Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of Muhd Faris bin Azamshah
Since it blew up when the world went into quarantine, TikTok has become a hub for subcultures of all kinds, including a revival of early 2000s trends, a growing witch community, and even ghost hunters. But one TikTok genre reigns supreme; even if you’re not on the app, you must have heard about the viral dances. Yes, the ones that get everyone — from your favorite social media influencers to your high school teachers — down with a serious case of the boogie bug.
And I really mean everyone.I'm tragically untalented when it comes to remembering dance moves but in tracking the steady rotation of viral TikTok dances, I couldn’t help but notice that they all looked uncannily similar. From cutesy hits like “Renai Circulation” and the “Vivi Trend,” to the more aggressive and bass-heavy “Grape Jelly” and “Rake It Up,” TikTokers flaunt their moves while grooving with a certain je ne sais quoi. Yet, no one seems to be talking about how TikTok dance moves are pretty much recycled from one another. Watch enough and you’ll notice that they’re … all the same.And I needed to know why. So, I reached out to dance experts and TikTokers to find out more about this distinctive TikTok dance style. “I definitely think that TikTok has created a new dance style among Gen Zs and TikTokers,” said Izzy Busnardo, an 18-year-old student and TikToker, confirming that my initial suspicion wasn’t simply me being illiterate in dance choreography.“Tiktok is weirdly transforming into a dance genre itself,” said Muhd Faris bin Azamshah, a 21-year-old student in Singapore and an avid dancer. “Even professional dance companies and dancers [are] incorporating TikTok moves in their choreography.” So, what are the dance moves that are commonly featured in TikTok dances?“Definitely finger guns with a wiggle of the hips,” said Izzy, adding that chest banging and the dice roll are also popular dance moves.
“The body roll, hip [or] booty rolls, or arm moves like claps and rolls, you just can't avoid them, they're everywhere, and here to stay,” said Rhiam Bichri, a New York-based dancer who shares tips on perfecting dance techniques on TikTok. “If I think TikTok, I think ‘Oh, the Woah,’” said Nika Kermani, a dance instructor and owner of NK STUDIOS, a dance studio in Bingen, Washington.Turns out, the format of TikTok videos — a vertical shot typically featuring just the upper body — is a major reason for the popularity of these dance moves.“There is almost less coordination involved because in order to stay in [the] frame of the video, most of the time your legs aren’t shown,” said Izzy.“Definitely smaller movements, I’ve noticed in TikTok dances,” said Nika, citing the “Renegade” as an example of a routine with mostly upper body movement. But Nika also noted that this isn’t always the case. “When I first started doing TikTok about a year ago, most of the moves were waist-up or knees-up at least,” she said. “But lately I’ve been seeing more footwork videos.”Nika shares tutorials of TikTok dances on her own channel, which has become wildly popular among users trying to learn viral routines.Many also think that the distinctive style of TikTok dances goes far beyond just dance moves.
“I would say that a TikTok dance is less about moves and more about the energy and the personality,” said Nika. “You’ll see people who literally are doing hardly anything in a TikTok dance and yet it goes viral just ‘cause the energy that they’re giving or the personality that they convey in that video is just so engaging and kinda mesmerizing to watch.”Then there’s the low barrier to entry for many TikTokers hoping to create something fun.“Many TikTok dances are super accessible,” said Nika. “It’s really popularizing dance [and] making dance cool.”Izzy, the student TikToker, agrees. “Dance creators make most of the dances really fun and energetic to songs that are currently trending. A lot of the dances are really catchy and I find myself wanting to learn them all,” she said.The interpersonal aspect also plays a part in how TikTok dances are choreographed. “You feel like you’re FaceTiming that person when you watch their TikTok,” said Nika. “TikTok dances are different because they are pretty much [designed] for the sole purpose of posting on TikTok,” said Izzy. While dances traditionally featured a social aspect — think dance-offs or a dance hall — TikTok dances are often recorded by creators alone, with the only social aspect being the imaginary connection between the dancer and their future phone-scrolling viewers.Dancers also told me that what may look like a homogenous “TikTok style” to untrained eyes, may actually be an amalgamation of wholly different influences.“Many TikTok dances have roots in hip-hop but also pull from so many other styles like belly dancing, dancehall dance moves, [and] jazz funk,” said Rhiam. “The big difference is that traditional dance styles put a big focus on technique … with TikTok dances, the choreographers leave room to showcase the dancer’s personality, facial expressions, style, and really who they are.”Ultimately, considering the cornucopia of content on TikTok and the brutally short attention span of the average viewer, what makes a viral TikTok dance is actually a combination of several factors. “[TikTokers] just have to be so engaging so fast,” Nika said. “You have to be dancing, you have to be giving personality, you have to have a cool outfit, you have to have a good caption. There are so many factors that make a really successful TikTok dance.”