TikTok dances in an illustration
Most TikTok dances consist of the same basic moves. (Illustration by Giovanna Martin, Columbia College Chicago)

If You Look Closely, You’ll See That Most TikTok Dances Are Just the Same

These viral sensations are repetitive, making their popularity over more creative works frustrating.

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TikTok dances in an illustration

These viral sensations are repetitive, making their popularity over more creative works frustrating.

Whenever a social media user opens TikTok, there’s a huge chance that one of the first videos they’ll see will be a dance, from the waist up, to a current hit song. These TikTok dances have taken over the app and spawned millions of recreations. They have essentially become the app’s trademark.

To the average person, these are just fun, distinct performances to make and post for their friends to see. To a trained eye, however, these dances are all pretty similar. Each one becomes less interesting and convincing; for some, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

The similarities of the dances are due to four things. First, the song choices all come from the same genres, and oftentimes the same artist. Second, a few main choreographers create the most popular dances. Third, most of the dances approach musicality, or how the moves fit into the song, the same way. Fourth, many movements are repeated between dances.

The first step in the choreographic process is easier said than done: Choose the song. While it seems like the choice would simply rely on what music the dancer likes, it also depends on the kind of music that the choreographer likes to actually choreograph to. Most dancers have a preference for certain kinds of music for their choreography; some like piano instrumentals, some like upbeat pop music and some like hip-hop.

The vast majority of TikTok choreographers fall into this last category: hip-hop. Because of the energetic beats and visual lyrics, it’s easy to create infectious movements for millions to perform. Another genre that’s gained traction on the app is older pop music, like “Baby” by Justin Bieber and “Gimme More” by Britney Spears.

The most prevalent artist on TikTok these days, however, is the hit singer Doja Cat. The first TikTok dance that went truly viral was to her hit “Say So” in the winter of 2019. Since then, it seems like every week there’s a new dance to a Doja Cat song.

Each choreographer has a musical preference and a distinct style. TikTok dances make these choreographic differences clear. Some choreographers use classic hip-hop grooves, creating  “vibey” dances that are easy to learn. Others rely on dance training to create intense, high energy and challenging dances. However, in each new era of TikTok, a few choreographers find themselves responsible for the latest crazes.

One choreographic pair that is in their own league is Cost n’ Mayor. The engaged couple put out a never-ending flood of dances that go viral, mainly due to their creativity and cleanliness. Before they post each dance, they ensure their performance is crystal clear — each move is placed perfectly to the music and each other. Because of their cleanliness and simple movements, their dances have been recreated thousands of times.

The creator responsible for the sexy dances to Doja Cat songs is none other than Tracy.oj. Her feminine movements draw in viewers, and her confidence warrants her followers’ recreations. People watch her assured performances and want to feel the same. Her dances to “Woman,” “Naked” and “Need to Know” have dominated the app for weeks now.

@tracy.oj

How did I- !!!😳 Anyways dc: me

♬ Woman – Doja Cat

Defining musicality in terms of dance can be challenging, but simply put, it is how the dancer interacts with the music. Some dancers prefer to stick to the basic beat, making their moves evenly spaced out and at the same tempo. Other options are to dance to the bass, melody or lyrics. Most choreographers hop between these different approaches in the song during a full-length piece.

In TikTok dances, however, the shortened length of time limits choreographers’ options. The dances are very short, between 15 and 30 seconds, meaning that the choreographers must make the most out of their time musically. Because of this, TikTok dances follow the most noticeable and impactful musical elements they can.

Take Karaleigh Cannella’s choreography to “Woman” for example. She mainly follows the lyrics and even mimes them throughout the dance. However, she also follows the bass when Doja Cat sings, “Got a lot of people that are opposites.” Cannella is also sure to hit the two distinct clicks at the end of each line. This sense of “packing in” musicality is common to every TikTok dance.

Along with common musical approaches, TikTok dances often share the same movements — and it doesn’t take a trained eye to notice. In 2020, actor Adam Rose created a viral TikTok showing the most commonly used moves on the app. Although the video is outdated in TikTok terms, the same thing happens now in 2021: There are some common movements that appear in every TikTok dance.

The most common of these is “The Woah.” Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve certainly seen the move before. It is described as a groove with a locking motion in the arms, “like you’re putting your car in park.” This definition has been broadened a bit; if you see a dancer move their arms in a circle and freeze at the end, you’re likely watching a “Woah.”

In addition to the punch-like move, many other movements are copied from dance to dance. This is the main reason that TikTok dances are seen as repetitive. Is it creatively fulfilling to put the same moves someone else did in a different order to a different song?

For some TikTok creators, this question doesn’t matter. But others truly push the envelope. Ballet dancers have started many dance challenges; most recently, @spenderdancerrr went viral for his short ballet challenge to “Kingdom Dance” from Disney’s “Tangled.” His video is incredibly satisfying to watch, and it both garnered millions of views and inspired recreations from ballet dancers everywhere.

@spencerdancerrr

this was fun to dance to

♬ Kingdom Dance – From “Tangled”/Score – Alan Menken

Dancer and choreographer Jason Rodelo blends comedy with his TikTok dances by framing them as group-workout-slash-motivation videos. He begins by offering advice while his Motivational Warriors bounce in the background, all before they join together for Rodelo’s unique choreography. His videos are both fun to watch and recreate.

Other creators have shown their creativity and gone against the style of typical TikTok dances, but for the most part, the short challenges remain repetitive. They are fun to learn and recreate, but creatively, it can be frustrating to see these duplications gain more popularity than more imaginative endeavors.

 

Writer Profile

Jenna Nelson

Scripps College
Psychology and Legal Studies

Jenna Nelson is a student at Scripps College studying psychology and law and how the two interact. Her hobbies include dancing, cooking and playing tabletop games.

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