How to win a dance battle

How to stop choking in dance battles | by Jason Pu

Source: Key and Peele

“The adrenaline that leaves him nervous before every battle ends up helping him in his performances.”

That’s straight from a bio of Sunni, one of the best breakers in the world, holding titles like 1st place in the 2016 and 2017 UK B-boy Championships 1v1 competition.

Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, it’s completely normal to feel jittery or anxious before a dance battle. This feeling can take over our bodies and cause us to freeze, and not in the b-boy sense — it’s the dreaded “choke.”

One common phenomenon at work here is the fight-or-flight response, which helped our prehistoric ancestors survive, yet gives us butterflies when we speak in public.

The fight-or-flight response is a stress response caused by a perceived danger or threat. Dance battles aren’t really dangerous (Stomp the Yard bamboozled us). However, the competitive aspect of battling can still trigger the response. When “flight” takes over, we choke. Try the following tips to avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety in your next battle:

  • Be prepared to win, or at least believe you can. Dance battles aren’t so scary if you’re all set with your own moves and strategy. Good preparation allows you to tilt the scales towards “fight” over “flight,” action over choking. When your opponent still seems more skilled than you, it’s time to use the concept of perceived control: belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes. A study of elementary school students showed that higher perceived control leads to higher engagement, and thus better performance.
  • Get enough sleep. You might be thinking that these tips are way too obvious, but this one is worth repeating. Sleep regulates the reactivity of the amygdala, a part of the brain that is involved in processing emotions. Sleep deprivation leads to overreactions to negative stimuli — in other words, you’re more likely to choke under pressure if you don’t get a good night’s sleep.
Sleep makes a difference! (Source: Yoo et al., 2007)
  • Cognitive reappraisal is an emotional regulation technique that involves looking at situations from alternative perspectives. Some questions to ask yourself are “What’s really the worst that could happen, and would I live through it?” or “If I were in a better mood, how might I be thinking about this situation?” Your answers should help you to feel more balanced, and once again, avoid failing in high-pressure situations.

The key is to managing the fight-or-flight response so that it helps you more than it hurts you. You’ll need to find your own sweet spot — everyone has different emotional reactivity levels and thresholds.

For example, some people perform well under stress, especially those that harness aggression in their dance. These individuals can be lenient with regulating their emotional response, because they’re more comfortable with the increase in adrenaline. B-boy Gravity could be considered this type of dancer. He responds to energy and aggression twofold, and tends to crank up the intensity of the battles that he’s in.

The rest of us should try to be more mindful of our emotional reactions. We’ll still get increased energy from our bodies’ inevitable adrenal response, but hopefully less of the extreme heart rate, tunnel vision, shaking, etc.

It’s that simple — you are less likely to choke if you’re prepared, rested, and in a healthy state of mind. A little luck never hurts, though.

This concludes Part 1 of How to Stop Choking in Dance Battles. Do you feel a little more confident about strutting your stuff? If you could use some more guidance, click here for Part 2. We’ll look more closely at motor skills and how we can prevent them from failing in crucial moments.

As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or feedback. Follow me on Instagram @glissando for the latest updates, and please share to spread the knowledge. Thanks for reading — peace!

the rules of street dance competitions

© Little Shao/Red Bull Content Pool

Street dance battles follow their own rules, and sometimes they’re not that easy to understand. Here's a basic rundown to help you follow and understand all the elements of a competition battle.

By Emmanuel Adelekun

8 min readPublished on

These are the basics for competitions

O'trip House doing a routine

© Little Shao/Red Bull Content Pool

Most competitions are straight knockout battles. Some involve two individual dancers competing against each other in one-on-one battles, but you also have competitions where teams of dancers, known as crews, compete against each other. These crews can be anything from two dancers in each crew, up to eight or ten dancers, and sometimes more.

In crew battles dance routines involving anything from two members to the whole crew, are usually allowed to be performed when it is that crew's round. The other crew do not have to do a routine in response if they don't want to, it is completely up to each crew to decide what they do in each round unless the competition's specific rules say otherwise.

Individuals, or crews, dance one at a time in the middle of the dance floor. There is a chosen number of times each dancer, or crew, gets to dance, called rounds.

Dancers go back and forth, doing their rounds, until they have finished and then the chosen panel of judges individually decide who they believe won the battle by pointing at their personally chosen winner, or holding up a card with their winner's name on it.

Check out an example in the clip below:

6 min

Shigekix vs Alkolil – final battle

B-Boys Shigekix and Alkolil battle each other for the Red Bull BC One World Final 2020 title.


The winner of the battle goes on to the next round and the loser is knocked out of the competition.

This goes on until there are two dancers, or two crews, left, at which point there is a final battle and an overall winner of the event is chosen.

