This is a tale of 2 bboys.
And you may be familiar with either of them.
Our first bboy stays near the city. The kind of city where regional bboy jams are held.
He’s skating his way to practice with speakers in his Crumpler bag. And he’s meeting 2 crewmates at the usual practice spot.
Then, his iPhone rings.
It’s a call from one of them. He picks it up.
The crewmate sounds sincerely apologetic on the phone.
“Yo b, I really can’t make it today. My girl’s asked me for dinner real last minute. You know I can’t say no. Promise I’ll be back next week.”
Next week, he won’t fulfill that promise. Again.
Our bboy sighs. He skates forth. At least there’s the other crewmate. The one who’s always 2 hours late.
You know that friend. The one who honours the bboy punctuality. By the time he turns up, our guy is getting ready to go home. He might as well not be there.
What was supposedly crew training just became solo.
Sucks, doesn’t it? Nobody else is showing the same respect for training as our guy.
Meanwhile, in another country on this pale blue planet…
Our second bboy is practising hard.
But where he stays…
… There’s literally NO OTHER BBOY OR BGIRL for miles around him.
He’s always been a lone wolf in his breaking journey. He travels for hours just to get to the nearest bboy jam. He might even need a plane ticket.
The question is, how does he train? Does he just wing it? Do what he feels like?
Our second bboy can access them with little to no cost (assuming he has internet).
But who’s there to guide him through moments where he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing? When he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know? Or when he’s making major mistakes?
You see, despite the difference in situations…
Both bboys I’ve mentioned have one huge problem in common.
They don’t really know how to train alone.
How different is solo practice from group sessions?
Bboying has been a social-centric dance that involves everyone having fun. It’s a party dance!
But just like the two bboys above, you may face a time where you break alone.
You start off feeling weird. Like, where’s that bboy vibe? How do I dance alone? Those are normal questions to have, BTW.
Realize that breaking alone is not an unusual thing. But it is a different ball game. The principle behind this is simple. People affect how you feel, and how you feel affects how you behave and how you dance.
Without anybody to influence your state of mind, your state of being…
You’re left with nothing but yourself.
Ideally, your training shouldn’t be affected at all. But let’s be realistic. I know how different they feel like, how different the training conditions are.
Maybe you’re asking right now, “Can I train alone?” But I want you to reframe and change that question. Ask yourself instead,
“How do I train alone?”
That is the key question that this guide shall attempt to answer. And to paraphrase the legendary Bruce Lee… You adapt what is useful here and make it your own.
Here, we’ll explore how different the solo and group settings are for breaking.
When alone, you dominate your own space
Typically in a group practice session, you have to be conscious and careful about the space you use. It’s similar to being in a bboy jam. When you cypher, you watch out for how much space you take.
When you’re breaking, others are giving you the space and time (and the DJ’s giving you the beat!). They let anybody in the circle. And you have fun doing your stuff.
When you’re done with the space, you expect yourself to move aside. So you do it. This is out of respect for the shared space with others. Maybe you don’t really ask yourself why, but you just do.
To spell it out for you,
You don’t want to occupy the imaginary cypher spot and be a selfish asshole.
I mean, others want their turn too. Even if it’s just a huge studio or room without any actual circles going on… Others want to know that they can use the center of the room.
That’s why you move away.
A friend of mine was breaking in the Gamblerz Crew studio. And he told me that everyone who wasn’t using the space to dance would literally stick one arm against the wall. That’s real effective in creating space. Especially when you are a bunch of bboys who are going to try huge power move combos.
And it isn’t just limited to power moves as you can see here in how Skill Methodz practice:
The problem with taking turns to use the space is this.
If it’s really crowded, you may end up just sitting aside. And not milk every moment of your practice hour.
But when you train solo…
There’s nobody around you, so you won’t have to care too much about space control. You can be done with your moves and nobody will chase you out of the dance floor.
I’ll share with you how to best make good use of your solo space in the next chapter.
You’ll notice there’s no social influence (and vibe)
This is the biggest difference you’ll notice between the two types of practices.
In a group – whether you’re with your crew mates or just random bboys and bgirls – you have more ideas bouncing around in your head. When someone else does a move, you will take notice.
You will see what moves people are practicing… Stuff you’ve never done or thought of before. Your creative neurons will fire up with ideas like fireworks on Independence Day.
And you may also feel like throwing down more moves just because others are doing the same. Sometimes you just get an idea or a memory jog. When triggered, you’re gonna go, “Oh yeah, I have an old move that’s similar to what that guy just did!”
And then you build upon stuff that others are doing in the same vicinity as you.
Even if it isn’t about the moves, you find yourself getting different feelings just by being with different people. That’s the vibe you get from a person, or a group.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll find good vibes from some people.
These people give you the feeling that you can break more and break better. Instead of a meh reaction, you find yourself wanting to do more stuff with certain people.
Of course, there are intimidating strangers or people you have beef with…
Especially if you use a public spot. You may just lose the mood or feeling to dance. You lose whatever ideas that you were about to give birth to. You can’t help but feed off the shitty, negative energy in the area.
