TikTok-style dance meets network TV on NBC’s ‘Dancing with Yourself’

Even by the standards of noisy televised talent competitions, Dancing With Yourself is an impressive scene. The stage is filled with two rows of room-sized cubes framed by twinkling lights – “Hollywood Squares” meets “Saturday Night Fever”. At the judging table sit pop stars Shakira and Nick Jonas and Internet celebrity Lisa Koshy; behind them is the jubilant studio audience. The door of one of the cubes opens, revealing the first participant in the show, who begins to perform …

Dance challenge in the style of TikTok. The creators of the app are known for filming in their bedrooms, pajamas are optional.

The crafted glamor of an online reality show might seem incompatible with the carefree looseness of the TikTok dance. Dancing With Yourself is meant to prove otherwise. The new NBC show, which runs Tuesday through July 19, is trying to turn the viral dance phenomenon into a reality competition.

The packaging is familiar: a thoughtful set, a live audience, a meeting of star judges. But program participants fluent on social media who perform short dance tasks in isolated “pods” don’t look or move like most dance show participants. And the judges don’t just comment from around the table: they are also considered the creators, setting up and teaching the show’s dance routines.

Dancing With Yourself taps into the momentary power of TikTok, as well as the vaguely nostalgic power of a network TV talent show. In his efforts to bring the two cultures together, he has faced some of the same issues that have rocked the dance world on social media and shown just how much TikTok dance itself has evolved.

“This is an attempt to legitimize TikTok dance in a place that is the exact opposite of TikTok,” said Trevor Boffone, teacher and author of Renegades: Digital Dance Cultures from Dubsmash to TikTok. “But it also shows how deeply this type of dance is ingrained in popular culture.”

Dancing With Yourself began development in early 2021, just after the dance challenge reached its climax. “We saw people throwing virtual dance parties and posting those dances from their living rooms and everyone was looking for a way to connect,” said executive producer John Irwin. “And we were like, ‘Oh my God, this has got to be a show.’

Celebrity star power approved the idea. In December 2020, Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas released a dance video for their song “Girl Like Me”. It’s fast went viral as fans tried to recreate the jazzy piece from the choreography co-created by Maite Markos, Shakira, Mark Tore and Sadeq Waff.. Already a dance competition veteranShakira started posting her favorite “Girl Like Me” videos on her social accounts. “She felt like the perfect person to get into it,” Irvine said.

Shakira has joined us as an executive producer and jury leader for the show. Later, model Camille Kostek joined as host, while Koshy and Jonas were on the jury.

You will never hear the name TikTok in “Dancing With Myself”. (“We didn’t want to be a ‘TikTok show’ because we thought there was more to the movement than that,” Irwin said.) But TikTok’s culture shining for TV is shaping many aspects of its format.

The 12 contestants in each episode learn a series of exercises that are reminiscent of social media dance challenges in their brevity and relative simplicity. They perform in square “pods” that offer the privacy of phone screens without seeing each other for most tasks. Like many TikTok dance creators, Jonas, Koshy, Kostek, and Shakira are not experienced choreographers, but they all demonstrate and help teach the show’s routines. While the judges have the option to save their favorite dancers, “likes” are the currency of the competition, and the winners are determined by viewer votes, which are animated onscreen as showers of hearts.

Dancing With Yourself’s approach to casting is perhaps most in line with the spirit of TikTok. “It is not necessarily a good dance that leads to success, but actually the personality of the performer,” said Boffone.

While some members of Dancing with Yourself are gifted and well-trained dancers, the show emphasizes attracting charismatic members of all skill levels. Many of them are already TikTok A-listers: dancing stewardess, dancing cop, dancing dentist. (And the dancing scientist TikTok. Boffone, who posts exercises with his students on Instagram and TikTokwas chosen as an alternative to the show’s fifth episode.)

“This is a show for everyone,” Shakira wrote in an email. “It’s about celebrating the love of dance and personal stories among all people, not just professionals.”