Logistx is the Red Bull BC One B-Girl champion of 2021

© Romina Amato / Red Bull Content Pool

How many competitors are in a competition?

The average number of dancers picked to battle in a competition is usually 16 individual dancers or eight to 16 crews, competing in one chosen style, or in a mixed styles battle. But there can be anything from four to 32 dancers, or crews, competing in the main battle.

To compete in the main battle the dancers must first be picked from a qualification, in which they earn the right to compete in the main event by being picked by the judges. There can be anything from 30 up to 500 dancers entering a qualification, which is usually done in five different ways:

  1. A Showcase Round: This is where the dancers are called up to perform, one by one, in front of the judges. Their performance is scored and when everyone has been seen by the judges, they then pick the dancers with the highest scores to compete in the main competition.

  2. Showcase Battles: In this dancers, or crews, compete against each other in showcase battles that usually are only one round each, or have a time limit if it's crews. No winner is picked from the battle, the dancers are simply scored by the judges on their performance in the battle and the judges pick the highest scoring dancers, or crews, to compete in the main competition.

  3. Cypher Qualification: A Cypher is the term used when dancers gather in a circle and, one-by-one, dance inside that circle. Some competitions use this to determine who will be picked for the main competition. When this happens the DJ will usually play music for anything from 30 minutes up to an hour and a half. Dancers usually are given a sticker with a number on it and then form their cyphers and simply dance as much as they want. The judges go from circle to circle watching the dancers and writing down the numbers of the ones who impress them the most. Once the time limit is up the judges get together and find out which numbers they all wrote down and these are the ones picked to battle in the main competition.

  4. Being a winner of a previous Qualification Battle: This is when the dancers chosen to compete in the main competition are winners of another competition, in which they won the right to then compete at this later one.

  5. By Invitation: The fifth and last one is through simple Invitation. This is when a dancer has earned a well known reputation through doing well at, and winning, various competitions locally or internationally, and so are then invited by an event promoter to come and compete at their competition.

Who are the judges and what is their job?

Judges are usually well-known, respected dancers who have earned their place on the panel through years of competing and winning, or from being known for their historical contribution to the dance scene.

Competitions always have an odd number of judges to avoid ties, and usually are a panel of three or five individuals.

Each judge usually only has one vote in each battle and the winner of a battle is the dancer who gets the most votes.

The judges point at the winner

© Gianfranco Tripodo/Red Bull Content Pool

Sometimes there ends up being a tied decision, which usually happens in two ways:

  1. Judges themselves are allowed to use their individual vote as a tie if they believe the battle is drawn. This can result in the battle itself being a tie if all the judges vote a tie.

  2. If one judge votes a tie and then the other judges evenly vote separate ways.

If this happens the competing dancers, or crews, will then have to battle one more round for the judges to then vote on again. If there is another tie then the dancers do another round, and will continue to do this until the judges come to a decision that isn't a tie.

But, if all the judges, apart from one, vote a tie, then the dancer who gets that one vote is the winner.

What are the judges looking for to determine the winner?

To make their decision, judges usually all have a general criteria which consists of about eight elements that they all look at. In no particular order, these are...


How well a breaker connects with and expresses the music through their dance.


Showcasing mastery of the basics top rock and footwork steps, go downs, transitions, freezes and power moves.


How well a breaker expresses their personality through their dance.

Difficulty of movement

The level of dynamic movement a breaker possesses and showcases.


If a breaker showcases a way of moving that’s unique to them.


Performing moves in a clean and secure way, without messing up.

Composition of round

Telling a story with your round, having a beginning, middle and end that makes sense and flows.


Coming up with fresh variations on existing moves, or completely new, and creative moves, and ways of moving that the judges haven't seen before.

When the battle is a straight one-on-one knockout competition, judges will take the whole criteria into account, with each judge deciding for themselves which elements carry more weight than others. But when a battle follows a different concept or format, certain elements of the criteria can then become more important than others and change how a judge judges a competition.

Here's a list of four different competition formats and what criteria elements might carry more weight in the judge's decision for each one:

  1. Qualification/Showcase/Prelim Rounds: Judges can only pick a small number of qualifying breakers in these and they have to be strict in their scoring to make their selection, and so 'execution' becomes one of the biggest elements in their criteria. Any mess-ups or crashes from breakers failing badly to execute their moves makes it a lot easier for a judge to narrow down their picks, and score that breaker low. Character also plays a big role here, as does 'difficulty of movement'.

  2. Cypher king/queen competitions: Style, character, and 'musicality' usually are the more valued elements on a judge's criteria, for a cypher competition, which take place in the circles that breakers form and, one-by-one, dance inside. Breakers will usually be given a sticker to wear with a number. Judges will then spend the time watching the cyphers and writing down the numbers of the breakers who impress them the most. (Sometimes the judges are unknown and could be one of the breakers in the cyphers.) Once the time limit is up the judges then get together, decide who impressed all of them the most and then that person is crowned the cypher king or queen.

