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Why we don’t get tired of the “Merlina” dance

(CNN) — Merlina Addams doesn’t do anything by accident. The most stoic and deliberate member of the Addams Family, she rarely makes unnecessary movements, including smiling and blinking.

So when the spirit of dance possessed the typically moody teen at her school dance in the new Netflix series bearing her name, it caused an immediate stir, on and off screen.

The brief scene represents less than three minutes of the entire series, but it quickly became the most iconic moment of “Merlina” because of how free our eccentric protagonist seems to feel. Her eyes reveal a rare and macabre passion. Her limbs, typically attached to her side, move freely. Her dance is her, no doubt: lots of stern, forced movements and moves from decades past. Certainly no one could mistake Merlina’s dance for the latest TikTok trend, right?

Something about that quirky dance unlocked something strange inside all of us and it took off faster than a fire at Camp Chippewa. The choreography clips inspired viewers to watch the series, making it one of the most watched shows on the platform. streaming (“Stranger Things,” step aside.) Her popularity on the internet brought Lady Gaga’s “Bloody Mary” back to the charts more than a decade after the song’s release, and she only appeared on fan-created TikToks, not on the show itself! “Merlina” star Jenna Ortega’s confession that she choreographed the routine herself invited new fans, including celebrities, to give it a spin and even infuse the routine with moves from their own cultures.

Merlina Addams would probably be mortified if she knew her moves have become mainstream, but her dancing just won’t die, and she might enjoy that. This is what gives “Merlina’s” dance her supernatural staying power.

The scene has its own myth

The “Merlina” dance scene debuted only a month ago, but it already has a certain “mythology,” said Jenna Drenten, an associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago who studies how users of TikTok and other digital platforms express their feelings. identities.

Most of the scene’s story took place off-screen. Ortega, playing a teenage Merlina with her pitch-black humor intact, has said that she choreographed the routine herself. She counted among her influences to Bob Fosse, Siouxsie Sioux, and 1980s gothic dance clubs (probably also infiltrated some references to the 1960s “Addams Family” TV series).

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The Cramps soundtracked Merlina’s dance in her titular Netflix series. (Credit: Peter Noble/Redferns/Getty Images)

Additionally, Ortega admitted that she is not a trained dancer, which makes her routine perhaps even more appealing to non-dancers who found the routine on TikTok, Drenten said.

“I’m not a dancer and I’m sure that’s obvious,” Ortega told NME.

But Ortega’s dedication has also inspired outrage: she told NME that she filmed part of the dance while awaiting the results of a covid-19 test, which later came back positive. This led some to condemn the production for not following proper covid-19 prevention protocols on set, but even so, “Merlina” continued to cause a sensation.

Viral trends that stay in the cultural conversation the longest usually don’t stay just on their platform of origin, Drenten said. Look at the Corn Kid: He appeared on a YouTube series talking about the wonders of the corn, then clips of his appearance went viral on TikTok and he’s worked with chipotleGreen Giant and the state of South Dakota, promoting corn on other platforms.

“To have a longer lifespan, TikTok trends need to make that leap into a cultural trend, beyond TikTok’s borders,” he said. “The ‘Merlina’ dance had an advantage in this regard because the dance and the legacy of ‘The Addams Family’ originated outside of TikTok from the very beginning.”

The “Merlina” dance has become a shared ritual

Another thing that the dance of “Merlina” has on its side: the human tendency to learn a dance for social prevalence.

Think “Electric Slide,” “Macarena,” “Cupid Shuffle”—common at bat mitzvahs and weddings, moves many of us know so well we can perform them without thinking. Performing them en masse at an event like that might seem like a Pavlovian response to a DJ’s choice of song, but it’s also a shared ritual that fosters “a sense of solidarity and belonging,” Drenten said.

“Every gesture and movement allows the person performing it to inherently say, ‘I get it, I’m aware, we have this shared experience,’” Drenten said.

That’s part of the reason why dance routines, from Lizzo’s “Renegade” to “About Damn Time,” often dominate TikTok. But unlike those trends, the dance to “Merlina” wasn’t set to a popular song, though The Cramps’ punk anthem “Goo Goo Muck” has since gained a new following. The moves were fairly easy to learn, Drenten said, “simple but unique.”

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Lady Gaga put her own spin on the now-iconic “Merlina” dance, braids and all. (Credit: @ladygaga/TikTok)

But it was Lady Gaga who took the “Merlina” dance to a stratospheric level. The version that went superviral on TikTok is a sort of “fancam,” or mash-up of clips, appropriately set to Gaga’s “Bloody Mary,” a Biblical ode to dancing without inhibitions Even Mother Monster herself performed a version of the “Merlina” dance, complete with two long braids.

Since then, millions of users have put their own spin on Merlina’s school dance solo, and some users have incorporated Polynesian or Indian dance styles into their versions or created their own Merlina looks (including Fingers (Thing), the hand! Without body!).

Merlina gives us permission to be weird

Belonging, of course, is the antithesis of the spirit of Merlina, who has never cared to fit in. She’s perfectly content on an island of her own, where the sun never shines and ancient torture tools abound. That Merlina’s idiosyncratic moves have been so widely copied could threaten to diminish her status as the patron saint of weirdos, except her style and attitude have been copied for decades.

Merlina Addams has been around in some form since the late 1930s: first as an unnamed comic character, then as a tiny girl on a TV sitcom, then, in her most famous iteration before the release of “Merlina,” as Christina Ricci with dead eyes. And Merlina fans have dressed as her for decades, Drenten said, often inspired by Ricci’s interpretation. The Addams’ eldest daughter is no longer a secret that her biggest fans can hide from mainstream pop culture.

Since her debut, Merlina has been an idiosyncratic icon for loners and goths for her uncompromising commitment to the macabre. Yet she remains an “exceptional” among women and girls in fiction, Emily Alford wrote for Longreads, because she has never mellowed or gravitated towards certain story tropes. She is who she is, and she’s not changing.

“She brought to the screen a morbid self-acceptance that set her apart and became a crucial role model for a generation of girls who developed their own dark humor,” Alford wrote.

And now, many of those girls and other users are on TikTok, where niche communities can flourish (or reach mainstream users). The app is a “space for people to discover who they are and, more importantly, to find other people who share their same interests,” Drenten said, even if those interests involve dressing up as a certain dispassionate teenager.

“Arguably, TikTok encourages a lot of playback, and users can feel pressure to act and look a certain way,” Drenten said. “But Merlina reminds people that being themselves in that sea of ​​equality is liberating.”

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