Understand that the vibe of the group is something that’s not always in your control.
On the other hand…
When you’re alone, you have zero social distractions.
That’s when you can really focus on yourself. You can have all the time and freedom to doing whatever you want (having a goal for each solo practice session will be useful here).
Understand that you may become more self conscious at the same time. And because of those self-conscious thoughts, you may end up feeling less of everything. This can seem ironic, especially when you thought nobody was judging you.
In reality, you can be your own worst critic and judge. You are the reason for being overly conscious.
I’ll also address this later on.
You have the freedom to choose your music
With other people in a practice spot, you’re subject to their music choices. Not a big issue really, considering how you’re also subject to the DJ’s taste at a jam.
And if it isn’t a studio, usually there’s somebody with a speaker who would play his or her beat collection.
What if that person’s music taste really sucks? What if they don’t know what breakbeats are good?
You can politely request to play your own beats. Or ask if they can play tracks by DJ Fleg or DJ Lean Rock on SoundCloud (they’re dope for practice sessions):
- DJ Fleg – Chelles Mixtape
- DJ Lean Rock & DJ B Ryan – Free In The Style
- DJ Nobunaga – World Bboy Classic
The above is sufficient to get you started on your mixtape exploration, cheers.
Your mindset shifts: where did the discipline go?
When you’re with others, you may have planned to train some stuff together with your circle of closer bboys. It can be as direct as telling your guys you want to play a footwork game, or Horse (it’s a freeze stacking game). Or you may end up cyphering with your buddies without anyone explicitly saying so.
All those are great exercises for training when you’re with others.
Meanwhile, when you’re alone, your mindset should remain the same… Ideally.
But it won’t.
You may just feel like you deserve to rest (more than you initially planned to).
In other words, there’s a good chance you become lazier.
Without social distractions – training related or otherwise – you’ll feel your own pain and fatigue more than you normally do.
You may even say “Okay that was not bad. I’m taking a 5 minute break first.”
Then walk to the nearest mini-mart…
Grab an ice cream or a bag of chips…
Start playing with that strategy game on your smartphone (or start swiping on Tinder/whatever app you’re using)…
Then you return to training after HALF AN HOUR.
Not really effective, is it?
Maybe you haven’t slacked off as badly as the exaggerated example above. But in any case, such behaviour isn’t being fair or honest to yourself either.
And the worst thing is, nobody but YOU will know you’ve been cheating yourself.
How can you make sure you don’t fall into such predictable potholes?
You still want to take advantage of your solo practice time without committing the easily avoidable mistakes.
How do I approach bboy practice alone?
Now, I’ll show you how to take advantage of solo time.
If you’re not used to training alone, I want you to absorb the following lessons.
Learn to be in tune with yourself and the music
You already know that nobody is around you. There’s no social influence. Nobody to bounce off any ideation with but also nobody to distract you.
Being alone is a golden opportunity to be in tune with your own mood. Your own vibe, so to speak. And you do according to what you feel.
Feeling slow and mellow? Play slow and mellow music (think: Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest, or What’s Golden by Jurassic 5).
Go slow and keep flowing in and out of moves. Expand your movements at a pace where you can think as you move. You may get stuck. You may take a moment to pause. The key point is to help you grease out the parts you often get stuck at.
Or what if you’re just pent up and feeling rage? Like a rodeo bull? Then try some of your old moves at a faster, more energetic pace. Of course don’t compromise your cleanliness. Channel your emotions and energy into your movement.
Or you can try new moves that need speed. How do you determine whether it does? You’ve got to experiment at times. You can even try it with music like this:
More commonly, you may just be feeling kinda, meh. Like it’s a pretty neutral day you’re having.
What I’d do is that I’d train my freezes. In freezes, I don’t think too much about what I’m feeling in the freeze. That comes from HOW I do the freeze (e.g. do I snap into a freeze? Or do I go slow into it?).
Now I’m just focusing on WHAT freezes I’m doing.
And there’s no excuse for me not to hit the freeze. You either are capable of doing it… Or you simply need more practice.
And the above are just 3 examples of how you can adapt your training to your mood.
From my own experience, I focus on what makes me happy as a bboy. And how do I know what makes me happy? It’s when I answer my own questions before I begin practising alone:
- How do I want to progress today?
- What new ideas am I willing to try?
Ask yourself, how are you feeling today? How can you be constructive with your mood and energy?
Drills: when you really have no idea what to do, this is your training safety net
This is an alternative training to those days that you feel “meh” about, as mentioned in the above point.
When you don’t have an emotional inclination that day, work on stuff that involve other aspects of you. It could be about the physicality of your move. For instance, how hard or easy it is to transit, how much stamina you have, how your form looks etc.
Furthermore, your drills don’t have to be complicated.
They can be as simple as drilling the following:
- Handstands for 16 counts of 8
- 20 rounds of 6 steps (but at your own pace)
- Freeze stacks for 10 sets
- Doing 2 mini-sets or routines for 10 sets
If you want to switch things up, you can try different types of drills. It could be transiting from 1 footwork set into a set that involves power. It could be freestyling before you end off with the same freeze stack.
