What is Freestyle Dancing?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Freestyle dancing is a style of physical movement, usually done to music, that isn’t choreographed or planned ahead of time. It occurs in many genres, including those where people dance with partners. By definition, this kind of dance is never the same from performance to performance, although it can be done formally and informally, sometimes using some sparse choreography as a very loose outline for the improvisation. People usually like it not only because it is fun and good exercise, but also because it is a form of confidence-boosting self-expression. This style has been around for thousands of years and is still changing, but people usually think of genres such as hip hop when they hear the term — these categories didn’t really start to develop until the late 1970s.

Freestyle dancing is used as a form of self expression.
Freestyle dancing is used as a form of self expression.


Although people usually think of street or club dancing when they hear the term “freestyle dance,” individuals use various improvisational techniques in many different genres. They can make up moves in styles such as jazz, belly dance, hip hop, blues, break dance, jumpstyle, folk and electronic dance, just to name a few. Typically, someone sticks to movements from one genre, rather than switching back and forth. He generally would not, for instance, do a little bit of waltz and then move directly into a tango.

Freestyle dancing has most likely existed since the dawn of mankind.
Freestyle dancing has most likely existed since the dawn of mankind.

Partner genres such as ballroom dance also can fall into this group. The only requirements are that both people need to know at least some basic moves of the style they’re using, and that each individual has to be able to lead or follow nonverbal directions from his or her partner about what steps to do next. It often works best when the connection between the dancers is strong, because a good relationship can make it easier to figure out and respond to body language cues.

Modern freestyle dancing can be traced back to the freestyle music of the 1970s and later.
Modern freestyle dancing can be traced back to the freestyle music of the 1970s and later.


This kind of dance does not rely on choreography or scripting. Additionally, different people can physically interpret music in very different ways based on their mood, experiences, preferences and body characteristics. As a result, freestyling always produces a completely unique result, with no two performances ever being exactly the same, even when they are done by the same person with the same music.

Freestyle dancing can be seen in formal settings, such as competitions, as well as more casual environments, such as a concert or high school dance.
Freestyle dancing can be seen in formal settings, such as competitions, as well as more casual environments, such as a concert or high school dance.


With every freestyle dance being different from another, “learning” the style is more about exploring putting moves a person knows together on the fly, or figuring out how to come up with a movement that looks and feels right at a particular point in the music. Techniques such as body mapping or sensory training sometimes are useful for getting people more comfortable and making them aware of their physical abilities. Many videos try to teach freestyling in the form of modern hip hop moves. A person can get better at it over time with these methods, but some people appear to have more of an innate ability to improvise physically compared to others, just as many individuals seem to have a “gift” for music.

Freestyle dancing can relieve stress.
Freestyle dancing can relieve stress.


Even though all freestyle dances by definition can’t be done again, people still try to preserve them because of their artistic value. The most common way to do this is through videotaping. People use photography, too, especially to accompany articles about events or dancers, but this isn’t as common, simply because it can’t show the entire sequence the way filming can. Sometimes, people use the pictures and video to try and analyze the movements, often as a way to recreate the style for movies and television or to loosely determine skill level.

Formal and Informal Forms

In general, different types of dance become freestyle in more informal settings, such as at a high school dance when students might take turns showing moves they know without figuring out a sequence ahead of time. Freestyling can be formalized, though, such as with competitions. At these events, the focus usually is on both the creative interpretation and the control or skill within the movements, and performers go over the top with makeup and costumes because of their limited time to make an impression on the judges.

Combination With Choreography

In some cases, people choreograph a few moves as a framework, with improvisation filling in the blanks. They might do this as a stepping stone to more complete freestyling, for example. It is also common when freestyling is part of a film, concert or other formalized performance, because others involved in the scene can take their cues from what the dancers do.

Self Expression

One of the major reasons many people enjoy freestyle dancing is that it allows them to do whatever they feel like in the moment. They can enjoy being spontaneous without worrying so much about whether what they’re doing is “right” or “wrong,” because nothing is scripted. In this sense, it is a physical way of being self-expressive and setting aside old movement habits. For some people, it even becomes a contemporary means to meditate and deal with the stresses of everyday life.

