some way (assuming you’re already trying to be better).
”Street”dance (historically) relies on a community. For you to know if you’re good or bad (within the community context), you compare yourself to the other members of that community. The other members will compare you to the general idea of what is good (according to the group) and to other members of that same community. Co-signing will take place and you will just simply ”know” on which side of that spectrum you are. It could be as simple as someone of importance telling you or as difficult as being excluded out of things and not knowing why. There’s a ”general agreement” of what is good and bad within the community, aswell as some default criterias like musicality, being on beat etc, which are less prone to being disputed (although they do get disputed) by which the judgment is based. This is also the reason why removing the somewhat naturally occurring element of competition in streetdance, in ways such as demeaning wanting to exceed or encouraging ”being average/okay” at something slows growth.
For a style to be a style there has to be defining criterias. Something telling you what the style is aswell as what it isn’t. Sometimes the differences aren’t as clear cut as salt and pepper, but the difference is there nonetheless.
An All Styles Battle, refers to a battle where (in theory) all styles are allowed, aka you’re allowed to enter the battle with any style/styles and you can be up against any kind of music. Usually this gets switched up a bit depending on the event. Some will limit it to five styles (usually 5 ”street” styles), some will allow any style but only play certain kinds of music and so on. But the general idea remains the same.
Right about now you’re probably thinking, what a great idea! Now everyone can dance together. Unity above all! Hiphop dancers and poppers can meet in the same space and dance together and just do whatever.
Let me stop you right there. ‘Cause that’s where the undesired (or maybe desired?) magic happens. Simply doing ”whatever” is what causes the problem in the first place. When everything is everything, everything becomes nothing. When every battle is an all styles battle, nobody strives to be the best house dancer ‘cause he’ll still most likely lose to the person who’s above average in 3 styles. Since it is an all styles battle after all, in theory the more styles you know the greater the advantage. This isn’t necessarily true. But sadly it’s very common.
For a style to advance and for dancers to advance within a style, you must first establish what the style is and what it isn’t to then work within this field as well as occasionally step outside of it for inspiration and reflection. Then you put what you’ve made up against what other people have made and get judged based on specific criterias for that style aswell as general criterias for dance. If done right, now the style advances, ‘cause this forces people to work hard and be creative so they have something to bring to the table when the next challenge comes around. This is related to being able to ”hold your own” as they say.
The only thing all styles advances is all styles. Which makes a whole lot of sense when you think about it. That which you practice is what you’ll get good at. I’ve co-arranged some events like that myself based in the idea of the all styles label attracting more people. To later realize that the lack of people isn’t necessarily due to the event itself, but I might address that topic some other time.
Any how, I wanna see the scene in Sweden advance and all of these all styles battles we’ve been throwing is not the way, ‘cause the level isn’t getting higher. People would rather leave for knowledge than stay, and they view borderline every other countrys capital as a mekka for everything street in comparison.
The argument for hosting all styles battles is that there’s not enough people to throw battles for individual styles, as nobody is gonna show up, but that’s when we need to take a step back and ask why? If there’s a lack of people dancing, the solution isn’t in the events. If the issue really was people not attending events, there wouldn’t be a lack of people in basically every other aspect of the culture aswell. I’m referring to sessions, clubs and meetups etc, and just general media presence. Clearly the issue is the lack of active people in the scene. There’s something that’s not working properly in terms of knowledge being passed on to more people, handed down through generations aswell as maintenance of the scene. Don’t believe me? Just look at the amount of theater productions/Dance shows with ”street dancers” that we have in comparison to the amount of teams participating in KOD last year. Look at the amount of people present at the ”street dance” debate at Urban Connection in comparison to how many of those faces you actually see at Megashop (which is supposed to be this great practice hub (which we can get into some other time) yet majority of the people there are breakers who got their own thing going scene-wise so you know they’d practice regardless, which has been proven over and over ‘cause they’d injure themselves if they didn’t).
We need to be better than this and better than lagom. At least for me personally, I’d prefer it if we all aimed to be great rather than lagom. If everyone kept growing instead of settling, which I see happening time and time again (an example is the lack of people both simply choosing to aswell as successfully competing abroad, yet the scene here idolizes dancers abroad).
We have to share a common goal to act as a unit and for people to know what to work towards and measure themselves by when they join our scene. Say no to sauce and mediocrity. All styles battles are not the solution! It’s not even a band aid on the deeper issue at hand.