I’ve seen a lot of discussion on Facebook, forums, at jams, at house parties after the jam, and in car rides that revolve around “All Styles” battles (I’ll explain why I’m using quotes later). There’s a lot of controversy as to what they are, what they should be and how (or even if) they should be integrated in to the b-boy community. These discussions always seem to occur with a lot of b-boys and b-boy promoters chiming in but the thing that’s absent is input from the all styles competitors, judges, and DJ’s themselves. In the rush to figure out how it fits in the b-boy community, they seem to have been left largely out of the equation.
In the past three years I’ve ended up DJ’ing a lot of All Styles battles at Bashville Stampede, the Battle Ground Zero series in Indiana, and the Sickest of the South series in Baton Rouge along with several in Atlanta. Over time, I’ve grown to really enjoy these battles and the vibe the competitors bring to it and I respect what I think is a new scene in it’s own right. In this post, I wanted to talk about my thoughts on the “All Styles” scene; what I think lead to it, where it is, and where I think it will or should go from here.
For those of you that predominantly know me as a b-boy and b-boy DJ I want to make it very clear that I am a b-boy first and foremost and have been for a long time. The b-boy culture and its traditions mean a great deal to me and anyone who knows me on a personal level knows how I feel about that. If you want to challenge me on my thoughts when it comes to “All Styles” I’m fine with that but don’t question my feelings towards the b-boy culture. I don’t want to see it become diluted and I certainly don’t want to lose the more traditional b-boy jams that focus solely on b-boys. I just feel that these All Styles dancers deserve the same chance we got to vibe with like minded people and reward those who excel at it.
These are my personal opinions and if you want, feel free to discount them if you choose. My feelings aren’t going to get hurt.
All Styles Origins (as I see it)
When I first started dancing in 2000, it was an era where true b-boy events (or any street dance events) were few and far between. If you wanted to dance you had to go wherever you could. That might mean you were at a house night on Wednesday, a funk/hip-hop club night on Friday, a rave on Saturday, and maybe a b-boy jam every 6 months. It was the same situation for a popper, house dancer, locker or any dancer who was serious about their craft and just wanted the chance to be with other dancers. In that era you grew up being constantly influenced by other styles of dance and music. In some cases you learned a whole new style of dance just so you could be more comfortable. When you went to a house night, you could house. If you were at a club night, you could pop when there was an electro song, lock during a funk song, and do some New Jack steps if they played New Jack. You became versatile whether you ever really intended to or not.
When you got all these people in the same room there was a vibe that I’ve only seen at a couple of really good All Styles battles or on certain nights at certain clubs. There’s an unbelievable amount of positivity and support. Everyone just wants to see what everyone else can do and not even in a competitive way. They want whoever is in the cypher to make them smile or laugh or go “woo” when they’re really showing off their musicality.
Now skip ahead 7 or 8 years. A lot of the dancers that are my age and grew up in that enviroment are now a new breed of dancer. They might be predominantly a b-boy or house dancer but they also know the history, culture, and techniques of 1 or 2 other styles and they love them all and want a chance to do them with others who feel the same. I think the All Styles battles grew naturally out of these dancers coming into positions as promoters who wanted to see multiple styles of dance vibe together in the same scene and relive some of those great cyphers I mentioned. So now you get “All Styles” battles.
Now, were there also people that just wanted to make a quick buck and get a few extra tickets sold? Yes, but I know that when I first started seeing All Styles battles pop up, I knew some of the promoters doing it and they were the type of dancer I was talking about above. They knew and respected more than one dance style.
Now that’s where I see the All Styles scene coming from. I could be wrong and it could just be an idealistic view from someone who looks back fondly on that era. It could be that every promoter that started throwing All Styles battles was just being oppurtunistic but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it grew out of real respect and appreciation for many styles of street dance.
But is it that still the case?
The Current State of All Styles Battles (as I see it)
To answer the question I just asked, no. A majority of the “All Styles” battles happening today are being done purely for profit. There were a few events that had success with them early on and now you’re seeing a lot of promoters put it on the flyer so they can get some extra cash. These same promoters were doing it with popping battles a few years ago and now they’re doing it with “All Styles” battles. Very little thought gets put into who judges it, who DJs it, or the rules that govern the competition. I think events like these are what hurt the image of actual, well-run all styles competitions and these events are stoking the flames of controversy around the topic of “All Styles”.
