The Renegade and the Do Si Do: TikTok and Square Dancing

By, Phoenix Robertson

Square dancing can be defined as “a type of country dancing that starts with four couples facing one another in a square, with the steps and movements shouted out by a caller.” Square dancing was a large part of American culture until the late 1800s and was then made popular again after World War II. The practice has sadly fallen out of style since that time. 

Currently, one of the most popular ways the art form of dance is shared is via TikTok. In this article, I will be discussing how TikTok dancing is the modern-day version of square dancing, both in the way that it is carried out and in the ways that it bonds together communities and tells stories through movement. 

Origins of Square Dancing

The practice of square dancing first came about in England in the 1600s, with the popular dances of the time being “the quadrille and the cotillion.” When English and other European colonists migrated and began living in the thirteen colonies, they took a bit of their dance culture with them. When American colonists met with others hailing from England, their dance styles meshed and created many new forms of dance. Square dances were a time when people could gather, take a rest from their hard work, and come together as a community to perform a recreational activity. Over time, square dancing has become less and less popular, but dance still exists as a way for people across the world to share their culture and come together as a community. 

Origins of TikTok Dancing

TikTok is a social media app where users can share video shorts. As a result, the app has also become a popular medium for dance trends. These viral trends are performed by users, where they record themselves doing the popular dance to the corresponding song and then upload said video to the app. These dances take inspiration from various sources, including popular dance forms like hip-hop and even less mainstream forms such as “belly dancing, dancehall dance moves, [and] jazz funk.” 

Storytelling and Community Building through Dance

One of the earliest records of structured dance for a purpose other than recreation was found in Ancient Egypt. Priests use dance during religious ceremonies and rituals to communicate important stories and myths about their gods. This is one example of dance, specifically structured dance, like square dancing and TikTok dancing, that can be used to bring together members of a community and tell stories that are important to the narratives of these communities. 

During its height of popularity in the 1800s, square dancing was a way for community members to dance together, with the assistance of callers, they were able to develop  their relationship as a community and communicate a story through different dance moves and types of dance. 

TikTok dances work in a similar fashion. Joining in on a dance trend is similar to answering the call of the square dance caller. Users communicate the story of the song or artist by dancing along. By participating in various dance trends and watching dance videos made by other users, TikTok users can expand their reach within their local, global, and digital communities. 

Differences 

There are quite a few differences between TikTok dancing and traditional square dancing. These differences include the format in which the activities are performed, the genre of dancing done, and the actual way the dances are performed. TikTok dances and trends take place in the digital world, while traditional square dancing is an in-person event. Square dancing is a genre of dance all to itself, and TikTok dances generally encompass a large variety of dance genres combined to create a new fusion performance. TikTok dancing also does not require a caller, while traditional square dancing does. 

While the differences cannot be ignored, the most important part of both of these dance arts is the same. This crucial piece of the art of dance is the goal of the performance. The ultimate goal of both of these dance arts is to connect with your audience and to connect the dancers together. 

Dance is an art. If two painters were to sit down and paint the same subject next to each other, they would produce two different works. One painter might create an abstract painting, using a variety of unexpected shapes and colors. The other artist may create a very direct interpretation of the subject in their work. Both works are valid and are trying to portray the same message being given to them by the subject. Forms of dance are the same way. 

Conclusion

TikTok dancing and square dancing act in very similar ways. They are both able to be a forum for dancers or community members to gather together, allowing people to form bonds within their communities and tell stories. Since square dancing predates TikTok dancing by over 200 years, I believe that the Tik-Tok dance sensation was inspired by square dancing.

The idea of “dueting” a dance TikTok, where one user makes a video of themselves and it is placed next to another user’s video and played at the same time, also seems very reminiscent to square dancing, in the sense that the same dance is being performed by a pair or more of at the same time and to the same music. I think that it is very important for people across the world and different walks of life and cultures to have this kind of method for bonding together through a shared experience, in this case dance. Dance has been a time honored way of connecting communities since the dawn of time or more specifically “8,000 BCE,” In this age of technological advancements and the widespread switch to placing a majority of activities people engage in on the internet, it’s not surprising that dance seems to have followed this trend. 

Thank you for reading this article and I hope that you learned a bit of useful information about square dancing and TikTok dance trends. Let me know your favorite square dance or TikTok dance in the comments below!

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