Where Do “Say So,” “Gangnam Style,” And Other Viral Dances Get Their Names?

There's more to dancing than the samba or the sock hop. Now that social media makes it so easy to share our passions and creativity with others, people around the world can upload dances special to their communities and watch them go viral.

These types of dances are known as social dances, meaning that their main purpose is to bring people together in an exchange of awesome moves. It's dancing for the sake of gathering and having fun, rather than performing for others (as in ballroom dancing).

Of course, different communities and ethnic groups have their own dances. Swing dancing was popular among Americans in the 1930s through the 1940s. Latin Americans have a long history of throwing parties and dancing salsa, bachata, and merengue. African American social dances were a way for enslaved Africans to tell stories and keep tradition alive; the tradition has persisted to this day, and many viral dances can be credited to the Black community!

No doubt you'll know some of the dances on this list, as they've become pop culture staples. You've probably seen them floating around on TikTok or Instagram. Here are 10 viral dances that have taken the internet by storm. Which of them have you tried to master?

stanky leg

Let's get down to basics. The stanky leg is a dance move that entered the public consciousness in 2009. It's the foundation of many other dances on this list, or at least part of them.

Hip-hop group GS Boyz introduced us to the stanky leg with the aptly named song "Stanky Legg." The music video doubles as an instructional how-to on performing the stanky leg: you extend one leg, circle your leg using your knee as the axis, and then switch it to the other side.

Movements reminiscent of the stanky leg appear in moves like the gwara gwara, the billy bounce, and even the wiggle. Surprisingly, this one hasn't made it into the online multiplayer game Fortnite (yet)!

the woah

Have you hit the woah? This is a dance/challenge coming from good ol' Dallas, Texas, just like the stanky leg.

A few different people uploaded YouTube videos highlighting the woah around the same time, so knowing exactly where it came from is a bit of a mystery. DJ Dangerous, who claimed to invent the woah, uploaded his video in 2017. This was followed by a group of students at Prairie View A&M, who uploaded a dance video in October of the same year. However, the dance spread when a video with rapper Lil Uzi Vert doing the woah was posted to YouTube in 2018.

On TikTok, the video-sharing app responsible for spawning many challenge videos, users caught wind of the woah in 2019 with #HitTheWoah. How does one hit the woah? You lean into a pause or break in the beat's music, but "catch" the music when it resumes by rotating your fists and forearms like you're locking the steering wheel of a car.

Dictionary fact: whoa is typical spelled W-H-O-A. While both spellings have significant usage, most dictionaries recognize the spelling woah as "incorrect."

Say So

Everyone on TikTok seems to know the Say So dance, created by TikToker Haley Sharp in late 2019. The dance, choreographed to rapper Doja Cat's disco-inspired song "Say So," features a body roll and a swipe at a pretend punching bag to the lyrics: "I'd let you had I known it, why don't you say so? / Didn't even notice, no punches left to roll with / You got to keep me focused, you want it, say so."

The song's about trying to get the person you have a crush on to notice you like them; this dance should help with that!

The dance predates the video, which is a common source of confusion for those who think Doja Cat created the dance. Nope, credit goes to Sharp's creative choreography. The video for "Say So" even features Sharp performing the dance!

Needless to say, the dance exploded in popularity, and TikTokers recreating it themselves were frequently shown on the For You page of the app, making the dance part of the TikTok canon.

dougie

We might not be able to teach you how to dougie, but we can tell you where it came from!

This OG dance move brings it back to the 2010 song by hip hop group Cali Swag District. However, they were simply the messengers for a dance that has origins in the 1980s!

Rapper and beatboxer Doug E. Fresh was the inspiration behind the dougie, which hails from Dallas, Texas. Fresh's influence was so popular, locals not only named the dance after him, but another Dallas rapper, Lil' Wil, penned a local hit called My Dougie in 2007.

OK, OK, we'll describe the dougie to you. It's a whole body shimmy, topped with moving your hands past your head on each side. It's easy to inject your own personality into this dance!

Flip The Switch

Grab a friend, because you'll need one to perform this viral TikTok phenomenon.

Drake's Flip the Switch challenge is an excuse to swap identities with someone else. In March of 2020 the TikTok account @dallinxbella uploaded a video of a couple flipping a light switch off and emerging into the light wearing each other's clothes.

Although the song "Flip the Switch" came out back in 2018, it only gained widespread internet notoriety thanks to good ol' TikTok. Drake can add #FlipTheSwitch to his arsenal of viral dances, that's for sure.

This one went so viral that celebrities couldn't help but join in. The Twitter account for Saturday Night Live even uploaded US Senator Elizabeth Warren doing the challenge with comedian Kate McKinnon, who frequently impersonates her on the show.

milly rock

If you were on the internet in the mid-2010s, you'll remember the milly rock.

This was one of the first viral dances specifically popularized by the internet. The milly rock got so popular, celebrities from Rihanna to Beyoncé were seen doing it. Yes, this one is definitely in Fortnite.

Who came up with the milly rock? We have rapper 2 Milly to thank for it. In an attempt to cash in on some internet fame, the rapper named it after his rap moniker.

