August 2016 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Introducing Freestyle

Photo by Briana Gardener

Photo by Briana Gardener

Introducing Freestyle

By Samara Atkins

Tip 1
Freestyling (improvising) has been around since long before hip-hop began, making dance come alive on street corners and at parties. In recent years freestyling has become increasingly important in the hip-hop world—it’s a major component of the urban street dance movement—mostly because it encourages so much spontaneous creativity. New freestyle moves come out of experimenting or trial and error; trending moves, like the Dougie or the dab, are often born from someone’s take on a preexisting move. The basic concept is doing whatever comes to mind while listening to a song and letting your movement be completely free.

The great thing about this style is that there’s no wrong way to do it. When introducing students to freestyling, give them these two tips: 1) don’t plan moves ahead or do choreography; and 2) don’t repeat moves, because it will look like you’re thinking about your moves instead of flowing through them.

Tip 2
Impromptu and improvised, freestyling gives dancers creative control over their bodies—and that can make students nervous. Framing freestyling as an activity or task can help them feel more comfortable exploring their own movement. For example, ask students to freestyle for 16 counts at certain points within set choreography, perhaps during the intro or at the end, and either individually or all together.

Verbal support encourages students to keep exploring. I like to call out affirming words such as “Work!” and “Get it!” to let them know they’re headed in the right direction, and I remind them, “No one can do what you can do, how you can do it.” Half the battle in freestyling is confidence, even if it’s pretend confidence at first. Encourage your students to deliver their moves confidently, and they’ll begin to shine.


Oakland, California, native Samara Atkins studied journalism and dance at Howard University and co-founded an all-female dance company. She teaches hip-hop at Destiny Arts Center, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and In the Groove Studios.