On choreography, from JLo's Superbowl to TikTok dance memes

P.S. go watch Beyond Babel in NYC!

I’ll be back on the planned behind-the-scenes sharing of Modern Doing soon, but I am feeling very compelled to talk about dance this week 😏

Parris Goebel

You may not have heard of her name, but surely you’ve seen her choreo, from “Sorry” (official Bieber music video) to “Yummy” (unofficial Bieber music video). As of late, Parris is the top choreographer working with everyone from Rihanna to Ariana Grande.

Watching the Super Bowl halftime show without knowing anything besides J.Lo and Shakira performing, I was thrilled at the surprise of seeing Parris’ distinct “polyswagg” choreography on TV. It’s difficult to capture a style of choreography in words, but I’d describe it as powerful and sassy through well synchronized repetitive movement. This dance competition video with her crew Royal Family is the best representation of this.

Her choreography is all about performance and attitude rather than technical difficulty (not to say that it’s easy but the dances are more approachable than Keone and Mari Madrid’s, mentioned later). From my years of watching K-pop dances, I know that the dances people love are the ones that people can follow. Parris nails that “don’t you want to try this move in your bedroom” inviting vibe while being incredibly creative with formations and transitions.

The “Renegade” dance

Speaking of approachable movement, we’re really in the TikTok dance meme era. Though I refuse to download TikTok, I watch plenty of its clips from Instagram explore or Youtube compilations (hey, the algos know that I love a viral dance. It doesn’t even need to be good).

The Renegade dance is the most popular lately, danced to the beginning of this K Camp song “Lottery”. (I find it amusing the artist has now added “renegade” to the song title. He probably regrets his song name but who’s to know which fifteen seconds of your song is going to blow up?) This was the first dance to really make me enter the rabbit hole of TikTok dances. There’s so much going on—the woah, the dab, an arm wave, blowing air motions.

This Vox article does a deep dive into the creator of the dance (a 14-year-old from Atlanta!) and lack of attribution (also click if you have no idea what I’m talking about and just want to see the dance). The piece mentions Fortnite and its usage of viral dance moves—though they’ve been sued by various creators, lawsuits have been indefinitely paused.

So there isn’t legal precedent, but technology can help us solve this problem, right? Hah. Not giving attribution extends to all forms of art, not just dance (see any forum for artists and you will find one that hasn’t been attributed before). Properly crediting takes extra human effort, which we should all do, but it’d be even better if tech could streamline this so that it doesn’t potentially take hours of digging. Attribution could make all the difference, particularly when the creator is a black woman with few followers while the TikTok stars gaining popularity from the dance are attractive white women.

Last on the topic of attribution: I’m reminded of Maria Popovas’s The Curator’s Code, a standard for attribution across the web using specific symbols. Though she got a lot of backlash for it and the standard never took off, I still admire the straightforward framework.

Beyond Babel

I watched a new Off-Broadway urban dance show this week called Beyond Babel. The show is inspired by Romeo & Juliet and their division of families and friends. It also welcomes political interpretation, the division representing the border wall.

The choreographers behind Beyond Babel are Keone and Mari Madrid, who have been in Bieber’s “Love Yourself” video (lots of Bieber references today, whoops) and are the brains behind many K-pop dances including BTS and Taeyang. Their choreography is also very recognizable, with an emphasis on musicality, precision, and really fast footwork. If Parris is all about empowerment, Keone and Mari are about telling a story with emotion.

The 90-minute show had a good mix of upbeat, party-like numbers and sad, painful ones, mostly set to recent music by the likes of Miguel and Billie Eilish. All the dancers are incredibly talented and I am so in awe of how fast some of the moves were, sheesh. The show runs through March—please go see it, it’s about the price of a concert!