Dance creators on TikTok — many of whom are Black and people of color — are asking to be properly recognized for viral dances that the most popular TikTokers are directly benefiting from.
Now, many of them are calling the issue out directly on the platform. Some told BuzzFeed News that proper crediting is important, because dances are no longer a frivolous pastime on the platform, but a way to become famous and make real money.
“People have made [dancing] a business, so give the dance credit,” 21-year-old Atlanta resident Bryan Sanon, the creator of the recent 100 Racks Challenge craze, told BuzzFeed News. "It’s like you make something and it comes from you and your soul or your brain, and someone else who is more popular or in a different position takes it and you don’t get recognized for it."
Some creators, like 20-year-old Zach Jelks, know the struggle well. He's created multiple viral dances and has gained 2.8 million followers to his account @itsundos.
Jelks told BuzzFeed News he is fighting back by not only asking everyone to credit him when they do his dances, but telling popular TikTokers who he believes intentionally use his dances without credit to stop doing them altogether.
Jelks recently posted a TikTok asking TikToker Nessa Barrett (9 million followers) to stop doing his dances. He said he made the video because, he claims, Barrett is "one of the many big creators who does not credit people when she does their dance most of the time."
After Barrett posted a video of herself doing Jelks' dance to a slowed-down version of the hit "Whats Poppin" with no credit, Jelks posted a "duet" video in response on his backup account @jelks.
"Please stop doing my dance," he wrote in the caption, tagging Barrett.
"I specifically called Nessa out because her and her boyfriend had done my dance multiple times without giving credit, along with other people's dances as well," he said. "I think more creators are speaking out on this topic because they see people like me speaking and voicing my opinion on the topic, and I think they are sick of not getting credit too."
Barrett's management team told BuzzFeed News they have "no comment" on the issue.
The issue of crediting dance creators reached a tipping point earlier this year, after the popularity of the "Renegade" dance. The dance took off after a hugely viral version by Charli D'Amelio, arguably the most famous teen on the app with more than 65 million followers, but was created by a Black teen named Jalaiah Harmon.
After the New York Times wrote a feature on Harmon and the dance, there was a public outcry that Harmon had not received her due credit when her choreography was taking off.
"If a young woman from Atlanta, Georgia, created Renegade, these girls who might live in LA need to give credit to that," Sanon said.
Jelks agreed that the "Renegade" example showed how important crediting is.
"Charli did not purposely steal the credit from 'Renegade,'" he said, "but back then when that dance was going viral, dance credits were not a thing. And the creator of the 'Renegade' dance, Jalaiah Harmon, did not get credit for the dance until months after, when people were outraged that this young Black girl made a dance sweeping the nation, yet a big creator was getting all the credit."
Sanon said in both his immediate community in Atlanta and among Black dancers on the app, it's common practice to give a nod to someone who created original choreography. He wants that to become widespread.
"Smaller creators definitely give dancer credit, and people in my own community — the African American community on TikTok — definitely lean toward that aspect of the app, but things change when you do something that someone thinks is hot," he said. "They will definitely run away with it. And that sucks. It happens to a lot of people that I know."
He believes most non-crediting he sees on TikTok is blatant laziness from big content creators "not doing their research." He also thinks many of them play coy, or try to take credit for something by omission.
"It's the 'play dumb' aspect. People start asking questions and they [respond,] 'Hmm? I don't know' ... and it's like, 'No, this is from over here,'" he said.
Since the "Renegade" discussion, people have been filling comment sections on dance videos that rack up millions and millions of views with tags to the original creators. Jelks, Sanon, and others have also started calling on huge TikTokers, like Addison Rae Easterling (who has more than 47 million followers) and Quinton Griggs (5 million followers), asking them to credit and link back to creators when they do a dance.
Often, it works.
This week, Easterling posted another video of herself doing Sanon's challenge, and tagged him in the caption. D'Amelio has recently tagged almost all of her dance videos with the original dance creator, or "DC."
Some dance creators BuzzFeed News spoke to say they don't think most big creators who don't credit are intentionally stealing dances.
Rio Raab, 15, who claims she made choreography to a remix of Chris Brown's "Take You Down" that's become massively popular, thinks the randomized algorithm makes it hard to know who created the original, and it naturally spirals out from there. (Note: that dance is also credited to multiple other dancers, like @itsjetta, whose shares similar dance moves, but are different from each other.)
"Most times the popular creators don't see the original either, they usually see another popular creator do it," Raab said.
However, regardless of intent, she thinks "popular creators should credit because [fans will] end up crediting the popular creator for making the dance."
Sanon said he thinks TikTok's algorithm and platform should play a bigger part in helping to trace original dance videos.
TikTok won't label a video as the "original" unless you record a TikTok on your phone with the sound embedded, instead of choosing it from the app. If you simply use someone else's uploaded music or the app's built-in music, but create your own original dance to it, your video will not be labeled as the "original."
"As a creator if I make something on TikTok and I make it first, then I should get the original tag. The first few people would give me credit and someone big would do it [without credit] and it completely erases what I did," Sanon added.
BuzzFeed News reached out to the company in 2020. In 2021, a spokesperson sent BuzzFeed News a statement in response to this issue saying TikTok "care[s] deeply about the experience of Black creators."
"We continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honoring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm," they added.
Jelks and Sanon believe simple crediting and tagging should be "common courtesy" to do.
"It's like citing your resources. I feel as though if you use someone's idea it is common courtesy to give them the recognition/credit they deserve," Jelks said.
"Don’t do the challenge and not do the research," Sanon added. "That needs to become a must. It’s not fair two or three people or a Hype House gets all this recognition and money from things other people created."