  3. Crew battles: Those who are judging a crew battle are usually called upon to grade multiple numbers of rounds from each side; this could be as few as the rounds each in a three-on-three battle, or up to as many as 16 rounds per crew if it's a full eight-on-eight crew battle with somewhere in the region of a 15-minute time limit. The unique thing about a crew battle is that it gives a chance for each side to showcase every element in a judge's criteria by strategically sending out breakers who are strong in particular criteria elements. This means that a good crew can dedicate the order of the criteria the judges use with the strategy with which they send out their team members.


Watch as crews showcase their skills at the 30th anniversary of Battle of the Year in Montpellier, France.

The exception: crowd-judged battles

Some events, like Red Bull Dance Your Style, are judged by the audience, who might not understand the technicalities of dancing but are fans who come to enjoy the competition. When crowds are judging, usually the highest things on the criteria becomes difficulty of movement and character. If a breaker can drive a crowd crazy by doing spectacular, unbelievable, high-level moves, the crowd are usually more likely to vote for that dancer. Musicality is also big here but usually has to be executed to a very high level for an audience of fans to really understand and see. A crowd isn't usually too concerned with execution, foundation, or how a round is put together. They usually want to be wowed with moves and drawn in by a dancer's character.

Crowd voting at Dance Your Style

© Alex Grymanis/Red Bull Content Pool

Battle-story: where did wall-to-wall dance battles come from

Battle is a huge part of the history of breakdancing. The battles of the dancers are the main incentives for the constant development of the dance, the emergence of its new directions. This is because one of his commandments is never to repeat the movements of an opponent. However, about the commandments a little lower.

For starters, history.

The history of battles

It all started not with breakdancing, but with African tribal dances. Several centuries ago, thousands of tribes coexisted on the southern mainland, which periodically had to solve pressing geopolitical issues: the places of hunting and living were divided. After bloody and brutal savage wars, too few people remained in the composition of the communities for further offensives. The Papuans decided to sort things out without bloodshed. They gathered in neutral territory and competed in dexterity (dancing) and crafts. The winner was determined by representatives of other tribes. As a reward, the land was occupied for one year, after which the ancient "battle" was held again.

The tradition was revived by black dancers in the first half of the 20th century. In those days, the predecessors of breakdancing were gaining popularity - fast jazz and step. Clubs began to invite the best dancers to their stage, for which the latter received little money. The work was prestigious and classy, ​​there were many dancers, but not so many clubs. Battles arose as a way to resolve the issue of who should go on stage and earn money this time. Absolutely anyone familiar with dance basics could challenge any dancer to a duel and announce this to the owner of the club who provided the venue. If the newcomer managed to oust the permanent resident, then he got the place of an opponent in the ranks of the club. "Grandfather" at the same time went to catch luck in other institutions. The winner of the battle was determined by the audience, but now more and more often this duty is given to the host, who, however, uses the audience as a jury.

If guys fought in jazz clubs, then girls fought in traditional night clubs. In battles, they demonstrated erotic plasticity and striptease skills, crowding out other dancers.

Battles among breakdancers began almost immediately with the advent of the dance itself - in the early 70s. During this time, the battles went beyond the original goal - making money. Almost all street championships were held in the battle format.

The best battle in the world

Forty years of history, battles have spawned hundreds of legendary battles that are now retold by word of mouth.

Perhaps the most famous of them is the battle between dancers Lilou and Hong 10 in 2005 at the popular hip-hop festival Red Bull BC One. The winner was the Afro-French dancer Lilou, who later became the world's first two-time winner of this competition. His South Korean rival, Hong 10, became the second two-time Red Bull BC One champion (in 2006 and 2013). They are still considered the best dancers in the world, so their battle is especially interesting to watch. Even after five years and not live, but on YouTube.

Ten commandments for battle participants

No one remembers the author of these commandments, but they accurately reflect what is happening on the dance floor, so we can't ignore them.

  • Do not sleep!
  • Never show your entire "arsenal" of moves
  • Never make moves that are not yet perfected
  • Do not use multiple "outputs" at one time
  • Never repeat your opponent's moves (usually the list of exceptions are those cases when, after repeating, you complete your opponent's movement with a spectacular ending)
  • Less words, more concentration.
  • The battle is won not by movement, but by thought.
  • If this is a battle - let me know about it, influence the unconscious!
  • Look only at your opponent.
  • Know how to accept your defeat.

Finally, our own rule: know how to win. Sometimes, a beautiful victory is even more difficult than a beautiful defeat.


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