Bust a move

Examining the rise of popular dance trends


Rucha Soman and Sara Entezar

With a step and a spin, a jump or a shake, infectious dance crazes have successfully worked their way into the mainstream. Sweeping the feet of not only renowned celebrities such as Odell Beckham Jr., Will Smith and Ciara, popular dances have also exhausted talk show hosts and — in an odd twist — been performed in presidential campaigns. However, while Hillary Clinton’s dab on The Ellen Show racked over 1.7 million views on Facebook and Odell Beckham Jr.’s Shiggy Challenge is approaching 10 million views on Instagram, many of the contagious dance moves that spread through social media platforms stem from humble beginnings.

“It’s fun to stay at the YMCA”

“YMCA” was released in 1978 by Village People, an American disco group with the popular song featured on their third studio album “Crusin’,” and soared to the top of music charts in both the United States and United Kingdom. The hit single held a catchy tune and attractive rhythmic structure, it’s actually a song about the virtues of the Young Men’s Christian Association and was commonly dictated as a celebration of the organization’s hook-up popularity for gay men, according to The Spin.

Yet, the song retains its success to this day; many sporting events continue to run the track as excited crowds sing along, disregarding the controversial and explicit message that was originally interpreted. What seems to create the uproar among event-goers had not been so much the song itself, but rather the simple choreography that went with it, adapted shortly after the song’s success.

“The kids from Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’ actually started the hand motions because we weren’t smart enough to come up with that,” singer Ray Simpson of Village People said in an interview on Oprah Winfrey’s “Where are They Now?”. “We decided that was good, let’s put it in the show.”

The rest was history. As “YMCA” topped the charts in the late 1970s, its unprecedented dance routine became ingrained in American culture, along with other popular dance-along songs that followed into the mainstream.

Contrasting “YMCA” as the moves for the dance were adapted alongside the song’s production, the Spanish dance song “Macarena” appeared on Los del Rio’s 1993 album “A mí me gusta”, exploding on international charts, rousing weddings, sporting events and parties ever since. The dance is featured in their music video, with a number of young women bouncing along to the 10 moves that formulate the choreography.

Dance teacher Dasha Plaza explains that dance moves accompanying popular tracks are nothing new. Plaza recalls some of the most memorable hits from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, reminiscing on the viral hits that animated national television decades back.

“Anywhere from Michael Jackson to line dancing and the Macarena — [those dances went] viral, but not so much [because of] the Internet, but because of [other] media,” Plaza said. “Before, it was MTV [that] was big, […] so I think that’s how it was shared [during those years]; that’s how I learned [them.]”

Dance-along songs have yet to skip a beat since, stirring up the youth with The Superman of 2007, Stanky Leg of 2009, The Dougie of 2010 and dozens more in the last decade alone. As the dance moves paired with “Y.M.C.A.” took the nation by storm in an incidental ascendency, other dances had their fair share of unrecognizable intimacy; the dances oftentimes arose from an inside joke among friends to gaining worldwide recognition.

Get out of your car and dance

An upsurge of media outlets introduced in the early and mid 2010s enticed millenials to shift their sources of entertainment away from cable television, including the then-popular MTV as Plaza recalled. The media network, popular for spreading then-hit dance moves via music videos, had a 34 percent decline in viewership from 2013 to 2015, according to Nielsen studies.

Social media continues to dominate internet landscapes: 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, 71 percent Instagram and 45 percent Twitter, according to 2018 Pew Research Center reports. Through the extensive influence of these networks, viral dances shimmy their way into parties and events around the nation.

YouTube, a video-sharing platform that arose alongside other social medias, was founded in 2004 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, opening the doors for many dances to be accessible and go viral. Soulja Boy, who made The Superman an international furor, attributed his fame to the internet after he posted the music video for “Crank That” on Youtube at the age of 17.

“I was the first rapper to get signed strictly off the Internet, the first to sell millions of copies of music that I’d already uploaded for free,” Soulja Boy told L.A. Weekly a decade after the release of “Crank That.”

