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Is TikTok changing the way we dance?

The want to dance is probably older than humanity itself.

Some of the earliest records of dance are from 9000-year-old Indian cave paintings, and since that time dance has changed and grown as we have.​ 

But how are the latest technological developments changing our oldest form of expression?

App analytics firm Apptopia said TikTok became the highest-grossing app globally in 2020 with $540million in profit and topped the charts with 850 million downloads.

Worldwide Highest Grossing 2020 Apps in Millions (USD). Data source: Apptopia

Like all social media apps, TikTok reflects humanity in all its complexity, so there’s no one ‘thing’ that TikTok is, but with over 60% of the audience being 24 or under, the bite-sized-video-sharing social network is definitely where young people are increasingly choosing to hangout.

And dance is probably what it’s most known for, with viral dance trends being a uniquely TikTok phenomenon. 

Worldwide Most Downloaded Apps 2020 in Millions. Data source: Apptopia

Nicole Bloomgarden, a DC based content creator, actor, and originator of the TikTok dance trend the Outwest Challenge, believes TikTok has definitely influenced dance. 

@nicolebloomgarden

NEW CHALLENGE ALERT 🚨 Tag me & use the hashtag #OutWestChallenge in your videos‼️ I WANNA SEE YALL LETS GO VIRAL #fyp #foryou #trending #viral #dance

♬ OUT WEST – JACKBOYS & Travis Scott

She said: “When I was making the Outwest Challenge I saw people just wanna join in, be cute, have fun and not actually be a pro-dancer and do this hard dance.

“So I purposely made the Outwest Challenge easier so more people can hop on it, so I think it’s definitely changing dance, I think it’s making dancing more inclusive.

“All the popular songs are on TikTok and most of them have a dance challenge and every f*cking person is on TikTok now.

“So now in the club when the music comes on and there’s a challenge to do, which is most songs at this point, everyone just does the TikTok challenge.

“When I would go out and Outwest came on, the entire party would do that dance.”

TikTok, known as Douyin (literally ‘vibrating sound’) in mainland China, is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, formed from the merger with lip-syncing app Musical.ly in August 2018. ​

Dancer and Gogglebox star Tom Malone Jr added: “As a dancer I think it’s great to see dance being seen as accessible to everyone.

“On TikTok you don’t need to be the best dancer to go viral and I think that’s awesome, it brings back the fun and the social aspect of dance.”

@tommalone_jr

You look like a good dancer 🤷🏻‍♂️ (IG: tommalonejr) #gogglebox #themalones #fyp #foryou #foryoupage

♬ On My Mind – Diplo & SIDEPIECE

As well as influencing dance itself, it seems TikTok is also changing the mechanics of the dance industry.

Dancer and choreographer Anita Mannings said: “Nowadays a lot of dance jobs are starting to ask how many Instagram followers you have. 

“They’ll employ performers that have big followings because that’s free PR for them.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the same happens to people with a big TikTok following, but if it did start happening that would really upset me.

“I just want to emphase there are two sides to it. 

“I love that it’s made dance accessible to everyone, that’s something that I really like, because I teach dance too and I can’t stand it when someone doesn’t believe in themselves or doesn’t think they’re good.”

Choreographer Constant Viger doesn’t see it as a threat.

He said: “I think it’s really easy to judge and say ‘Oh they don’t have skills or they’re not qualified’ but in the end what makes me qualified? The fact that I’ve danced all my life.

“But even in a dance company where everyone is qualified you have disagreements on casting and promotions, so I dont think it’s my place to say it’s a threat or they shouldn’t do that.

“I don’t know if it’s TikTok changing it or the fact that it is all online and in a small space​.

“I think it’s more the fact that it’s something we do by ourselves and therefore the camera is a fixed point and if you wanna stay on the screen there are not as many options as you’d have if you were in either a big space or the camera was following you.”

Dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Jamiel Laurence said: “My opinion is not that it’s changing anything, I think it’s amplifying an area of dance that maybe didn’t receive any kind of attention before in the sense of the dance economy.

“But what you are finding now is TikTok or Instagram dancing is being seen by more people than ever. 

“It’s being seen outside of clubs, so younger audiences too, it’s being seen by a social media connected audience, and so those simpler dances are now even easier to pass on.

“There’s space for everyone, but often people attack what they feel threatened by or don’t understand.

“And I think what some mainstream dance organisations might have done is take this as a threat on their section of the dance economy and say ‘We’ve been training for 10 years to get to where we are’ or ‘We have a wealth of history’.

“But the past is the past and a memory, and the future is always happening, so I think it would be unwise to dismiss TikTok or Instagram dancers as simply a fad or a fashion.” 

Jamiel thinks TikTok doesn’t take away from dance, but provides a different outlet for it.

He said: “It might be more difficult with a platform like TikTok to demonstrate a range of emotions.

“You’re not going to be able to demonstrate Act Four of Swan Lake in a 30-second video, I challenge anyone to find anyone to find a way to do it in a way that could bring someone to tears, so it’s never going to encroach in that area.”

It seems that dance evolved to where we are today, and will evolve beyond today too.

How much of a role TikTok specifically plays in the changing evolution of dance remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain: the next generation of professional dancers will have grown up in a world dominated by social media.

And there’ll be several professional dancers who got their start making videos for the internet. 

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