The queer community has found a new home on TikTok.
Although not without its downsides—trolls seem to find their way onto every social media platform—many users who identify as LGBTQ+ are finding support on the app, which has opened up space for them to present their identities in a way that feels authentic. For dancers, who train and work in a world that often reinforces the gender binary, claiming space on TikTok can feel especially validating.
That sense of inclusivity is "primarily due to the fact that the main demographic of creators and users on the app are Gen Z," says dance and social media star Dexter Mayfield, who's done everything from performing with Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry to walking major runway shows. "I have never seen a more intelligent and inclusive and engaging group of young people that are determined to truly be better than those who have come before them."
That network of support has propelled some queer dancers to the forefront of TikTok fame. Here are four of those artists who are dominating the app, doing things their way.
Dexter Mayfield is the kind of influencer who's easy to become "friends-in-your-head" with. The L.A.-based dancer and creator has built a brand of feel-good, genuine content, and his smile, which lights up his face whenever the body-positive role model dances, is infectious. "We need to smile," he says. "We need to be hopeful; we need to grasp on to whatever light or happiness we can find in all of this darkness. And if I can help do that with a 15-second video, then let's do it!"
Mayfield's positive attitude has helped him attract more than 400k followers on the app. His popularity has even begotten deals with high-profile brands—he says the app has been essential to creating opportunities during the pandemic, which has shuttered dance communities all over the world. "I truly feel creating content for TikTok has singlehandedly secured almost every job I've had in 2020," he says.
To those trying to climb the TikTok ladder, he recommends finding your own voice and staying true to it. If you don't, "the TikTok audience will see it immediately," he says.
The last time you saw Zackery Torres may have been on the reality-TV show "Dance Moms," but these days, the USC Kaufman dance major is laser-focused on advocating for inclusivity, especially for people, like Torres, who identify as nonbinary. "I love being able to serve as a role model, or even as someone relatable on the app," they say. "The more people, no matter what age they are or what reason they stumble upon my profile, that hear about gender inclusivity, the more our communities can evolve."
Torres is more than just connecting with their over 100 thousand followers. Their passion for activism revealed another calling: "I recently started a company called Continuum Community, which empowers communities to make the necessary steps to be gender inclusive," Torres says.
Like most influencers, Torres gets some negative comments from users on the app. "I'm not going to gloss over it: Being on TikTok is hard," Torres says. "I notice the most hate coming from people who don't realize they're doing it." But Torres shakes it all off and has pressed forward to, perhaps, their most meaningful achievement yet: publishing a 27-page guidebook called An Evolving Conversation on Gender: Dance Edition. Torres says they hope the book will help "bring people into the conversation in a welcoming manner, so that they feel empowered to learn and grow."
If you haven't seen the Nicole Kirkland–choreographed "WAP" concept video, run, don't walk, to your nearest streaming device. (Disclaimer: The video features the explicit lyrics of the song, so click with caution!) The video amplifies a message of queer power, and features dancer Howard Johnson, who slithers across the floor, left split by right split—in three-inch pumps, no less. Johnson is such a standout that rapper Cardi B took notice. "She reposted a clip of me from the video to her Instagram account. I was extremely excited," Johnson says.
And he has every right to be: His "more is more" persona, gag-worthy vogue dips, and rubber-band flexibility have helped him amass over 600 thousand followers on TikTok. He's parlaying his success not only into partnerships with huge brands and companies, including HBO Max, but he's also using his platform to spread a message: Just be you. "Everyone is truly capable of anything they put their minds to," he says. "I am inspired daily to keep creating content that, hopefully, inspires my audience to be authentically themselves, no matter where they are or who's around them."
If you don't know Prima Punk, her life motto almost perfectly sums up her personality: "I'm trans. I'm 6' 3". And I'm here to break the ballet binary!" We're convinced she very well could.
With legs for days and a facility that could make even Dusty Button blush, Punk exudes the elegance of a classical ballet dancer, but with a no-effs-given attitude that distinguishes her from other TikTok dancer influencers. She wasn't always this confident, though. "When I was working with ballet companies, I was not out as being trans, and always had to perform masculine roles, which felt inauthentic," she says. Punk hopes to one day get a contract with a ballet company, but as a ballerina, playing the roles she identifies with.
She credits TikTok and the community she's cultivated there—more than 340 thousand followers—with helping her feel more comfortable being out. "I think the best thing to come out of being on the app is the amount of support and validation I receive from the queer community," she says. "I'm living life as my authentic, feminine self."