Austin shufflers create community through dance

Just before turning off the lights and securing the doors at Balance Dance studios in Austin, Ciara Castro exchanged smiles, hugs and “I love you” with her students as she wrapped up another night of classes .

The evening, like many, began with the full-time drummer and TikTok star encouraging the band to immerse themselves in a state of free movement as they twisted their bodies and stomped on the mahogany wood surface of the studio space.

Striking with each beat, their feet twirled in and out as their arms swung up and down and side to side. The moves created a mesmerizing effect that grew as each dancer added their own style to the mix.

For Castro’s students and the growing number of shufflers in Central Texas and beyond, this art form served as a source of community, self-expression, and creative solace.

“Movement is medicine,” said Castro, 25, who has been moving since 2016. “It might be yoga or going to the gym for some people, but for us it’s art. When you go to festivals or raves here, people move and it’s tribal for us to dance as humans.

First came the ‘Melbourne Shuffle’

Born in the electro clubs and raves of Melbourne, Australia in the late 1980s, the ever-evolving dance has become internationalized in the decades since its emergence.

Built on the T-shape movement, the dance was known as the “Melbourne Shuffle” before other dancers took to it, blending moves traditionally tied to country, hip-hop and b-boy culture to create the shades of today.

The splicing of the original shuffle helped new styles like the House Shuffle, cali style, Malaysian style and others to take shape.

The popularity of this largely underground art form came in waves; the shuffling flirted with the mainstream in the mid-2000s with the creation of YouTube and in 2011 with LMFAO’s spiraling rave hit “Party Rock Anthem.”

Underground dance is becoming a social media craze

Shuffling gained popularity with social media trends on Instagram and TikTok, especially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The culture of shuffling was already extremely thick before it hit social media, but it exploded during quarantine,” Castro said. “It was on stage for ‘America’s Got Talent’, there are commercials with my friends and it’s always been a good time.

Ciara Castro, second from right, gives instructions to shufflers during her class at Balance Dance Studios on Nov. 23, 2021. Castro's shuffle dance has earned her half a million followers on TikTok.

With nearly half a million TikTok followers, Castro is one of Texas’ best-known shufflers, but she credits shuffler Matthew Farguson and others with breaking new ground in the growing music scene. ‘Austin.

“I would say the Austin scene is a collective, of course,” said Castro, a Corpus Christi native. “But if you’re talking about social media, I think I’m the face of Texas. But Austin, collectively, I can’t take credit for it. It’s been here and it’s so rich.

The rise of Austin’s shuffling scene began with local dating

Farguson and other notable shufflers began hosting meetups in 2016 in downtown Austin. They grew from a handful of attendees at each event to eventually attracting 20-50 dancers.

Since the days when dancers formed in T-shapes in parachute-sized cargo pants, the brew has gone through many changes, Farguson said.

Even still, America has been behind for years, said Farguson, a Denton native; he and other dancers were forced to rely on YouTube videos to build their movement vocabulary.

“Nobody was teaching it, so I spent about three years not looking so good until I came on the scene in Dallas in 2010-11,” Farguson, 33, said. “I’ve been doing it for a while, but with each step it’s gaining popularity.

“Here in Austin, there hasn’t been a lot of resistance. They’re adopting it and it’s a pretty big community here and it’s grown really fast.

Farguson said the popularity of shuffling in the city grew exponentially with Castro’s presence, as she and her friend and roommate, Brigitte Johannessen, took the fundamental moves and nuances they learned to reinforce more the local dance community.

While she wouldn’t place Austin at the center of the shuffling craze, with the communities in California and Florida being much larger, Johannessen, a native of Bergen, Norway, said the city’s dance scene had inspired more recognizable shufflers to join circles around town.

“There’s a really big force in Austin,” Johannessen, 27, said. “We’ll be hosting meetings where people from San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and everywhere have come because we have a lot of talent here.”

After doing shuffling for the past two years, Stacy Veitch, 48, said she’s become more immersed in dancing because of the people who run and occupy the local shuffling scene.

“It was amazing, the people are so welcoming and I love it so much,” she said. “It’s people from all walks of life, different ages and they’re all so accepting. It’s a very good atmosphere.

Linda George, who learned to mix under Castro, said the mix community has felt even more cohesive with its expansion, despite the varied styles and geographic separation.

The growing number of shufflers in Central Texas and beyond has created a community of self-expression and creative solace.  Ciara Castro teaches beginners Rachel Salz, left, and Lauren Olivier, center, on November 23, 2021.

“This genre is universal and underneath folk, country, hip-hop, it’s the basis of a lot of music in general,” the Tupelo, Mississippi native said. “I feel like there’s a collective change happening with this genre for humanity, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

Future of shuffling may come in commercialization, say dancers

As with hip-hop, shuffler Maxwell Sasaki expects corporations and mainstream entities to capitalize on dance because of its global reach and appeal.

“We’re really on the cusp of where things start to go in the commercialization of shuffling,” Sasaki, 31, said. “There will always be the commercialization of any art and dance, but I think it’s going to become more of a movement.”

With the growing admiration and potential commercialization of shuffling, Johannessen said she was divided, in part, because of the emotion she and others felt in the shuffling space.

While others may be looking for social media likes or shares, or profits, Johannessen said the purpose of the contraption is far more important.

“It’s completely passion-driven,” she said. “None of us intend to do this to become some kind of famous dancer or something. It’s always been for lack of expression and inspiration, and the fact that people around embraced us with open arms is very powerful.”

Regarding the future of shuffling, Sasaki said it would be on the backs of members of the community itself. And in time, the genre will find its true place in the wider dance community, he said.

Random Dancers Gabrielle Lopez, left, Ciara Castro and Brigitte Johannessen catch their breath between takes while filming a video on Dec. 8, 2021. Random Dance requires immense basic control and quick body movements, which makes her makes it quite trying.

Stomp in the shuffling

Austin’s Ciara Castro offers several online and in-person classes and workshops for people who want to learn the basics of shuffling. To register, go to beacons.ai/ciaracastro_.

Over 80 detailed dance tutorials are available at www.theshufflecircle.com.

Colleen D. Ervin