There’s no limitations as to what you can drill. And bboys often neglect this aspect of their own training.
So go ahead, try out different drills when you’re really all out of ideas. You can even take the package of 3 drills I suggested above. It’s enough to exhaust most people who don’t drill consistently.
And speaking of trying different things…
Experimentation: The best time to break barriers is now – do what EMBARASSES you
Remember that you’re alone at practice.
Take advantage of this because with people around, you tend to show moves you’re better at. You may have an unconscious tendency to not do moves you’re still working on. Sets that are under construction.
So you can try what I do.
Avoid repeating what I’m already strong at, or what you’ve been doing all along.
Throw aside your comfort moves and do something that pushes you.
The key principle behind experimentation isn’t to grab around for a new idea in total darkness.
The key principle is to push your boundaries of what you’re aware of.
To put it across simply, here are the fundamental ways to improve your awareness of your dance:
- Techniques (how can I do this technical movement like windmill better?)
- Movement (how can I move my body in 10 different ways for the same sweep?)
- Different moods in the same move (how can I show mellowness or joy in the same set or move?)
- Awareness of music (how I can interpret – and play with – the different layers, instruments, or rhythm?)
I’m highlighting different major aspects of expanding your boundaries. And these aspects I mentioned? They’re just a small fragment of what you have yet to discover.
And when you expand boundaries, know that it’s okay to feel stuck, feel awkward, feel out of place.
Because that’s when you don’t know what lies ahead. You don’t know exactly how it will turn out.
That’s the spirit of experimentation. You never know until you try.
And the whole point of simply trying is to overcome the frustration of “What if this isn’t dope/fresh/original enough?”
If you think too much about being original, you’re gonna be stuck some day. The most stupid or easy movements can be dope; don’t dig too deep!
– Bboy Menno
You may have ideas that seem really stupid, or goofy, or just plain simple. But you need to attempt them. Go for it. Try it out. Only then will you find out what you can slip into comfortably.
Part of the dance is to find out about who you are. More importantly, it’s about accepting yourself.
By the way,
I’m not telling you to forgo moves you can do comfortably already. For instance, you may be good with routine A and routine B separately. But are you good at LINKING routine A to B? If not, you can still tinkle and tweak your transitions.
Even scientists experiment with things that are somewhat familiar to them. But they can test something out by tweaking just one small condition.
And you don’t need to think like a scientist. Tinker around! Just like the inventors of chocolate chip cookies. Or the cornflake. Both were accidental discoveries (omnomnom).
So, unless your intention is to maintain standards when you’re practising alone (see above about drilling)…
Don’t stay within your comfort zone.
Be your own second pair of eyes: record yourself
Got a smartphone or a video camera?
Then this is a step that’s as easy as ABC. To improve faster, you want a feedback loop that’s fast. In other words…
… You want to be able to receive an immediate response to “How does my breaking look like right now?”
Otherwise, how are you going to know what you need to improve on?
Without a sense of what IS, how do you know what SHOULD BE?
When nobody is observing, it makes it difficult to judge your dance all on your own. How do you know you’re not deluding or cheating yourself?
In that case, here’s what you gotta do:
- Find a suitable angle (and distance) to record your own self dancing. Make sure you can cover your range of movement (especially if you’re moving back and forth or across the floor).
- Dance! It can be a new set that you want to observe its current form. It can be a set you want to refine. It can just be you freestyling and you want to see how your flow goes. As long as you have an aim in mind, it helps to have a more focused recording session.
- Review time! Like I said above, be focused with what you want to do. Then you have more quality footage to review. Otherwise you may just end up not knowing what you wanted to achieve.
- Keep the relevant footage. You want to be able to revisit your old moves sometimes, or your old technique. And knowing what to keep helps you decide on what you like better about your own dance too.
What if you don’t have a smartphone or video camera? The next best thing you can do for yourself is to find a practice spot with a mirror or reflective surface.
That’s why dancers love studios.
They can better tell what they’re doing on the spot.
To check their form.
And sometimes just tell themselves they’re looking good.
What’s Next For My Own Training?
You’ve practically taken your first step – or two – in maximizing your own solo practice sessions.
What’s wise for you do next is to be able to train with a particular goal in mind.
Not just some fluffy goal surrounded by a fog of grandeur. I’m talking about REALISTIC goals that you can actually take steps towards.
Here’s a comprehensive article on goal-setting specifically for your breaking journey (sounds simple, but we’re often deceived by ourselves).
If you already have your own goals for solo practice, the next thing to ensure is that you have the ability to stick to the goals. Willpower, motivation, inspiration… They exist. But they drain out quickly over time. And I’m sure you know how lazy we can be as bboys and bgirls.
We tend to be even lazier when we’re training alone. No one is there to watch, and we’re tired and full of excuses.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
But hey, I’ve got you covered there too. Avoid falling into the lack-of-discipline trap. You can start by downloading our training habit guide and start applying its principles.
I’m sure the guide will be a big help in kickstarting your progress again.
And if you’re still lost or confused then… Leave me a comment below and let’s see what we can do.