Other Benefits

Some individuals use this and other styles of dance as a convenient, cheap way to exercise. It has the potential to increase cardiovascular health in particular, but other aspects of health such as flexibility and strength can improve, as well. The self-confidence that comes from the health improvements and ability to dance well can carry over into virtually any aspect of daily life. Many people find that their ability to read others or socialize improves, as well, because dancing in front of or with others requires the ability to let go emotionally and to interact to some degree.


With the term “freestyle” technically fitting lots of genres, it isn’t truly possible to trace a single line of development for this kind of dancing. People arguably have done it since the beginning of mankind, especially during common celebrations such as festivals when everyone needed a simple way to participate. It is closely linked to the rise of freestyle music, however, which grew in popularity starting in the late 1970s or disco era — simply moving to the music and “grooving,” with or without a partner, was the main theme. It is not clear exactly where the terminology originated, although some theories, such as the mixing habits of DJs of that time, explore some possibilities.

Continuing Evolution

Freestyle dancing is shifting constantly, using moves that are current for the given time. The improvisational dances of one period, therefore, do not always resemble those from another. Exactly how the style changes over time is complex, involving many interconnected social elements, such as people moving to new locations or sharing videos over the Internet.

People at nightclubs often engage in freestyle dancing.
People at nightclubs often engage in freestyle dancing.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I started free style dancing when I was 15, in 1965. It took off very quickly after that. My girlfriend actually dragged me off the dance floor, saying it looked great, but I couldn't do that as it wasn't a named dance like the frug, monkey or mashed potatoes. This was in Bay Shore, NY.

I was also the first streaker, in Metairie, LA, in late 1973, which the kids at Tulane picked up on.


Freestyle dancing was the only kind my friends did when they went out. I once asked them to help me learn to dance, and they seemed puzzled.

One of them told me that it wasn't something that could be learned. She said just to feel the music and relax, and the rest would come naturally.

They were very good at freestyle dancing, but I just couldn't get creative with it. I eventually learned line dancing instead, and I take comfort in knowing every step before I make it. There is nothing freestyle about line dancing, but I believe that freestyle is best left to the talented dancers.


After I learned how to salsa dance, I used those moves in my freestyle dance workouts. I think the best workout is one that is unlimited by planned moves, but that also includes moves proven to help you burn calories.

Salsa is great for this because it involves broad steps that occur at a rate that can promote weight loss. You can vary up the speed and the pattern to make salsa moves your own.


I always functioned better with freestyle moves than with dance routines. I'm a good dancer, but I have trouble committing a planned series of moves to memory. I tend to lose it when the pressure to perform is on.


I like freestyle dancing, but I always had issues with coming up with moves on the spot. I watched a dance instruction video to come up with ideas.

I took little bits of choreographed dances and mixed them all up. I consider this my own brand of freestyle, because I break out into different moves at spontaneous moments. I don't plan to do them in any certain order, and as they come to memory and the music fits, I perform them.


My name is Sylvanus. I am a choreographer and I'm looking for more choreography techniques. Please help.


does freestyle dance includes indian dance like bharatnatyam?


SilentIce- Yes, there are freestyle dance competitions. There are literally hundreds of freestyle dance competitions occurring annually all over the United States. These dance competitions are for all genres of dance, but there is especially a large number of hip hop freestyle dance competitions.

There are freestyle dance competitions for virtually any age and skill level. Some of the competitions award cash prizes to contestants and others give winners trophies or ribbons.


Is there such a thing as freestyle dance competitions?


This article has helped me explain to my friend, Ember, what freestyle dancing is. She is only my team assistant but really wanted to learn all about freestyle dancing. Especially, me being a professional freestyle dancer, when it is just a bit much to explain to someone who had never heard of Freestyle Dancing. Thanks! Signed, Brit

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