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TikTok Brings Together A Community Of Dancers

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Dance challenges are huge on TikTok. Maybe you, too, have spent hours scrolling on the social media app, delighting in watching dancers, professional or not, move to some familiar, catchy beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I'm a savage - classic, bougie, ratchet, sassy, moody, nasty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE LOVE")

JASON DERULO: (Singing) Savage love. Did somebody - did somebody break your heart? Looking like an angel, but you're savage, love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T START NOW")

DUA LIPA: (Singing) Aren't you the guy who tried to hurt me with the word goodbye?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One style of dance is jete-ing its way into people's feeds.

YAZMINE AKAMINE: Ballet TikTok is a very creative place. It's more of a comedic outlet for ballet dancers than the rigid structure that we have to participate in every day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Yazmine Akamine. She's been dancing since she was 3. Now she's 19 and a trainee with the Sacramento Ballet. And her TikToks make the struggle of training in a pandemic real.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

AKAMINE: After waking up with severe anxiety, I try to get ready for my day to dance outside in 30-degree weather. I tell myself my daily affirmations. Breakfast is a bowl of cereal provided by my roommate I because I get paid nothing to dance eight hours a day in 50-degree weather - aye. Our studio's now a skeleton of the stage, exposed to all the elements...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But humor and the creativity of ballet TikTok are just entry points - or we should say first position - into what this virtual community really offers.

AKAMINE: I talk a lot about personal struggles that I've had with being, like, frustrated or, like, slightly burnt out or struggles with, like, body image. So it's really nice to have that platform to connect with people that are going through things that sometimes you feel like you're alone in, but you're not really alone.

JENNIFER MCCLOSKEY: My name is Jennifer McCloskey. I run a TikTok account where I, you know, make humorous and sometimes educational content about ballet.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

MCCLOSKEY: Did you know the best way for a ballet dancer to strengthen your abs is to just log roll away from all of your problems?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: McCloskey has more than 200,000 followers. She's 24 years old, started taking classes five years ago. As someone who came to ballet later than most, she has a lot of advice for younger dancers.

MCCLOSKEY: I think a lot of younger dancers and people who are professionals in the field are very concerned with how small the dance world is. They feel like they can't speak out about it because it could hurt their career aspects. And so as someone who's not trying to build a career for myself, I feel like there's not pressure to censor myself. I'm allowed to just, you know, say what I want and be critical and, you know, point out the flaws.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of those flaws is the lack of representation, an issue Akamine also hopes to address. Her mom is Venezuelan, and her dad is Japanese and grew up in Hawaii.

AKAMINE: It's been interesting being a mixed dancer. I grew up in Kentucky. So (laughter) there was definitely not a lot of diversity. So it's hard to pin yourself and be like, oh, like, I can do this. I can be this, especially when you're young. And I hope to be that for the next generation and stuff like that. So that's definitely something I'd want to change in the ballet world.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE FIFIELD'S "PAPARAZZI (JETE 1)")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Yazmine Akamine and Jennifer McCloskey, two dancers hitting body positivity and diversity issues on ballet TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE FIFIELD'S "PAPARAZZI (JETE 1)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.