Freestyle dancing is a comprehensive term that covers styles of dance that were created outside of dance studios. Also called street dancing, this type of dance was developed in clubs and on the streets. It is characterized by improvisation and an aggressive style, unlike the polished and choreographed performances of sequential dancing. Today, freestyle dancing is seen in clubs, music videos, concerts, competitions and in school clubs. It is a form of social interaction, physical education and even art.
Early freestyle dancing began in the 1970s on street corners and public places where dancers would show off their improvisational skills that resembled modern-day break dancing. By the 1980s as the music became more popular and accessible, more stand up moves were incorporated into the dance. The birth of freestyle dancing really began as disco died.
Although some performances are choreographed, or partially choreographed, improv is the main force behind freestyle. Dancers are encouraged to create new moves and develop a personal style. The dancing is tough, raw and often involves stopping and starting. Unlike ballet and other formal styles that rarely change, freestyle dancing is known for its evolution.
When freestyle dancing began, it was more about the flow from one break dancing move to another. As it evolved, pauses and breakups of rhythm became more popular. The dancing became harder, edgier and included more audience interaction. Isolation of individual body parts such as the hips and core also started to be used more and is seen commonly today.
Freestyle dancing has given birth to breakdancing, hip-hop, popping, locking, krumping, street jazz and many other of styles less known or unnamed. Popping and locking are older styles of freestyle dancing where the dancer manipulates her joints in a way to "pop" them in time with the music. Krumping is a newer style that is derived from hip-hop but it is characterized by high energy moves. Street jazz is a blend of traditional studio-taught jazz and hip-hop.
Los Angeles and New York were important locations for the evolution of freestyle dancing. Hip-hop and house dance emerged in the 1980s in these cities. Jamaica is also an important area for freestyle. The modern incarnation of reggae, Dancehall music, has become a popular style in the past 5 years.
Someone flipping on MTV or attending a Britney Spears concert may think that the perfectly rehearsed performances are indicative of freestyle dancing. Although some would consider the moves hip-hop in origin, real freestyle dancing is not perfect, though it often inspires the choreographed moves seen on TV and stage.
Freestyle dancing teams and competitions are often credited with keeping kids away from gangs and violence. Dance-offs and battles have taken the place in some communities of physical fights and altercations.