Soulja Boy reflects on how social media has since affected the music and dance industry, especially for up-and-coming artists.

“I have major label meetings and they tell me that the blueprint for new artists is the one I wrote,” Soulja Boy said. “They need to be heavy on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. When I came out nobody was doing YouTube videos or video blogs; now everyone does.”

Other celebrities who had their big break online include Justin Bieber, who started as a singer-guitarist on YouTube, Shawn Mendes, former Vine star, and Carly Rae Jepsen, whose career blew up after Bieber tweeted her song “Call Me Maybe.”

A recent dance craze, created by comedian Shiggy (or Shoker) and popularized by football player Odell Beckham Jr. via Instagram, has served as a model for where viral dance moves are headed towards in 2018 onwards. “Do The Shiggy,” as Beckham Jr. dubbed it, is a short choreographed jig that is performed alongside Drake’s “In My Feelings.” The dance has also been dubbed by many social media users as the “In My Feelings Challenge” or “Kiki Challenge.”

The dance includes getting out of a vehicle, usually while still in transit, and performing the boisterous moves. It had since caught the attention of Drake, who attributes the song’s success to Shiggy and paid homage to the moves, featuring Shiggy and the dance in the official music video for “In My Feelings.”  

The hashtag #inmyfeelingschallenge has racked over 600,000 posts on Instagram and continues to grow as social media stars and average Instagram users alike get out of their cars to dance along.

The new reality

The MVHS community decided to join in on #inmyfeelingschallenge, using its popularity as a promotional opportunity. MV Bhangra recycled the challenge, fusing the original challenge’s music and movements with traditional Bhangra as a way to promote their club online.

Senior and Bhangra captain Priya Gundavajhala explains how using a viral challenge abetted their advertising; the video reached over than a 1000 views on junior and captain Ishani Singh’s Facebook post. Gundavajhala viewed social media as the most promising platform for the promotional video to be accessed by a large majority of people, as many MVHS students frequent social medias like Facebook.

Viral dances, as with all other trends, go through a peak and a valley. As the original post by Shiggy is reaching its third month online, MVHS Bhangra had to work quickly to produce the video.

“We wanted to kind of jump on that train before [it died] and we wanted to give our best shot at [promoting] this team” Gundavajhala said. “We wanted to do something different than the usual promo that dance teams do.”

The trends were not only seen at MVHS while advertising clubs, but also at school dances. Students who attended the Welcome Back dance relived older viral dances, moving along to the well-versed choreographies of Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), Flo Rida’s Low” and Soulja Boy’s “Crank That.” When the songs played, the floor could be seen pointing at their ring finger, squatting down and doing the signature Soulja Boy Superman. Although the songs’ peaks were over a decade old, the dance routines had retained their iconic reputations.

Dance and pop culture references can also be seen in MVHS’s Choir programs. MVHS’s choral director Shari Summers reflects on her previous experimental motions, some of which take inspiration from iconic viral dances, such as incorporating hand motions from The Macarena. More modern viral dances, including the dab, which originated from Atlanta, Georgia’s hip-hop scene in 2015, have also been incorporated by students as the moves have made their offline and into the classroom.

Sometimes they’ll throw in something [relating to pop culture] trying to be a funny novelty, like the dab thing,” Summers said.

Plaza, who incorporates viral dances such as the Shoot and Flossing in her own studio, has witnessed just how influential social media has been for viral dance moves beyond just her dance team. A couple of her friends, she mentions, have been able to get their big break from a viral dance they posted on social media.

“So they started posting their stuff online and [began as a] regular, unknown Bay Area artist,” Plaza said. “One of them choreographed for J Lo’s Vegas show. Another one is teaching all over internationally at every dance convention. And that’s just because it was the thing of the Internet.”

As MVHS continues to incorporate viral dance trends in their choreographies and dance culture, platforms for sharing them have only increased in accessibility. What was once modeled after a four-letter dance choreography has since evolved into elaborate and unique renditions of viral moves — and it only gets funkier from here.