By Debbie Hatumale – DanceLife Writer
The Hip Hop battle is intrinsic to the art form, culture and way of life. Every aspect of Hip Hop’s four elements places the battle as an inherently fundamental method of competition and discovery. However, as a consequence of the media portraying the battle being some sort of fierce duel, most dancers and audience members are unaware that the battle is traditionally a method of collaboration and skill improvement. Negative connotations associated with the word “battle” usually suggest some sort of anger or negative aura, or some sort of violent dance brawl accompanied with an “‘I’m going kick your ***” attitude. The battle in Hip Hop dance is supposed to be more of a competition of who dances better and not all about who has the strongest attitude – it should be a healthy mix of both.
Historically, street battles and cyphers took place with no paying audience to impress, only a stereo and a circle of fellow dancers. However, the battle has grown to become a spectacle, drawing like-minded dancers and spectators to witness a dancer’s skills in a contest. Genuine elements of the modern Hip Hop battle include three accomplished judges, an MC, Crews and DJs. Each element provides an ingredient for the battle to take place. As a friendly competition between like-minded dancers that are familiar with each other’s styles and capabilities, battles are more an event to host improvement and a comparison of skill, rather than a showcase of ego. As the battle is a haven to play host to a comparison of raw Hip Hop dance skills between fellow dancers, certain elements of etiquette provide an unspoken understanding to maintain the battle as a means to display ability. It is when dancers do not adhere to these understandings that the battle turns into a clash of attitude and not dance skill.
Critical Hype’s 360 United Freestyle Battle Competition is one of Australia’s biggest Hip Hop battles, showcasing some of Australia’s most talented Hip Hop dancers. The combination of experienced DJ’s, DJ Libre and Kid Koma, as well as MCing by eL, provided a genuine medium for the dancers to showcase their skill and technique. However, as a consequence of media portrayal of the battle in mainstream movies, 360 was only able to maintain some integrity in terms of a genuine street contest; the competition at 360 was a hybrid of a stage show and a street battle. As a combined reflection of media attention and growth over time, the combination of a street styled battle and a hip hop stage show was entertaining to audiences, though in terms of portraying a genuine hip hop battle competition, it fell somewhat short. Some competitions place the emphasis on skill and ability, and the venue does not make a difference to this. However, when other competitions shift venues to an auditorium, the focus shifts to attitude, which then becomes entertainment for the audience. This, combined with viewers who are uneducated in terms of dance skill, leads to the battle becoming a show.
This shift, in relation to the type of audience present, affects the competing dancers and how they battle. Some dancers are loyal to the understood battle etiquette and rules that they have come to know, whereas some turn on the attitude because they feel it is what the audience would want to see. Audiences are naturally amazed by spectacle and are inclined to choose who wins based on this.
Battle etiquette includes basic rules that are no different to normal, everyday functions. Basic social etiquette such as not interrupting when someone is speaking and not invading personal space by contact are normal, everyday things that we have come to expect. However, it seems that in this battle, there was no equivalent of these basic social protocols. Personal contact and interrupting a dancer’s solo are unacceptable but were allowed at 360. All competition etiquette accepts that it is only fair to let each competitor have the same amount of time to showcase their skill, however, it seems as good as Critical Hype’s 360 United Freestyle Battles were, in terms of providing the genuine elements needed for the battle, certain crews showcased battles of attitude instead of battles of dance and skill. Some battles at 360 saw two different crews competing with two different rules.
The battle is inherently fundamental as a method of competition and discovery. 360 was a fusion of a stage performance and battle, and was very successful in doing so. The event itself was a great showcase of amazing dancers. However, in terms of portraying a genuine hip hop battle, 360 was a crowd pleaser, but an inaccurate representation. The battle in Hip Hop dance is supposed to be a competition of who dances better, not who has the strongest attitude, and as a consequence of the battle portrayed as being some sort of fierce duel, most are unaware that the battle is traditionally known as a method of collaboration and skill improvement. The lack of battle etiquette and the inevitable shift of audience appreciation has changed the hip hop battle to a spectacle of attitude instead of skill. Critical Hype’s 360 United Battles provided the means to run a successful Hip hop battle, but the lack of etiquette from participating dancers shifted the perception of the fundamental ideas of the hip hop battle. To stop this, in future, battlers and event organizers alike should be aware that there is an etiquette that should be adhered to so that all participants have an opportunity to showcase and ultimately improve their skill.
Debbie Hatumale is a Hip hop dancer, choreographer, instructor and writer. She is the head choreographer for Macquarie University Dance Academy as well as for various schools around Sydney. For more information you can contact her at Debbie.firstname.lastname@example.org.