“Dancing With Yourself” came as the TikTok dance hit a tipping point. In 2019 and early 2020, when the platform was still known as the “teen dance app,” its culture revolved around the dance challenge. But as TikTok has expanded to cover a wider range of users and applications, dance challenges have become less dominant. Calling the Renegadewhich the Jalaya Harmon choreographed in the fall of 2019, scored 124.8 million views. This spring blockbuster dance, Jayden Gomez’s choreography for Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” has received close to 31 million views.

Ongoing questions about the proper crediting of dance makers, especially color makers, have also contributed to the cooling of the dance challenge trend. last summer #BlackTikTokStrike the campaign showed that some black artists, frustrated that white influencers were using their dance content, stepped back from the platform. (app recently added built-in lending function allowing users to identify the original creator of the dance.)

The show’s take on this conversation is somewhat complex. “Dancing With Yourself” does not include the members’ social media names or even their last names, making them difficult to find or track online. It also echoes some of the lending issues many TikTok creators have protested against. During the show, celebrities are identified as the creators of the dance challenges and show off the choreography as if it were their own. Behind the scenes, they are assisted by a team of professional choreographers. Brittany Cherry, Cameron Lee, Will Simmons as well as Kelly Sweeney – chosen by choreographers and co-executive producers Tabitha and Napoleon Dumos, who are married.

“Unless you’re a choreographer, creating so many dances in such a short amount of time is not an easy task,” said Napoleon, who collaborated with Tabitha on So You Think You Can Dance and Dance Dances. With the Stars”, among other shows. “We are here to help the creators with the choreography. We create the foundation and then work with them on what they like and what moves they want to add to the dance.”

Napoleon notes that the show’s end titles include the names of all the choreographers, which is already more commendable than some television dance artists. “Putting this information into the episode itself, I think it would confuse viewers,” he said. “We don’t always say when Tom Cruise is doing a stunt and when is a stuntman.”

The list of participants of “Dancing with myself” included several successful social network stars. Why would they subject themselves to the meat grinder of a reality show? Because a large following of popular creators can hide the narrowness of their fame, which is often limited to a niche online group. The national TV show gets more attention — a boon for those who crave more recognition for their work.

“I mean it net,” said Marie Moring, contestant on the second episode, who almost 700,000 TikTok followers. “Social media is relatively new, but NBC already exists. People know NBC.” And Moring, 46, found that the show helped her reach a new demographic: her peers. “A lot of Gen Xers, my people, don’t use social media but watch TV,” she said. “People are only going to my page now to say they’ve seen me on the show.”

The TikTok celebrity is also limited to the platform’s short video format, which only gives a glimpse of its creators. 21-year-old Kira Wilson, winner of the second episode of Dancing With Yourself, is one of the most famous TikTokers on the show. 3.4 million followers. Despite her viral moment, Wilson said she thought few of her fans knew much about her.

“There isn’t much to show in 15 or 30-second videos,” she said. She had a strange semi-fame, even more complicated appropriation of her choreography by white creators, which meant that many who faced the challenge of the Wild never knew that Wilson had created it. (Wilson is currently in process copyright to her savage dance.)

But reality TV is the realm of backstory, and Dancing With Yourself includes packages that showcase both the offline and online lives of the participants. On the show, the judges not only named Wilson the creator of the Savage Contest, but viewers got to know about her upcoming wedding and her extensive dance experience beyond the TikTok challenges. “It’s been two years,” Wilson said during her episode, “and I can finally show who I really am.”

Neither Moring nor Wilson noticed a significant increase in their TikTok followers after appearing on Dancing with Yourself. Both, however, said they made valuable connections with many of the creators they met on the show. Boffone described the hotel where the members stayed during filming as a “TikTok summer camp” where everyone stayed up late to practice dancing and share career tips.

“Many of us were very happy to be around other people who understand this,” he said. “It’s like, hey, how do I talk to brands? What are some good hashtag strategies? It has become that cohort of people who share resources and help each other succeed.”

Although “Dancing with myself” far from a runaway hit, this may reflect the next step in TikTok-style dance: taking the dance challenge offline. As the app’s vocabulary and memes have made their way into popular culture, TikTok dance crews have begun to occur everywhere: concerts to baseball games. There may come a day when you are less likely to see a TikTok dance on TikTok than on TV.

“These kinds of movements are created not by platforms, but by people,” Irwin said. “We offer another place to spread this movement.”