The dancer, filmed on a residential street on a cloudy day, is an unassuming swan. Stepping forward on one foot, he lunges while his arms, as loose as cooked spaghetti, fling behind his rib cage. He rocks back and forth, brushing his other foot with a low kick to the front, his arms crossing at his chest. His wingspan — its billowy effect — is completely hypnotic.
The Pinegrove Shuffle, originated by Garrett Lee on TikTok in June, involves a particular weaving of rhythm and coordination, of accuracy and full-body fluency. But as Lee demonstrates, it comes down to the wrists. Stretched to either side, there is a subtle, quick flick that expands the swinging reach of his arms. It’s soft, almost lazy, as if he were floating in water.
“Some people don’t really get that fluidity,” Lee, 19, said of his wrists, which “flop down a little bit as my arms go down. It’s kind of like a bird.” And it’s that wingspan in action.
Watching Lee perform his viral Pinegrove Shuffle, set to “Need 2,” by the band Pinegrove, is both strangely soothing and tinged with sadness. Almost two months on, it hasn’t faded into TikTok obscurity, and that points to its power: As it passes from one person or group (or animated pink beagle) to another, it is filling a cultural hole.
Every summer has its song, its vibration. So why not a dance? And why not this dance? So far, this has not been a joyful summer. It’s hotter than ever in miserable and scary ways; the smoke from wildfires is dangerous and heartbreaking. There’s so much to care about, most obviously the somber state of the planet. The lyrics that stand out during Lee’s dance, “Nothing here to care about,” are deceptive — to dance this dance is to show that you do care, that you aren’t going down without a fight.
With the physique of a football player, which he was until recently, Lee glides through the movement with little expression on his face, speaking instead through his body. The Pinegrove Shuffle is an antithesis to the pink — albeit fun — universe of Barbie. It’s about longing in the real world, which on the day Lee filmed wasn’t cloudy in the usual way: The location, a friend’s house in Maryland, was thick with smoke from the Canadian wildfires.
Lee, who lives in Salisbury, Mass., never studied dance. But his football training — he was mainly a center — has clearly played an important role in terms of his agility. (Along with Shakira.) “My football coach used to say, ‘Hips don’t lie,’” Lee said. “You need to be able to flip your hips fast and athletically in order to be a lineman. And I feel like that’s contributed a lot to my dance moves. I put a lot of hips into it.”
It also helps that he is a snowboarder. “All my hobbies,” he said, “kind of correlate back to this Pinegrove video.”
Pinegrove wasn’t the first version he shot of the dance, which he had seen DJ Khaled perform on TikTok, but at a faster speed. “I wanted to do it in 6/4 timing because a lot of the songs I listen to are in 6/4 timing,” Lee said. (He has no formal training in music, either, but plays drums and guitar.)
“I just felt it to the music, and I was like, ‘This is funny,’” Lee said of his Pinegrove dance. “‘I have to post this.’ So it’s kind of DJ Khaled’s, but I do it a little bit differently than he does. Not everyone’s able to recreate the floppiness.”
He laughed, “Shout out to DJ Khaled!”
His first attempt, to “Never Meant” by American Football, didn’t take off. But the Pinegrove song takes him to a different place. “I’m not a super depressed person, but it makes me feel sad a little bit,” Lee said. “That’s kind of why my facial expressions are that way in the video — because I can’t really control it when that song comes on. The song was hitting my soul in a different way.”
Lee is mystified by the popularity of his Pinegrove Shuffle, but said he thinks of it as a dance for everyone. “It’s all crazy to me because everyone finds a deeper meaning,” he said. “I love that because it brought a whole community together.”
When it was posted, friends weren’t sure it was him in the video. Over the past year or so, Lee, who took a gap year after graduating from high school, has lost weight: “I used to be, like, 340 pounds and I’ve lost 120,” he said. “I started posting more TikToks because of it. It boosted my confidence. I’ve always been able to dance. It’s just a little bit easier now.”
During his gap year, Lee said he wanted to find himself, and he did — on TikTok, with his spontaneous dances. “I never really think about them until I’m like, you know what? I might as well just shoot a TikTok.”