On NBC’s ‘Dancing With Myself,’ TikTok-Like Dances Meet Network TV

Even by the razzle-dazzle standards of TV talent competitions, “Dancing With Myself” sets an impressive scene. Room-size cubes of two stacked rows, trimmed in shimmering lights, fill the stage – “Hollywood Squares” meets “Saturday Night Fever.” At the judging table sit the pop stars Shakira and Nick Jonas and internet celebrity Liza Koshy; Behind them, a cheering studio audience. One cube’s door slides open to reveal the show’s first contestant, who begins to perform …

… A TikTok-style dance challenge. The kind that creators on the app are known for filming in their bedrooms, pajamas is optional.

The engineered glamor of network reality TV might seem at odds with the carefree looseness of TikTok dance. “Dancing With Myself” has set out to prove otherwise. The new NBC show, Tuesdays through July 19, tries to translate the viral dance challenge into a reality competition format.

The packaging is familiar: an elaborate set, a live audience, a collection of celebrity judges. But the program’s social media-fluent contestants – who perform short dance challenges in isolated “pods” – do not look, or move, like most dance-show competitors. And the judges aren’t just commenting from behind the table: They’re also billed as creators, setting and teaching the show’s dance routines.

“Dancing With Myself” is tapping into the of-the-moment power of TikTok as well as the now vaguely nostalgic power of a network television talent show. In its efforts to marry these two cultures, it has confronted some of the same issues that have roiled the social media dance world – and revealed how much TikTok dance has evolved itself.

“It’s trying to legitimize TikTok dance in an venue that is the antithesis of TikTok,” said Trevor Boffone, a teacher and author of the book “Renegades: Digital Dance Cultures from Dubsmash to TikTok.” “But it also shows how deeply this kind of dance has become embedded in popular culture.”

“Dancing With Myself” went into development in early 2021, just after the dance challenge reached its zenith. “We saw people having these virtual dance parties and posting these dances from their living rooms, with everyone looking for a way to connect,” said John Irwin, the executive producer. “And we thought, ‘My gosh, there’s got to be a show in this.'”

Celebrity star power clinched the idea. In December 2020, Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas released a dance-forward music video for their song “Girl Like Me.” It quickly went viral as fans tried to recreate a jazzercise-inflected passage of the choreography, which was created collaboratively by Maite Marcos, Shakira, Marc Tore and Sadeck Waff.General Chat Chat Lounge Already a dance challenge veteran, Shakira began reposting her favorite “Girl Like Me” videos on her social accounts. “She felt like the perfect person to pull into this,” Irwin said.

Shakira came on board as both an executive producer and a leader of the show’s judging panel. Later, the model Camille Kostek joined as host, and Koshy and Jonas rounded out the judging panel.

You ‘ll never hear the name TikTok on “Dancing With Myself.” (“We didn’t want to be ‘the TikTok show,’ because we thought the movement was bigger than that,” Irwin said.) But the TikTok culture, shined up for television, shapes many aspects of its format.

The 12 contestants on each episode learn a series of routines that resemble social media dance challenges in their brevity and relative simplicity. They perform in square “pods” that suggest boxed seclusion of phone screens, unable to see each other for the most challenges. Like many TikTok dance creators, Jonas, Koshy, Kostek and Shakira are not experienced choreographers, but all exhibit and help teach the show’s routines. Although judges have the opportunity to save favorite dancers, “likes” are the currency of the competition, with winners determined by audience votes that are animated onscreen as showers of hearts.

Casting on the “Dancing With Myself” approach is perhaps the most in line with TikTok’s ethos. “On the app, what leads to success is not necessarily good dancing, but, really, the personality of the performer,” Boffone said.

Although some “Dancing With Myself” contestants are gifted and highly trained dancers, the show makes a point of including all skill levels of charismatic competitors. Many are already TikTok standouts: the dancing flight attendant, the dancing police officer, the dancing dentist. (And the dancing TikTok scholar. Boffone, who posts routines with his students on Instagram and TikTok, was cast as an alternate for the show’s fifth episode.)

