How Dancing Became the Worldwide Trend TodayNovember 16, 2022
People from all over the world dance choreographies from the Internet. What sounds like a gimmick is a paradoxical phenomenon. In a world that is becoming increasingly digital, it is considered desirable to be able to move as smoothly as possible.
The viewer has seen all these movements somewhere before. The Twist, for example, is where you turn your foot on the floor as if you wanted to squeeze out a cigarette. Or the Charleston, where the posture is a little reminiscent of someone who has pressure on the bladder.
We are located in an offshoot of the Lordz Dance Academy in Zurich-West. Here today three women and three men attend a dance lesson for the style shuffle dance. From a layman’s point of view, amateur dancers are advanced in what they do. How they move their legs to the beat of the song “Watermelon Sugar” by singer Harry Styles, how they kick, pirouette and keep their upper bodies still – that seems easy and cheerful. The women’s hair tied into a horse’s tail jumps to the beat, and sneakers squeak on the parquet.
“And now Running Man!” shouts the instructor, announcing the most important step of the shuffle. The feet move as when walking but are immediately pulled back again. This looks like someone who runs but can’t get off the ground. Shuffle is English and stands for shuffling. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk comes to mind.
A St. Gallen resident is the Shuffle Queen
Shuffle dancing is one of the best examples of a type of dance that has made it from the underground to the mainstream thanks to social media. It allegedly originated sometime in the 80s and 90s in the clubs of Melbourne, Australia, where young people celebrated electronic music in the form of house and acid house. Later, the style spilled over to England, the Netherlands, Asia, and the USA, but remained largely unknown outside the techno scene.
That changed about two years ago when particularly gifted shufflers began to draw attention to their skills with videos on social media platforms. Among them is the Swiss Arina Luisa from St. Gallen. The 22-year-old is now followed by more than 70,000 people on Instagram, and her workshops in Switzerland and Germany are fully booked. The Lordz Dance School has been offering the shuffle course in Zurich-West weekly for a year now, subject to safety regulations regarding Corona.
She learned almost all the steps thanks to the video platform Tiktok, says course participant Mery Stoller (29). The architectural illustrator from Zurich wears leggings printed with comic motifs, a black tank top, and white sneakers. “Social media encourages dancing,” she says. “They arouse interest in a particular style and offer interested parties the opportunity to teach themselves the first steps of this style.”
Surfing the lockdown thanks to dance videos
In addition to shuffle dancing, hip-hop, Latin and reggaeton dances are also booming on social media. “I watch a video of a dancer umpteen times and try to copy the movements,” says Stoller. Some users offer tutorials – video tutorials in which they explain a process step by step. It takes a lot of discipline to teach yourself dance steps at home, says Stoller. “But it got me through the lockdown.”
Of all the social media platforms, Tiktok is the most focused on this do-it-yourself attitude. Tiktok offers users not only the opportunity to watch videos but also to film themselves dancing to music, adding special effects to the result and making it accessible to everyone. Today, you can even buy TikTok likes to get more followers.
Since its launch in 2016, the Chinese company, which owns Tiktok, has extended the maximum allowed duration of videos from 15 to 30 seconds and most recently to three minutes. Dance videos will probably continue to be short in the future. Because that’s what makes them successful. The choreographies are so simple that anyone can acquire them. In the USA, the largest market for TikTok users outside of China, parents sometimes dance along to the videos posted by their children.
Many of the pop songs that users move to set records thanks to their presence on Tiktok. “Blinding Lights” by singer The Weeknd, for example, spent 19 weeks at number one on the Billboard radio charts last summer – longer than any song before it. Or “Rasputin” by Boney M. from 1987. 43 years after its first release, the disco hit made it back into the Swiss charts thanks to Tiktok last May. Both songs are the soundtrack for so-called dance challenges.
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Ramming your hips into the ground to «WAP»
“Challenge” means challenge. The dance challenges are about rehearsing a short, predetermined choreography to a certain song, dancing it alone or in a group in front of the camera, and putting the result online. It must be because there is a kind of sense of community when thousands perform the same dance. In any case, people almost greedily accepted the “dance challenges” in times of social distancing.
For example, the Zug police danced to the song “Jerusalema” by Master KG in combat gear to a text sung in Zulu, a choreography inspired by African dances. Just like the staff of the Paraplegic Centre in Nottwil or the nuns of a convent in Fulda, Germany. A little less youth-free, but just as successful was the dance challenge to the song “WAP” by rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, which at one point involves ramming his hips into the ground. Other songs with successful challenges include “Tap In” by Saweetie and “Say So” by Doja Cat.
You’ve never heard of all this? Then you are most likely too old. Tiktok is mainly popular among young people. Two-thirds of the estimated one billion active users are under thirty. There is a certain irony in the fact that dancing is in the foreground on the most popular platform for young people. Dancing is analog and at first, glance does not fit into our digital world at all. And what about the prejudice that “the young” only sit in front of the screen? If you want to dance, you have to move. And how!
Dancing until the sports doctor arrives
“If you dance shuffle at a party for one night, you know what you’ve done the next day,” says Melanie Rölli (28), who attends the shuffle course in Zurich West with Meryl Stoller. She works as a deputy community clerk, and in her spare time, she goes to electronic music festivals – unless there is a pandemic. EDM, House, Techno, and Hardstyle are her preferred styles. The elements she learns as choreography in the dance lesson can be improvised on the dancefloor. “The next day I’m ready for the pasta. Sometimes I don’t know how to stand it myself. It must be due to the euphoria that arises when dancing.”
It’s a completely different concept than that of the clubbers who intuitively fidget to the beat. “More like a sport,” says Rölli. The best thing, says Stoller, is when, after an increase or a quiet part of a techno piece, the beat starts again and she can make a special dance step exactly on the “drop”, as this moment is called. At a festival, she drinks one beer a night, and she says, otherwise, she stays sober. “That’s why I eat French fries every three hours.”
Shaquille O’Neal also dances along
The shuffle scene is one of the more extreme examples of how social media affects dancing in the real world. By no means is everyone who is inspired online to pursue his hobby at a top-class sports level. What significance do channels like Tiktok have on the popularity of dancing in general?
“They make dancing more accessible,” says Nicole Bloomgarden (21) in an interview with the British online magazine “South West Londoner”. Bloomgarden, a dancer from Washington D.C. with half a million TikTok followers, has launched the “Out West” dance challenge, which Tiktok users have danced around ten million times since last year. Among them are celebrities such as singer Usher, presenter Ellen DeGeneres and basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. “I’ve made the Out West Challenge extra easier so more people can participate,” says Bloomgarden.
Embarrassing standing around was yesterday
Meanwhile, there is a dance challenge for almost every popular song. This leads to the fact that in the clubs everyone dances the respective choreography together when the DJ plays one of these songs. The challenge, which Bloomgarden designed, is dancing to a rap song called “Out West”. “When I was out and the song was playing, the whole party was dancing to my choreography.”
She can still remember the final evening of her school’s ski camp, says Meryl Stoller from the dance course in Zurich-West. “Back then, nobody wanted to dance, everyone was embarrassed.” Today it would look very different. “Dancing is the coolest thing at the moment.”