Shake up your frozen pizza! The rambling exuberance of dancing on TikTok | To dance


TikTok is made for dancing. The most popular TikToker – Charli D’Amelio, 17, with 9.9 billion likes – is a dancer, or started as such. And it is the platform that launched or disseminated a thousand dance trends, from #toosieslide to #TheGitUpChallenge, including Floss, Dougie and Milly Rock.

Unlike Instagram pros or archival YouTube performances, TikTok is pretty much the sheer bliss of dancing, whoever you are. Size, shape, experience, and natural grace are irrelevant. It’s basically the school playground at large, the silly routines and memes that once went on, with everyone mimicking the lyrics of everything that was on Top of the Pops last night.

Viral dancing has exploded, especially during the lockdown, when teens dragged their entire families into playtime routines: Tilly Ramsay and her father Gordon are one of them. It’s often impossible to know where the dances started – D’Amelio got into trouble for not crediting the choreographers. Such (important) things get lost because TikTok is driven by the need to share rather than own.

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To go viral, a routine has to be simple enough that anyone gets a stab: a few atomized hand gestures, standing in place – it forces creativity because of its restrictions. The dominant styles are hip-hop and street dance, commercial pop video movements, and footsteps from African and Caribbean social dance. It dates back to the 50s and 60s when everyone knew how to make mashed potatoes or the twist. People don’t seem to behave like the whole world can watch them. This hair-raising quality is what gives it its exuberance.

But there are also big names. As the director of the New York City Ballet (and social media queen) Tiler Peck, doing Broadway routines and backstage larks. Or the super-slick dance troupe the Rockettes doing All That Jazz as part of the #fossechalenge. Leonora Voigtlander of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (leonora221) is filmed behind the scenes, in a “guess the ballet” challenge. Broadway Tap Dancer Cory lingner uses TikTok’s split screen feature for duet with Gene Kelly and Shirley Temple.

American ballet theater Isabelle Boylston took the #esmeralda challenge, dance an evil solo from the ballet La Esmeralda, using a frozen pizza where normally you would have a tambourine. Miko_Fogarty later tried it in a science lab wearing full PPE. TikTok is where ballet dancers drop the facade, show off their red toes and inner voices. Katelyn_Power has a fun tale telling silly ballet plots and posting videos with headlines like “reasons ballet will be the end of me”.

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There are so many different dance styles: many types of cheerleaders dancing to exciting hip hop lyrics; two construction workers dance on Oasis and Elton John on a construction site (@ctdiaries); Tightly choreographed tutting from Italy @urbantheory_ or hip hop and afro dance by the Ghanaian / German choreographer Isaac kyere, even flamenco TikTok style, in short shorts and duets side by side by @ myriamlucia.flamencas. There is a questioning of gender norms (see Harper Watters of the Houston Ballet, @theharperwatters) and celebrating body positivity – in one clip, a girl drops her substantial belly fat and happily rocks it to the beat of the music.

More interestingly, dancing permeates things not danced as well. The UN has launched a dance challenge to campaign for investment in rural youth. And #QuestionsIGetAsked has its own dance, where TikTokers hand jives while correcting people’s assumptions about them whether they’re an emo fan (Matt Cutshall), a GB sprinter (Laviai Nielsen) or an Auschwitz survivor (Lily ebert). It seems so hit and miss, but like any cultural code, once you’ve been trained to look at a few, it starts to make sense. And you will be sucked in.


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