“People crediting you is what gets you your followers. You can make nine dances but if nobody credits you, it’s going to take a while to build yourself to where you are.” – Kara Cannella
Tik Tok Star Kara Cannella Is Up for “Best Viral Dance” for the VMAs On MTV – Let’s Meet Her Now!
By Ashlee Buhler
When scrolling through the ‘For You Page’ on Tik Tok, you have probably come across a dance choreographed by Kara Cannella. In fact, you may have come across more than one without even knowing. That’s because the 23-year-old from Dallas, Texas is the mastermind behind some of the app’s most viral dances, however, most of the fame and recognition has been reserved for the people performing them.
It’s been a constant uphill battle for Cannella as she climbs the ranks of one of the most popular social media platforms in the world; turning out viral dance after viral dance while others sometimes see the glory. Yet, her determination has never wavered, her passion has never slowed, and all the work she has put in is slowly but surely starting to pay off.
Before her Tik Tok days, Cannella was a competitive dancer. She got her start in dance when she was 10 years old and grew up watching the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Cannella quickly fell in love with the choreographic process and looked to some of the industry’s best—Travis Wall, Mia Michaels and Will Loftis—for inspiration through her own journey with dance. However, it was tWitch—the freestyle hip hop star from season four of SYTYCD—and his ability to adapt to dance styles outside of his comfort zone that took Canella’s hopes and dreams to the next level.
“That was a big part of my passion for wanting to do more concert dancing and just knowing you can be versatile in different styles,” Cannella said. “But I’ve always just had a passion for choreography, and I felt more connected to those types of people, and I loved hearing about the creative side and how they listen to music and choreograph.”
Cannella, who recently graduated from the University of the Arts with her bachelor’s in dance, has found the perfect outlet to channel her creativity and passion for choreography: Tik Tok. She joined the app in September 2019 but didn’t begin posting dance videos until March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced people all over the country into lockdown.
“I didn’t know dances were as popular on Tik Tok as they were,” Cannella said. “I started choreographing a few things and a lot of people started liking my choreography. Soon enough one of my videos blew up and it just kind of gradually went from there.”
“Hoopla” was Cannella’s first viral dance. The choreography, which is set to a mash up of Lil Bow Wow’s hit song “Basketball,” involves popular moves such as the Woah, along with movements miming a basketball player shooting a ball and dribbling it between the legs. The dance picked up traction when Charli D’Amelio, the app’s most followed user, did it in October 2020 for her then-almost 100 million followers. That was only just the beginning.
Nine of Cannella’s dances have since gone viral. Her latest, which she choreographed with her friend Jaeden Gomez in May of 2021, is entitled “His & Hers.” So far, nearly four million people have posted videos of themselves doing the dance, which even over time takes some getting used to.
“It’s kind of crazy, especially if I watch my sister open her Tik Tok app and she’s like ‘Oh, it’s your dance,’” Cannella said. “I get tagged in a lot of them but it’s kind of crazy to think it’s everywhere. I could be standing next to somebody at the grocery store and my dance could be on somebody’s phone.”
In choreographing dances, Cannella has found the perfect recipe for Tik Tok virality: something eye-catching and fun, yet still feasible for the average person to do. How can she tell? She asks herself one question: can her mother do it?
“That’s when I know it’s the perfect Tik Tok dance because if my mom can learn it, anybody of all ages can learn it,” Cannella said. “Some of my dances are a little more advanced because I have some followers who like the challenge, but I really like to incorporate all levels so anyone can do it. I think that’s really important when making a viral dance because you want as many people as possible to do it. The better people can catch on, the better chance it will go viral.”
When choreographing, Cannella said working with music and styles of dance she enjoys is key. For music, she gravitates towards artists like Doja Cat or Megan Thee Stallion, but as for a particular dance style, the possibilities are endless.
Cannella has trained in all styles of dance from modern to hip hop to jazz. She has also dabbled in an emerging style of dance called Gaga, which she describes as a mix of contemporary and acrobatics. Tik Tok has allowed her to showcase it all.
“It’s kind of crazy translating my experience into Tik Tok because it’s mostly hip-hop dancing but it’s also kind of cool to show my actual styles,” Cannella said. “One of my favorite styles is contemporary. I just love the music and the different aesthetics and dynamics you can do.”
Cannella’s journey on Tik Tok hasn’t always been easy. While creating and performing dances might seem like a fun and frivolous hobby to some, it’s a full-time job for many users. The views, likes, shares, and followers can translate to financial opportunities and serve as a stepping stone for landing professional gigs.
One of Cannella’s biggest challenges is not receiving credit when other creators do her dances. This results in millions of people knowing her choreography by heart, almost like an automatic reflex when the song begins, but nobody knows the name of the person who put in the time and effort to create the dance.
In Cannella’s eyes, those with large followings (some of which surpass 20 million) play a pivotal role in helping small creators grow their fanbases. Afterall, she may be the one creating the dances, but it’s the big-name creators who set the trends and dictate what dances get seen, and which ones get lost in an endless sea of videos.
“People crediting you is what gets you your followers,” Cannella said. “You can make nine dances but if nobody credits you, it’s going to take a while to build yourself to where you are.”
The growth has been gradual, perhaps slower than one might expect for someone who has created so many viral dances, but Cannella’s passion has continued to shine through. Recently, she hit a major milestone on Tik Tok: one million followers.
“It was surreal,” Cannella said. “I never thought I’d hit 1 million on anything so that was crazy to think I’ve already hit that milestone. At first, I was like, ‘What do I do now?’ But you just keep growing and the milestones are just going to keep getting bigger. I’m excited to see how far I can go with this.”
Through it all, Cannella has still received plenty of support and appreciation from people she admires. She has caught the eye of rapper CardiB, who has shared her dances on Instagram. Cannella’s favorite dance “Gimme More,” which also happens to be her most popular (with over 12 million views) was done by Step Up star Jenna Dewan. “It was like a dream come true,” Cannella said.
And it gets better. tWitch, the very person who inspired Cannella as a young girl, did the “Hoopla” dance with his wife Allison Holker. “It’s amazing because you work so hard and then these people actually see you,” Cannella said. “It’s crazy.”
With her growing social media presence, Cannella hopes to mesh her two worlds and continue Tik Tok while consistently securing choreography gigs and performances. Her long-term goal is to tour with artists like Doja Cat, Ariana Grande, or Armani and perform on stage. However, she also dreams of being on the other side as the one directing and choreographing for shows or music videos.
“Dancing is always going to be in my life, whether it’s me dancing in a video or me behind the scenes,” Canella said. “I just want to be in that realm forever.”
While many users on Tik Tok are in their teens, the dance industry has no age limits. Cannella’s advice to those who want to follow in her footsteps is to follow their passion—because it’s never too late. And with patience and persistence, anyone can achieve their dreams.
“Don’t ever think because you’re not getting a bunch of views or likes that your content isn’t good or that your dancing is bad,” Cannella said. “It’s all a matter of opinions and you’ll get your credit if you just continue doing what you love.”
You can follow Kara on Tik Tok @karaleighcannella
Photos courtesy of Kara Cannella
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