Before I go on with what’s wrong with these bad All Styles events, I should probably first talk about what I think an All Styles battle should be. As regular readers know by now you can guess how I’ll approach this…
1. The Name
First off, I feel “All Styles” is a bad name for these competitions. That’s why I’ve used quotes around it for most of this blog. The term “All Styles” gives the impression that most important thing about these events are the Styles when it should really about the dancer, their musicality and how they express themselves. Maybe “Freestyle” is a better term? I don’t know necessarily, maybe “All Styles” does describe what’s going on. I’d like to get input from the dancers that would place themselves under that umbrella, whatever we decide to call it.
2. The Music
When I DJ All Styles events I have to consider that I’m not playing for one type of dancer. The music needs to be varied during the cyphers to give everyone a chance to get down. I usually play genres in 15-20 minute chunks during the cyphers so I can rotate who’s getting to dance. The good thing about All Styles battles is that a lot of people that attend them are proficient in more than just one style so I rarely see cyphers just completely die out or people leaving when they stop hearing “their music.” They just adapt to whatever’s getting played.
For the battles it’s a bit tougher. The main rules are you can’t play favorites and you have to challenge the dancers. If you know one dancer is a house dancer and one dancer is a popper it’s not fair to play “Siberian Nights” or some other electro song. The advantage will go to the popper who’s heard that song a million times. You might try something like New Jack that neither might do but it levels the playing field. Sometimes you can’t help it. You won’t do it intentionally but you can’t know what every dancer does and you’ll eventually play something that give the dancer an advantage. If you have two poppers or two house dancers you have to make a decision. You can either play something that’s in their wheelhouse and see who’s better at that style. Or you make them both work and play something unfamiliar. I’ve done both at battles with varying results. In conversations I’ve had with the judges, they’d much rather see the dancers challenged. Due to that fact, I usually choose songs that are fairly unheard of unless you’re really deep into the club/dance/electronic music scene. That way even if I play a popping song and a popper is in the battle there’s a good chance he’s never heard that song so at least there’s some level of difficulty he has to deal with. I mostly do this in the later battles. I tend to play more popular/classic stuff in the prelims and top 16/top 8.
To me, the major focus of an All Styles battle should be musicality and adaptability. What style of dance you do or tricks should be secondary. It’s not about what style is the best, it’s about which dancer is the best. I think the musicality is self-explanatory so I won’t go into it much. Whatever the dancer chooses to do the musicality has to be there. Unless you can do them on beat, windmills and flips should never win an All Styles battle.
The dancers never know what song they’re going to get so adaptability is probably the biggest issue that comes with entering these battles. When I say adaptability I don’t mean that you pop when there’s a popping song, house during a house song or lock for a locking song. It’s cool if you can do that well but the point is to just express yourself however you feel comfortable. Either adapt your style to the music or do something else that feels comfortable. Outside of style adaptability, the dancer needs to be able to predict music they’ve never heard before. They need to have a solid understanding of musical count and be able to pick up on patterns in certain songs.
As far as who the judges are, I think it’s important you have judges who represent very different styles. You don’t want two house dancers, two poppers, etc. I think some people are just naturally inclined to enjoy their style of dance more or it goes the other way and they’re much harsher on people from their style. You need diversity to make sure you get an unbiased final decision. Of course, there are some judges that are just good judges and it won’t matter what style they do, they’ll still judge fairly.
4. The Venue
I personally believe that All Styles competitions should have their own area at events if they’re being thrown in conjunction with a b-boy battle. If you have it all in the same room you’ll end up just making everybody bored or mad. When the b-boy battles are going on, the All Styles dancers will be unhappy and vice versa. This is especially true for the All Styles dancers who come to b-boy jams. They end up just standing around for an entire jam waiting for the battles which will be the only time they’ll hear something that they might want to dance to. You’re going to get a lot of people badmouthing your jam later on or you won’t get people coming back, b-boys and All Styles dancers.
Bashville Stampede probably has the best setup I’ve seen. Maybe that sounds like favoritism since I’ve DJ’ed the All Styles battles there for the past 3 or 4 years but a lot of the dancers and judges I’ve talked to agree. There’s always a seperate room for the All Styles dancers and there are cyphers going all night. The atmosphere is made to be a bit more club like to recreate that old vibe I was talking about earlier. For me, it’s the perfect setup and it’s the most fun I have at a jam all year. The b-boys can come and go as they please but they’re never forced to sit through something they have zero interest in.
I understand we’re all dancers and we all have similar roots. All these styles came from the street and have intersected and influenced each other many times in their history but that doesn’t mean that they should necessarily be thrown together. In some scenes or at small jams it might work, but for the most part, it doesn’t. It’s great that (some) b-boy promoters want to give All Styles dancers their shine but they must be willing to either give them something truly good or not even try at all.