2 Milly released the song "Milly Rock" in 2015 and gave a good demonstration of milly rocking: you do a simple two-step while windmilling your arms at the elbow left and right and performing a kind of slapping motion with your hands.

JuJu on That Beat

A dance challenge isn't as hard as it sounds: you simply record a video of yourself doing the dance and upload it with a hashtag. JuJu on That Beat might have been the first truly popular challenge video to take the internet by storm.

In 2016 hip-hop duo Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall released the song "JuJu on That Beat." Dance duo Fresh the Clown approached them for a collaboration and the JuJu was born. The hashtag for the challenge was #TZAnthemChallenge.

Juju has quite a few meanings. Juju is the name for a type of percussion- and guitar-led music from the Yoruba in West Africa, but it's also used to refer to supernatural luck and even marijuana. Zay and Zayion use the "enchanted" definition when explaining JuJu on That Beat.

I'm A Savage

Remember the Hot Girl Summer of 2019? Megan Thee Stallion brought back that energy in 2020 with her song "Savage." TikToker Keara Wilson came up with I'm a Savage and the #SavageChallenge in March 2020, and the dance immediately went viral, attracting the attention of other TikTok users, celebrities, and even Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion herself.

Savage is slang for someone who unapologetically goes after what they want and isn't afraid of offending anyone in the process. It's just like saying someone is a boss. The dance, performed to the chorus of the song, combines arm rotations, hip rolls, and even a silly face. It's a fun and easy dance to learn, which led TikTok users to upload their own versions of the dance in droves during March and April of this year.

Running Man Challenge

Now, if you're thinking of the classic running man dance from the '80s, you're only partially correct. This is another challenge dance that took the world by storm in 2016. There have been many iterations of this challenge, which has brought viral fame to many dancers.

Originally, the Running Man Challenge was uploaded by two high school students doing the dance to the 1996 song "My Boo" by Ghost Town DJ's. They put it on Instagram with the hashtag #RunningManChallenge. It was named after the perceived movement of running: you move your arms in tight movements while shuffling your feet.

The challenge truly took off when two University of Maryland basketball players uploaded a video of themselves doing the dance. Even the New Zealand Police Force took part and won a social media award for it!

hit the quan

The song that is performed when you hit the quan was actually a chart-topper! In 2015, Memphis, Tennessee rapper iLoveMemphis released a single that would end up at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Much of that popularity, however, is due to the dance that went along with it.

iLoveMemphis wasn't the one who came up with the dance, however. The song itself is a tribute to Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan. How's it done? It involves gyrating your body, stepping low, and swinging your arms on the down beat.

The quan was so popular it transcended generations; this dance was popular among people of every age. It was also the subject of memes online.

Gangnam Style

South Korean musician PSY probably didn't expect his song "Gangnam Style" to cross over cultural barriers and become a huge part of 2012. It was so popular, YouTube had to update the number of views it could count on a video! So why is this dance called Gangnam Style?

In South Korea, Gangnam is one of the richest and most glamorous places in Seoul. It has become a symbol of wealth, materialism, and opulence within the country. Here's a quick translation of the lyrics: On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby / I’m a man who knows a thing or two / You know what I’m saying / Oppa is Gangnam style. 

PSY is saying that, like Gangnam, which he describes as warm and lovely during the day but lively at night, he can make the shift from day to partying at night.

The horse dance is what PSY calls the dance he does in the video ... and the dance the whole world copied. It looks like you're riding a horse: you bend your knees, shuffle your feet, and cross your hands at the wrist as if holding a horse's reins.

the dab

Somehow, the dab has become everyone's victory dance and inspired countless memes. But when it started out in the 2010s, it was just a humble dance from Atlanta, Georgia.

To understand why the dab is called the dab, you need a quick lesson on the many ways marijuana can be consumed. Dabbing involves smoking hash oil burned with butane, which results in an intense high made up of almost pure THC (the chemical in marijuana that gives the "high" sensation). Some doctors caution dabbing may be more dangerous than conventional smoking.

So when a dancer covers their face and mouth with their arms to do the dab, it's like they're covering their mouth from a coughing fit from dabbing. But not everyone agrees that the dance move is linked to this term. Dabbin' can also mean "confidence."

The dab was popularized by the rap group Migos in the 2015 song "Look at My Dab."

whip / Nae Nae

For this one, you'll have to think back to 2015 when everyone—and we mean everyone—was doing the whip and the NaeNae. The NaeNae dance accompanied the We Are Toonz song "Drop That #NaeNae." It was named after Sheneneh Jenkins, the character that comedian Martin Lawrence portrayed in the 1990s sitcom "Martin."

Silentó, a rapper from Georgia released "Watch Me (Whip/NaeNae)," adding the whip to the NaeNae. It was this song that put the whip/NaeNae onto a rocket straight to the fame stratosphere.

Here's a breakdown of the dance: first you whip (you put your fist in front of you like you're steering a car ... or holding a whip!), and then you move straight to the NaeNae (putting your arms up and swaying them in time with your feet in and out).

Out of all these dances, the whip / NaeNae probably had the most widespread appeal. It was popular among children, celebrities, people on Twitter or Instagram, and everyday people.

Which dance is your favorite?

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