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

“Dancing With Myself” has arrived as TikTok dance reaches an inflection point. In 2019 and early 2020, when the platform was still relatively known as the “teen dance app,” its culture revolved around the dance challenge. But as TikTok has grown to include a wider range of users and uses, dance challenges have become less dominant. The Renegade challenge, which Jalaiah Harmon choreographed in fall 2019, has 124.8 million views. This spring’s blockbuster dance, choreographed by Jaeden Gomez to Lizzo’s song “About Damn Time,” has about 31 million views.

Continuing questions about the proper crediting of dance creators, especially creators of color, also contribute to the cooling of the dance challenge trend. Last summer’s #BlackTikTokStrike campaign saw some black artists, frustrated by white influencers co-opting their dance content, take a step back from the platform. (This app has recently added a built-in crediting feature that allows users to identify the original creator of a dance.)

The show’s relationship to this conversation is slightly complicated. “Dancing With Myself” does not include its contestants’ social media handles or even their last names, making it difficult to find or follow them online. It also replicates, after a fashion, some crediting issues that many TikTok creators have protested. During the show, the celebrities are identified as the creators of the dance challenge, and the choreography as if it were their own. Behind the scenes, they were assisted by a team of professional choreographers – Brittany Cherry, Cameron Lee, Will Simmons and Kelly Sweeney – who were selected by the choreographers and co-executive producers Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo, who are married.

“If you’re not a choreographer, it’s quite a to-do to create that many dances in a short amount of time,” said Napoleon, who, with Tabitha, has worked on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing. With the Stars, “among other shows. “We’re there to help the creators in the choreography. We put a base together, and then we work together with them on what feels good and what moves they want to put into the dance. “

Napoleon notes that the show’s end titles include all the choreographers’ names, which is already more crediting than some television dance artists get. “To put that information in the episode itself, I think it’d be confusing for the audience,” he said. “We don’t always say when Tom Cruise is doing a stunt or when it’s a stuntman.”

The “Dancing With Myself” contestant roster includes several successful social media stars. Why would they subject themselves to the reality-television meat grinder? Because popular creators’ large follower counts can obscure the narrowness of their fame, which is often limited to a niche online group. A national TV show offers a larger spotlight – a boon for those craving better recognition for their work.

“I mean, it network, “Said Marie Moring, a second episode contestant who has more than 700,000 TikTok followers. “Social media is fairly new, but NBC has been around. People know NBC. ” And Moring, 46, found that the show helped her reach a new demographic: her peers. “A lot of Gen X-ers, my people, they’re not on social media, but they watch TV,” she said. “People are coming to my page now to just say they saw me on the show.”

TikTok Celebrity is also limited by the platform’s short-video format, which allows only brief glimpses of its creators. Keara Wilson, 21, the winner of the second episode of “Dancing With Myself,” is one of the most famous TikTokers to appear on the show: She choreographed the Savage challenge that swept the internet in spring 2020, and now has 3.4 million followers. General Chat Chat Lounge Despite her viral moment, Wilson said she thought few of her fans knew much about her.

“There’s just not much you can do doing 15- or 30-second videos,” she said. Hers was a strange half-fame – further complicated by the white creators’ appropriation of his choreography, which meant that many who had never heard of Wilson created it. (Wilson is now in the process of copying her Savage Dance.)

But reality TV is the realm of the back story, and “Dancing With Myself” includes packages showcasing contestants’ offline as well as living online. On the show, not only did the judges shout out Wilson as the creator of the Savage challenge but viewers also learned 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 finally got to show who I really am.”

Neither Moring nor Wilson saw a significant bump in their TikTok followings appearing on “Dancing With Myself.” Both, however, said they were forged valuable bonds with many of the creators they met on the show. Boffone described the hotel where contestants stayed while filming as “TikTok summer camp,” with everyone staying up late to practice dances and share career advice.

“A lot of us are very excited to be around other people that get it,” he said. “It’s like, hey, how do I talk to brands? What are some good strategies for using hashtags? It has become this cohort of people that are all sharing resources and helping each other be successful. “

Although “Dancing With Myself” is far from a runaway hit, it may reflect the next step in the development of TikTok-style dance: taking the dance challenge offline. As the app’s vocabulary and memes have seeped into mainstream culture, TikTok dance-alongs are begging from everywhere to concerts to baseball games. There may be a day when you are less likely to watch TikTok dance on TikTok than you are on TV.

“These kinds of movements, it’s not the platforms that are making them, it’s the people,” Irwin said. “We’re offering another place for that movement to spread.”

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