Here are some things I’d like to see:
1. All Styles Jams
I think we’re getting to a point, in certain scenes at least, where it could be possible to throw an entire jam focused entirely on All Styles dancers. For a lot of poppers, housers, waackers, lockers, etc. there simply aren’t enough in one area to devote an entire event just to their single style of dance but you can at least give them something where they know they’ll be welcome and will be able to dance to music they’re familiar with at some points of the night. Besides there are more and more people actively training for All Styles battles. They’re taking workshops, looking at online tutorials, and doing serious research in other styles just so they can be better all around dancers and be better prepared for this type of battle. It will be a big risk but is it really any bigger risk than a b-boy battle? I can’t say I know what a purely All Styles jam will look like, but it definitely sounds like a lot of fun to me.
2. An End to Sub-par “add-on” All Styles Battles
If you don’t care about All Styles battles, just don’t throw one. You aren’t going to sell a lot of extra tickets just because you put the word “All Styles” on a flyer and offered a hundred bucks. You’ll just get a lot of b-boys that were already at the jam entering but have no business being in that battle. What you end up with is a long drawn out battle with a ridiculous amount of people trying to get that $100 and 4 or 5 legitimate people that could actually do well in All Styles battle or came specifically for that. You’re doing a disservice to those 4 or 5 people who were hoping for something better and wasting the time of everyone else at your jam. You also wasted a lot of money paying for judges that are going to be pissed when they show up and find out they have to watch a b-boy battle with house music in the background. You’re not going to make your money back on those judges or get the time back so the b-boys can cypher from that extra $70 you got from the handful of people that came specifically for the All Styles battle. I would tell All Styles dancers to not support those events but most of them seem to be pretty good judges of BS and already avoid these type of battles.
A quick aside…I’m not bashing b-boys entering All Styles battles. There are few that do it and are excellent at it. Jesus and Lobzter from New Orleans, Lito from Soul Rockers, and Brave Monk from Chicago are the first to come to mind. What happens most of the time though is b-boys enter and just do footwork or power with no regards at all to musicality. I see this at EVERY All Styles battle. It would be the equivalent of a ballet dancer entering a b-boy battle and just doing pirouettes and pliés, it’s pretty and they’re talented but it’s not what the battle is about.
3. Better DJs
I’m not surprised that there aren’t a lot of really great All Styles DJs out there. This is still kind of a new thing and you have a lot to think about a lot when you’re doing it. It’s a different skill than DJ’ing a breaks battle. There’s not a lot of technical skill involved like juggling but song selection and reading a crowd is even more important than in B-boy battles. I spend the cyphers of an All Styles battle playing various genres and watching the crowd to get an idea of the different styles people do and what they like so that later when I see them in the battle I can pick a song that won’t show favoritism but will also get them hype. It’s a guessing game and sometimes you’re wrong. I’m lucky that nowadays I’m more right than wrong but it still happens.
You also have to be competent in a variety of styles of music and dance. You need to have a deep arsenal of house, electro, funk, disco, baltimore club, juke, jit, bounce, dubstep, moombahton, hip-hop (all types) and any other genre that you think might be danceable. It’s not enough that you have them, you need to be able to mix them all. You also need to understand the various dance styles that might enter so you know what music they listen to; House, New Jack, Locking, Popping, Waacking, Vogue, J-set, Juke, Jit, Bounce, Techtonic…all of those dances have a certain style(s) of music they prefer and you need to be aware of them. There’s a lot of research involved. When I first got asked to do this I just used a lot of electro-funk, house, baltimore club, and remixes. It worked but it wasn’t great. A lot of dancers didn’t do well and it was purely my fault. I’ve had to spend a lot of time on youtube, forums, wikipedia, and talking with different dancers to figure out what works and doesn’t work. If you’re serious about DJ’ing all styles battles then you’ll have to do similar research.
There has to be variety. The music has to switch up during the battles. I’ve seen a few battles where a popper won simply because the DJ was only playing songs that were appropriate for popping and I’ve seen house dancers win because the DJ only played house. I try to alternate every battle. First battle might be a house song, then a New Jack song for the next battle, then dubstep, bounce, etc. Maybe the hardest part for the DJ is being fair and the only way to do that is be as varied as possible in your genre choices.
That’s it for this thread. Sorry for the lack of structure and the fact that it just sounds like a rant at points. It was written over the course of a few months as I came back to it periodically. I really want to hear the thoughts from the All Styles dancers, judges, promoters and DJs. I enjoy this type of thing and I know you do too and want to see it get better. However, unless we start a real conversation about it, it won’t. B-boys were relegated to the sidelines for years until those involved in the scene really stepped up to the plate and took control. Something similar has to happen among the All Styles community.
This is all just my opinion so don’t get offended if you disagree but I’d like to hear yours.