The idea of friends competing in a dance battle may not be new, but Austin-based startup Virtual Arts is bringing the idea to the virtual world with its first app, DanceFight.
Similar to apps like TikTok, Instagram Reels, or Triller, which allow users to post and view short videos, DanceFight aims to enter the video-based social media sphere and capture the competitive nature of Gen Z.
Rather than independent videos or a collaboration, DanceFight focuses on competition. DanceFight’s social video world allows users to scroll through trending dance videos and provides a gaming experience where they can fight side by side and vote for their favorites.
Virtual Arts recently launched the app and secured $2 million in seed funding to further develop the platform. It is available on the Apple App Store and will soon be launched on the Google Play Store.
Ryan Jordan and Rich Sloan founded the company in 2018 after meeting during South by Southwest and began developing the app soon after.
The app is designed to bring together the worlds of social form video and gaming. Jordan said he came up with the idea after working as executive director of the Austin-based Amala Foundation, a nonprofit focused on personal growth. At the organization’s annual youth summit, Jordan said he saw the power of music and dance to connect people from different backgrounds and even overcome language barriers.
“We noticed year after year that day one would be quite awkward, but music and dancing was a big way for the kids to connect,” Jordan said. “That was the original inspiration: we can create a mobile community where kids, wherever they are in the world, can jump onto a really safe and inclusive platform and have fun, compete and dance, sing, etc.”
The app lets users choose from millions of songs and collaborates with music artists and major record labels Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.
“We definitely have a lot of dancers there now who are really good dancers and provide a lot of entertaining content,” Sloan said. “But the idea is that you, regardless of your skill level, can join in the game to challenge a friend to a dance fight and have fun connecting that way.”
Users can fight any other user on the app or share it with friends to fight directly. They earn points by participating in dance battles, voting on others’ dance battles, and creating content. Sloan said the company was working on partnerships that would bring big-name artists to the platform.
“You’ll be able to dance with your favorite artist as we continue to evolve this,” Sloan said. “We have an ongoing collaboration with Sony Music, Universal Music and Warner Music and their artists are coming to the platform for dance challenges, and you can dance right next to them.”
The company earns money through in-app purchases, including premium effects and filters, as well as the ability to subscribe to your favorite creators, virtual tips, sponsorships, and ad revenue.
In October, the app will begin offering tournament-style dance battle options, Jordan said. The feature will allow people to create competitions within a high school or other group of people, or restrict who can view and vote on a battle.
The company’s longer-term plan is to expand beyond dance into more forms of competitive content, including singing, comedy, rapping, cheerleading, basketball kicks , skateboarding and other action sports.
The company has 11 full-time employees and plans to add approximately 20 Austin-based team members over the next year in development and design.
Dancefight also emphasizes safety, say its founders. Unlike other video-focused apps, users cannot send direct messages or comments to each other. The app also checks for any inappropriate text or video content being uploaded, according to the company.
While the focus is on competition, users also can’t see what the resulting voting margins were, and anyone who participates in a dance battle always gets points whether they win or lose.
Sloan said the idea is to minimize intimidation and let users feel free to express themselves.
“We’re creating an environment that’s really positive, and really safe, and really inclusive and responsive to young people who participate,” Sloan said. “We think we’re creating a really great environment for these young people where expression is rewarded, people are safe and the idea of being brave and bold is always a really good thing.”