Challenge: Become a TikTok Dance Star

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Words | Harry Fraser

Salutations readers, this is Harry Fraser, the Regulars Editor for Grapeshot. Welcome to the challenge, the part where I do something that challenges me for your edification. Due to Miss Rona, there were some obvious limits on what tasks I could undertake.

However, if not for stage three lockdowns, this issue’s challenge would not have happened. You can thank all-consuming boredom and an attempt to subdue crippling mental illness. There are only so many times you can refresh Instagram and listen to Future Nostalgia before you start to lose it. 

It was at this point that I made the decision to download TikTok. I had resisted but I was starving for something, anything, to make the hours go by. Boy did I hit the jackpot, if by jackpot you mean another social media app on which I could waste my life away. 

Upon telling the Grapeshot team of this newfound co-dependent relationship, it was put to me to become a TikTok dance star. For those who have never seen a TikTok dance before, it is essentially 10-15 second routines set to popular songs. I couldn’t tell you where the routines originated or who choreographed them, but nonetheless they exist for me to learn.

I set myself the goal of learning three dances. I will make a confession before I start, so that people don’t feel too discouraged. From the ages of 4-15 I trained as a dancer. As I wrote that, I felt how cringy it was. You don’t have to tell me. Nevertheless, I was a competitive dancer for the better part of my childhood, to moderate success. 

I learned and performed four dances in total, although two of them were the same routine with a pop culture remix, I’ll explain later. The first one was ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weeknd. 

This one turned out to be the most intense. I didn’t use a YouTube tutorial for this because I didn’t yet know they existed, and it was a decision I came to regret. The routine is simple enough on the surface. It’s quite short and only has a few steps. If you haven’t seen it, go and have a look so I don’t have to explain it.

Great, now that you’ve seen it you understand what I mean. As I tried the steps for myself, incoordination proved to be something you cannot grow out of. My legs and feet were always a beat behind the music and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t quite hit the counts. 

The best I can describe the move was my left leg moving in front and to the side, with my left foot repeatedly touching in front of my right foot and then back to the side. I hope you can picture it; I know I won’t forget it anytime soon. 

I decided to put a bit more spring into it, so that my leg could move faster. It wasn’t long before my mother trotted upstairs to reprimand me for making the house shake. I’m sorry Melissa, but no one made history by not shaking houses. In the end, this routine was passable, but not up to the toxic perfectionist standards I had come to know since childhood.

I will admit I didn’t dance for a week or so. To say that the Blinding Lights dance broke my spirit would be an exaggeration, but not by much. Tentatively, I moved on to the ‘Say So’ by Doja Cat dance.

This time, I used a YouTube tutorial. It was almost enjoyable once you got used to the condescending tone of the instructor. Toxic masculinity ruins the party again. I spent about half an hour going through the choreography and let me tell you, confidence came flooding back as I picked up the steps in the tutorial like a duck to water. Turns out a decade of formal training and many thousands of dollars was, I was going to say worth it, but maybe not. 

Once I had learned the steps, I wanted to analyse the swathes of amateur TikTok users like the peasants they are. I wouldn’t say I’m a judgemental person. Other people would though. 

I was shocked at what I found on TikTok. I won’t lie. These people had neither talent nor commitment and it showed. While I practiced and sweated, these people didn’t even stand up or get out of their tie-dye hoodie. These VSCO girls had interpreted the dance like a game of Chinese Whispers. These people looked very different from the original. 

Every person I watched did it slightly differently, some looked like they were nonchalantly swatting a fly. The uniformity and passion that I had known as a younger dancer were nowhere to be seen on TikTok. It emboldened me, it made me want to be better. Because, let’s face it, I was better than these potatoes. 

So, I filmed my dance, and let me tell you, it was technically flawless. Every move was executed with sharpness and skill. The end result was a good dance. The only feedback was the serious look on my face. To them, I say that dance isn’t meant to be fun. It’s meant to be done right. But I’m a good sailor, so I tried to work some personality into the next dance, the Savage one. I returned to the casually misogynistic and homophobic tutorial because it was effective and like before, I successfully picked up these steps. 

For this dance there was a boy and a girl version. I would say that I picked the girl version because it’s meant to be a challenge, but it was a better dance in reality. The only reason a guy wouldn’t do that version, in my mind, is due to an insecure sense of their own masculinity. But hey, that’s just me. I’m not a mental health professional, just judgemental. 

I was most proud of this routine. I managed to balance execution with a bit more flair and charisma. As I threw it back and rolled my body, I actually had fun. Unlike me, my hips didn’t lie. They told a story of adversity and dedication, of a journey that lasted hours to get me to success.

As a nod to what’s big right now, I did the Savage dance to the Joe Exotic version, from the hit Netflix original Tiger King. You’re all welcome. 

Throughout this experience I was reminded of what dancing can do. This isn’t some schmaltzy spiel about the power of dance, I’m not Antonio Banderas or Julia Stiles. However I will say that dance can give you a lot of confidence. When I danced competitively, there was a rush at being on stage and satisfaction that came when a routine came together.

TikTok is hardly a substitute for that and I stand by my statements about the potatoes. However, I genuinely enjoyed learning and filming these dances and felt a sense of pride when the Grapeshot team got to see them. 

My TikTok settings are on private, so good luck finding these videos. But if by some miracle you do, I accept your thanks and you’re welcome.