“Just Dance” Believes That Dancing Is for Everyone — Here’s How They Prove It
I’ve spent my entire life searching for some form of representation in the media I consume day to day — and more often than not, I don’t find it. Not being able to see ourselves reflected in the screen, in the text or the image isn’t unusual for those outside the ‘norm’ society has sold to us — but when it happens, the feeling is inexplainable.
I remember the first time I felt it when I was playing “Just Dance” and came across a Bollywood dance number (I believe it was “Didi Tera Devar Deewana” from “Hum Aapke Hain Koun” — called “Kurio Ko Uddah Le Jana” in the game). I’m Central Asian, which means I grew up watching numerous Bollywood films. If you’re unfamiliar, the musical dance numbers in these films are iconic, and even as a child I’d stand in front of the television learning the choreography. Being able to throw on the map and see the familiar clothes and dance moves (though adapted and presented in the infamous “Just Dance” style) was so powerful — and I often forget how much of an impact it has until I experience it.
The “Just Dance” Representation Evolution
Over the years, I’ve noticed “Just Dance” adapt and grow to feature even more levels of representation and diversity. When I spoke with the team at the “Just Dance 2024” launch, they expressed how seriously they take feedback from their community — as well as their internal team in order to create the ultimate user experience. I asked the game’s Creative Director, Matthew Tomkinson to tell me more about the process.
“I would say that from the very beginning, ‘Just Dance’ is a game that was meant to be played by anyone. Because it’s not like the usual, typical game with the more — I would say — male-centric representation. Dancing and pop-culture is, by a sense, very diverse.”
“In general, we try to have a very diverse track list with different musical genres from different countries. The team is [also] very diverse. And what what I can do is make sure that everyone has the opportunity to express their ideas and to see how we can make them happen in the game.”
How “Just Dance” represents its LGBTQIA+ players
But it’s not just cultural diversity through music and dance that make “Just Dance” a beacon of representation in the gaming world. From dances specially choreographed for wheelchair users to various body-types of the coaches — the dancing figures you focus on to drive up your score, the game is constantly striving forward to continue to meet its core belief that dancing and thereby “Just Dance” is for everyone.
Matthew elaborated on how they connect with their global audience through the game when he spoke of the LGBTQ+ community and how they interact with “Just Dance”. “We have quite a large gay audience for the game and [for me], that was one of the elements that I felt I wanted also to be able to see in the game — even tell stories. We’ve done it in different ways, like by including Todrick Hall — we have some characters that are drag queens, for example, that are represented. We did “Sissy That Walk” by RuPaul last year and we have a real performer called Lolita Banana, who is a French-Mexican drag queen that performed [it].”
The development of these coaches into full-blown characters you can visit in different maps (featuring different songs) is what’s also allowed for painting a picture that players might discover themselves in. “We’re telling the very cute story of two girls that have been flirting around in maps before — and it’s concluded in Vampire by Olivia Rodrigo [on “Just Dance 2024″]”.
Collaborating with diverse talent
The electrifying song list and stories wouldn’t be as magnificent as they are without the collaborative effort from the entire team, across production, costume design, makeup and of course, choreography. The game can’t work if these components aren’t working together — and from meeting the people responsible for bringing it all together, it’s obvious that they’re not only aware of that, but they’re passionate and enthusiastic about it.
When speaking with Estelle Manas, their Choreograph Director, she spoke more about the way “Just Dance” has teamed up with other collaborators in order to bring in various voices and perspectives. “[We really try] to find talent of all kinds, we do castings to which everyone is welcome, any style of dance, any morphology — it’s really important to us and no difference represents an obstacle in our eyes — on the contrary.”
Working with Florent Devlesaver
They did just that when they discovered Florent Devlesaver, who uses a wheelchair, through “La France a un incroyable talent” (or “France’s Got Incredible Talent”). Together, they worked on a map for Radioactive by Imagine Dragons, which appears on “Just Dance 2023”.
“He’s a contemporary dancer with a special technique. So, we contacted him. We had the idea of doing a map with Sadek Waff, who is a world-famous choreographer, who does tutting [all the geometry with the arms]. We also knew that this choreographer had worked on a piece dedicated to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, with dancers in wheelchairs, so it seemed like an obvious choice for us to collaborate.
Florent was very happy to take part, precisely because he thought it would be great to enter the living rooms of millions of people to show them that everyone can dance. It was both touching and very exciting.”
Estelle also touched on the fact that most professional dancers don’t seek out opportunities with “Just Dance”, and that to combat this, the team will often do their own research to “bring variety and diversity, on a number of subjects, into “Just Dance”.” In instances like these, it becomes apparent that “Just Dance” is doing more than filling a quota. “It’s really important that everyone feels welcome in the game and that everyone has fun, because dancing is a real outlet.” she added.
Check out “Just Dance 2024” today!
It’s clear that throughout it’s 14 years of existence, “Just Dance” has been striving to release editions that empower, enrich the lives of and accurately represent people around the world that love and support the game. You can check out the latest version, “Just Dance 2024” here — and get ready to boogie your heart out (because you will).
You can also come along on the journey while I discover the world of “Just Dance 2024” in my 3-part series on TikTok!