As soon as it’s clear to go, a group of 20-somethings in bright crop tops rush to the middle of the crosswalk at Ocean Avenue near the Santa Monica pier and assemble into a triangular formation. With the pier’s ferris wheel illuminating the background, they begin to hop, kick and twist their legs in unison, moving so fast they stun passersby. The dancers bounce and flow as they smile for a friend recording their moves on an iPhone. When the pedestrian signal flashes a red hand, the squad bursts into laughter and scurries to the sidewalk.
“Many people don’t know what we’re doing,” says L.A.-based professional shuffle dancer and choreographer Kento Moriguchi. “I think the main thing that gets across to a lot of people is we just look really, really happy.”
Moriguchi is part of a passionate cohort of dancers in Los Angeles who’ve adopted the shuffle and repackaged the footwork for a new generation. MC Hammer’s running man and underground raves in the ’80s popularized the moves, and now it’s in the zeitgeist once more, courtesy of viral TikTok and Instagram videos.
Dancers flock to iconic places like the Sepulveda Dam, Grand Park, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood and Highland, Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier to collaborate on 20-second videos with virality as the goal. “My main thing was: ‘Go out in public, make sure you wear bright colors, make sure you stand out from your background and make sure you’re not shooting on wide.’” says L.A.-based professional shuffler, influencer and teacher Vanesa Seco. “Living in L.A. and being able to record here has made a giant impact on the reach we’ve been able to have to grow shuffling, to continue having classes and people being interested in taking classes.”
Seco is credited by her peers with pioneering L.A.’s first in-person shuffling classes. (Prior, the main way to learn in person was by observing crews battling in clubs with the freestyle moves.) It was a combination of her classes and social media that inspired a new community of shufflers to bring the underground dance to the streets of L.A.
“And you can’t say that about a lot of dance styles. You can’t say that about ballet, hip-hop or contemporary,” says Seco. “Social media and shuffling have been hand in hand for the growth of this dance style.”
Over the past 50 years, the shuffle slid from MTV hip-hop videos to electronic dance music clubs to YouTube tutorials. But quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the most recent boom, as people took to social media to learn “sick looking” bite-sized dances.
“It looked really freeing and it looked like they were really tapped in,” says Moriguchi of what motivated him to learn. “I wanted that feeling. I wanted to look cool.”
Whether or not they knew it, this new crop of shuffle dancers were taking something from the ’80s and making it widely accessible today. “That’s what social dancing is,” says Moncell Durden, an associate professor and dance historian at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. “The idea is for it to be easy enough that everyone can do it. That everybody can participate.”
And then the next layer is performing in spots that a fickle, scrolling audience will recognize. “It’s possibly a bit taboo, or areas where you aren’t supposed to do a particular kind of dance, but you’re sort of taking over the internet by doing it in these certain places.”
One of Seco’s original videos showing dancers crossing a popular Santa Monica intersection garnered over 20 million views on Instagram. “It’s pretty crazy how much that made an impact and we realized that people really liked seeing us in adorable places,” she says. “We obviously loved the background and the whole vibe of being in a place where you would never see that happen. Making it almost ironic.”
Location aside, the matching, fast footwork flow is awe-inspiring. “It’s about the location and how cool it is, but also, it’s about how sick shuffling looks,” says Seco. It’s not uncommon, she says, for viewers to ask, “What is that?! What is that foot thing?!”
The location choices are tailored to an online audience, not necessarily for folks just walking or driving by. “In L.A., you already see so much entertainment, so it’s more for people watching online that are like, ‘Holy s—, that’s Rodeo and there’s literally people dancing in the middle of the street. That’s insane,’” continues Seco. “I think it makes things go viral because they are all of these iconic spots that people know and love.”
Durden explains that each of these location-based videos becomes a travel stamp for the influencer inspiring their followers to visit. “Whether they [followers] are doing the dance or not, they want to go to where they’ve seen people doing the dance.”
All this is not to say shuffle influencers don’t get their fair share of haters. “People will say sometimes, ‘What are you doing jumping around?’” Seco illustrates. “Yeah, I am. Shuffling is jumping. We’re jumping for joy!” she laughs. Indeed, the dancers interviewed for this story described the feeling of shuffling as euphoric as you enter into a trance flow freely and without judgment. “It feels like freedom, it feels like egoless nature,” Seco describes.
Moriguchi acknowledges the EDM “plur” culture (peace, love, unity and respect) also applies to the shuffling world, which he describes as inviting, loving and accepting. “It’s high energy, it’s happy and it’s free. And I feel like that’s why people feel welcomed to it.”
Gen Z and millennial EDM lovers dominate the current shuffle scene, but both Seco and Moriguchi underscore that anyone who wants to “let their bodies go” to an uplifting cardio workout can learn, and you don’t need a professional dance background to get good at it. However, Moriguchi advises that while the footwork is easy to learn, it can be challenging to master once set to a fast tempo. “It does require, to some extent, knowing how to use your fast twitch muscles and being able to stay on beat. In shuffling we like to hit double tempo, … and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and …”
With all the viral videos comes even more interest in classes, which in turn are breeding more shufflers. “I’m hoping that having so many classes in L.A. now, it’s something that can continue on for generations and generations,” Seco says.