“Progress is the attraction that moves humanity.”
Hip Hop battles are centred on a live exchange whereby dancers face each other for short intervals or ‘rounds’. They employ a range of improvisational choreographic devices and physical communicative techniques to gain victory over their opponent. Typically, a selected panel of judges will decide on the winner of the battle.
Historically, battles have been used in Hip Hop culture as an alternative to physical violence to resolve disputes. Now, they form part of an entire sector of Hip Hop culture which most Urban Dancers in London engage with. Battles have emerged above ground on huge platforms, providing exposure to a multitude of dance styles. I even had a module at university which focus on battle technique and culminated in live 2 vs 2 battles.
Battles, through the employment of judges do exactly what’s expected and place judgement on dancers to determine who is better and should therefore win. Ultimately this is a way for dancers to critically improve and creatively exchange with other dancers. Instilling a healthy competitive nature is an integral part of a lot of sporting activities. However, in the early stages of your dance journey, battling can be a daunting prospect. There are a wealth of dancers who will confidently perform choreography on stage but cannot be subjected to the analytical nature of battles. Ollie Carmichael, co-founder of ‘Progression Session’ (2015) acknowledged this pattern among fearful pre-battlers. In response, he created his own battle event. ‘Progression session’ does exactly what it says on the tin. The event serves as an open invitation for dancers to come and practice dancing in a battle format. Unlike conventional battles, no winner is chosen. Rather, dancers receive constructive feedback from industry professionals. Thus far, this event has served as an experimental, exciting platform for self-expression and growth. Ollie and his co-founder Lee Halls have successfully created a welcoming, inclusive environment in a context where you’d expect rivalry and judgement.
Despite the creation of this authentic platform, the number of disabled participants at ‘Progression Session’ is marginal. I find similar attendance problems with this community when I run by battle events through b.supreme. Even following on from successful workshops in specialist schools, I have great difficulty in encouraging attendance of disabled students at my battle events. This is not a startling acknowledgement by any means. People with disabilities are already judged, stereotyped and discriminated against by conventional society. In turn, they’re not likely to expose themselves to more scrutiny in a battle environment.
In line with The Blair Academy’s ethos of providing accessible Hip Hop dance experiences through inclusive practice, I’d like to place focus on the accessibility of underground Hip Hop style events such as battles. The community focused origins of Hip Hop and it’s original ‘sub culture’ status meant that you would only be aware of the underground happenings of Hip Hop if you had a connection within that scene. Promotion was centred on networking and word of mouth. For me, this is where the apparent barrier lies for those with disabilities to fairly access underground Hip Hop dance events. The very nature of learning about and attending these events requires social interaction and communication, both of which can be impaired if you suffer from a disability. Isolated groups are likely to miss out on the opportunity to engage with such events which in itself seems paradoxical seeing as Hip Hop stems from a culture of giving a voice to those who are marginalised within society.
“ As dancers and practitioners we have a duty to be inclusive to all. Dance for me has always been about the emotion and passion behind a persons project or when that particular dancer battles. Seeing that hunger and enjoyment from dance is a special thing. Progression Session was made through the ethos of a platform for battlers that want to but might not have the courage or the access to do so. Sometimes battling can be daunting but create a safe space for dancers to come, and the culture surrounding it will thrive ! Making sure there is a platform for all should be something we all need to encourage because we forget sometimes where and why we started dancing “
Progression Session Founder
Both Ollie and I feel that we have a responsibility, considering our acknowledgements, to collaboratively work on improved methods of communication for our events. We want to organically increase attendance of disabled dancers at Hip Hop battle events. The consideration which follows this, is whether we should work to make existing events more inclusive, or rather, develop platforms specifically for those with disabilities.
Due to the marginalisation of disabled individuals within society, we feel that it’s appropriate to create platforms specifically designed for people with disabilities as well as increasing the inclusivity of regular events. As a result, The Blair Academy will work alongside Progression Session to form quarterly battle events designed to platform and aid the progression of dancers with disabilities. The way in which we each measure progression against our own ideals is important. Individuals with disabilities may overcome obstacles that are unlikely to ever be presented to able bodied dancers. The way in which feedback is constructed for these individuals requires a highly personalised approach which we hope to achieve through our collaborative events. The dance floor should be a safe space, regardless of whether a battle square has been carved into it, or whether the dancers who fill it match our conventions of what a dancer should be, and how they should move.