The Original Renegade – The New York Times

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Jalaiah Harmon is coming up in a dance world completely reshaped by the internet.

She trains in all the traditional ways, taking classes in hip-hop, ballet, lyrical, jazz, tumbling and tap after school at a dance studio near her home in the Atlanta suburbs. She is also building a career online, studying viral dances, collaborating with peers and posting original choreography.

Recently, a sequence of hers turned into one of the most viral dances online: the Renegade.

There’s basically nothing bigger right now. Teenagers are doing the dance in the halls of high schools, at pep rallies and across the internet. Lizzo, Kourtney Kardashian, David Dobrik and members of the K-pop band Stray Kids have all performed it. Charli D’Amelio, TikTok’s biggest homegrown star, with nearly 26 million followers on the platform, has been affectionately deemed the dance’s “C.E.O.” for popularizing it.

But the one person who hasn’t been able to capitalize on the attention is Jalaiah, the Renegade’s 14-year-old creator.

“I was happy when I saw my dance all over,” she said. “But I wanted credit for it.”

TikTok, one of the biggest video apps in the world, has become synonymous with dance culture. Yet many of its most popular dances, including the Renegade, Holy Moly Donut Shop, the Mmmxneil and Cookie Shop have come from young black creators on myriad smaller apps.

Most of these dancers identify as Dubsmashers. This means, in essence, that they use the Dubsmash app and other short-form social video apps, like Funimate, ‎Likee and Triller, to document choreography to songs they love. They then post (or cross-post) the videos to Instagram, where they can reach a wider audience. If it’s popular there, it’s only a matter of time before the dance is co-opted by the TikTok masses.

“TikTok is like a mainstream Dubsmash,” said Kayla Nicole Jones, 18, a YouTube star and music artist. “They take from Dubsmash and they run off with the sauce.”

Polow da Don, a producer, songwriter and rapper who has worked with Usher and Missy Elliott, said: “Dubsmash catches things at the roots when they’re culturally relevant. TikTok is the suburban kids that take things on when it’s already the style and bring it to their community.”

Though Jalaiah is very much a suburban kid herself — she lives in a picturesque home on a quiet street outside of Atlanta — she is part of the young, cutting-edge dance community online that more mainstream influencers co-opt.

The Renegade dance followed this exact path. On Sept. 25, 2019, Jalaiah came home from school and asked a friend she had met through Instagram, Kaliyah Davis, 12, if she wanted to create a post together. Jalaiah listened to the beats in the song “Lottery” by the Atlanta rapper K-Camp and then choreographed a difficult sequence to its chorus, incorporating other viral moves like the wave and the whoa.

She filmed herself and posted it, first to Funimate (where she has more than 1,700 followers) and then to her more than 20,000 followers on Instagram (with a side-by-side shot of Kaliyah and her performing it together).

But credit and attention are valuable even without legal ownership. “I think I could have gotten money for it, promos for it, I could have gotten famous off it, get noticed,” Jalaiah said. “I don’t think any of that stuff has happened for me because no one knows I made the dance.”

Cross-platform sharing — of dances, of memes, of information — is how things are made on the internet. Popular tweets go viral on Instagram, videos made on Instagram make their way onto YouTube. But in recent years, several large Instagram meme accounts have faced backlash for sharing jokes that went viral without crediting the creator.

TikTok was introduced in the United States only a year and a half ago. Norms, particularly around credit, are still being established. But for Dubsmashers and those in the Instagram dance community, it’s common courtesy to tag the handles of dance creators and musicians, and use hashtags to track the evolution of a dance.

It has set up a culture clash between the two influencer communities. “On TikTok they don’t give people credit,” said Raemoni Johnson, a 15-year-old Dubsmasher. “They just do the video and they don’t tag us.” (This acrimony is exacerbated by the fact that TikTok does not make it easy to find the creator of a dance.)


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