In new TikTok trend, parents are dancing like it's the '80s and bringing down the house

TikTok may add a new skill to its resume: the disco time machine.

The social platform, normally populated by countless Gen Z dancers – mostly in short choreographed routines that have been practiced and perfected – has recently been infused with the energy of a surprising demographic: their Gen X parents.

In the viral videos, adult children ask their parents to dance as they would have done to the 1984 sound bite “Smalltown Boy,” by British synth-pop band Bronski Beat. Most of the posts are tagged #momdancechallenge, #daddancechallenge or #80sdancechallenge and have amassed tens of millions of views.

The reactions were perhaps unexpected, because instead of laughing, the videos are great, really great, and act as a portal to another time: when dance was more often improvised and spontaneous, when people felt the rhythm and found the rhythm organically, moving without the constraints of horizontal proportions.

When Valerie Martinez, 23, asked her mother, Yeanne Velazquez, 58, to participate, it was before the challenge went viral and they hadn't prepared at all. “I hadn't even played the song before her,” Martinez said in a phone interview this week alongside her mother. But Martinez was sure that Velazquez would deliver her, because she is her mother Always dance, he said.

He was nostalgic for Velazquez, who said that when the song was popular, he was about 19 and went dancing at a club or two in Puerto Rico, where he lived. Now she and her daughter live in Florida.

The wave of positive comments on her daughter's post, which has more than 12 million views and nearly a million likes, has been encouraging, Velazquez said. What may distinguish this trend is how overwhelmingly uplifting the reactions on TikTok and Instagram have been.

It's a welcome break from the boring tradition of mocking the 40-and-over online audience exemplified in “OK Boomer” to the awkward discourse of Millennials.

“I didn't expect them to actually have the moves though!” one commenter wrote. “I swear I saw a glimpse of them younger in their smiles for a split second. Very touching.

“I can't figure out if I just love watching parents get teleported or if I just love watching other humans dance,” said another.

There were also dozens of requests in the comments to see photographs of the parents from that bygone era, and some accepted, including Velazquez, who said he had no reservations about sharing the photos.

When asked if trends like these help connect generations online, Martinez responded: “1,000%.”

Giselle DeLaney, 28, and her mother, Sandy Cervantes, 51, decided to attend on a whim and said this week they were taken aback by the reception. Cervantes' video has more than 15 million views on TikTok and approximately 1.5 million likes.

“It was a happy moment for both of us,” said DeLaney, who had given birth to her first baby just days earlier and filmed the video while her mother was visiting Maryland from Florida. The circumstances made the reception especially special, bringing, as DeLaney said, “a lot of positivity to our family.”

“You can see in their faces how suddenly they're back to having fun, having fun when they were younger and, yes, living their best life,” she said of the parents in the videos.

Social media, particularly Instagram and TikTok, are obviously considered the domain of young people, which gives these viral videos and other popular accounts that highlight older people the chance to serve as poignant reminders that a Once upon a time everyone was young and did young people's things, and that everyone – yes, even you – will get old if you're lucky.

Late last year, a video posted to the cindeemindy account showed her grooving to the '80s track “Set It Off,” by Strafe; it has been viewed millions of times and shared on TikTok and Instagram with enthusiasm and applause. The Old Gays, an account for a group of four longtime friends, men over 65 living in the California desert, have gained 11 million followers and made them unlikely influencers (or “grandfluencers,” as they are sometimes called) . They also dance a lot on their page and share photos of themselves from when they were young.

Perhaps in a few decades, today's TikTok dancers will resurrect their polished moves for their children to post on the social network du jour.

“We'll look back at videos that we've made of us dancing — or our kids will make us — and it'll kind of just lead to a full circle moment,” DeLaney said. “We'll think, 'You know what? This is who I once was, and this is who I am now.' And in twenty years, when someone asks me, I will be a different person, but I will remember who I was.”

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