Freestyle battle: Women shuffle off masculine ideals on the dance floor

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By CHARLOTTE MORTON

Melbourne’s female freestyle dance community is shuffling into the limelight with an impressive female-only dance battle, Sister Sessions.

In an unassuming building on Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD, a small dance studio provided the backdrop for the fifth Sister Sessions dance battle this time, last week.

Freestyle is a form of dance that showcases creativity and freedom, but for some female dancers, the male dominated community has restricted their expression of femininity.

Co-founder of Sister Sessions, Marnie Newton, said she noticed a lack of female representation in Melbourne’s freestyle community, compared to the thriving community in Sydney.

“It started to get me thinking, ‘What are they doing differently?’,” she said.

Sister Sessions was created last year by Ms Newton and Melissa Lum and is breaking down barriers for upcoming female freestyle dancers entering the dance scene.

Ms Newton said, “your initial step into freestyle is a terrifying thing.”

“I remember when I entered my first freestyle battle, I only did it because the actual price to enter the battle was cheaper than the price to watch,” she said.

“You never feel ready for it. You get 30 seconds, 45 seconds to basically show yourself, but the pressure within that room when you first start is almost unbearable.”

Marnie Newton co-founded Sister Sessions last year to grow the female freestyle community. PHOTO: Charlotte Morton

Aggression and masculinity are common themes in the freestyle battle culture, which has influenced female expression.

Ms Newton said some female dancers will try to match the masculinity by entering a battle wearing baggy clothes and dancing Hip Hop or House, without exploring their identity as a woman. 

Krump dancer battling it out on the dance floor. PHOTO: Charlotte Morton

Ms Newton said, “it can be quite intimidating for females going into that because…the way [male dancers] mock you is devaluing of the dance that you do and the dance style that you relate to.”

“Sister Sessions is really about trying to explore [female expression] as a possibility…just saying to the girls that it’s valid, no matter how you dance, it’s valid.”

Female-expression through dance is being celebrated in Melbourne’s freestyle community. PHOTO: Charlotte Morton

Prominent female Waacking dancer and event organiser, Maggie Zhu, said Sister Sessions fosters an inclusive and creative community.

Freestyle dancers can “discover their individuality, be brave, and be themselves, and incorporate dance with that,” she said.

“It’s good to see that everyone doesn’t have to dance the same. You can have your foundation and everything else is freestyle from that point onwards.”

Prominent Waacking dancer, Maggie Zhu, is paving the way for younger dancers in the community. PHOTO: Charlotte Morton

But for some, gender is of no consequence in the freestyle community.

Hip Hop and House dancer, Miriam Garrido, said “I just like to jam with anyone, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a man or a woman.”

“I think it’s very important to create a supportive environment, maybe not necessarily safe spaces, but just being positive,” she said.

Sister Sessions is helping grow and promote freestyle dance. PHOTO: Charlotte Morton

Female representation is improving in the freestyle dance community because women are coming together and supporting each other through dance.