Auburn biomechanics lab: The 'Renegade Challenge' takes brains

Published: Mar 4, 2020 12:00 AM

By Jeremy Henderson

Taylor Oldfather, a doctoral student working in Auburn University's Biomechanical Engineering (AUBE) Lab isn't on Twitter. She's barely on Facebook. Before this week, she'd never even heard of TikTok. But after this week? She just might sign up. 

There's just so much data to work with.

When first approached with the idea to map the moves of the latest social media dance challenge via motion capture, Oldfather wasn't exactly expecting to find anything scientifically interesting. It was supposed to be mostly for fun. 

But when lab workers suited students with reflective markers, cranked up the music, and hit record, she did a double take.

"See that right hip flexion peak at the end?" she said. "The max moment comes before the maximum knee flexion, because the body has to overcome the inertial properties of the leg. I mean, it's fast, but to have that happen, you'd actually have to initiate that movement while you're in the middle of the previous movement."


Nailing the Renegade Challenge kind of takes some brains.  

"I actually found it really interesting that this dance has become such a sensation," Oldfather said. "So many people have learned it, but, cognitively, it's a hard dance. It's difficult to master." 

And that's not just book knowledge talking. Oldfather, who earned her undergraduate degree in Auburn in exercise science, danced for 17 years. Ballet. Contemporary. The works. She recently spent time in Italy analyzing, among other things, the biomechanics of ballet as part of a study abroad program led by AUBE Lab director Michael Zabala, her PhD advisor. She's actually writing a book on the subject.

She says that one degree of difficulty that distinguishes the Renegade from other viral dance crazes is the complete lack of repetition. 

"Take the Floss," she said. "So the Floss is repetitive. You have to make sure you're in sync, but once you've gotten it down, the challenge is just to speed it up. But the Renegade is a ton of individual movements that are linked together." 

That makes it not only hard to learn, Oldfather said, but kind of hard to study. 

"In some ways, it was hard to process the data, but you couldn't calculate the frequency of motion because there was nothing that repeated," she said. "That's hard to choreograph. Something doesn't catch on like this if the choreography isn't good. Maybe it can be something boring if it's a celebrity who starts it, but when it's someone no one knows, it stands out because it's good." 

The Regenade's original moves were recently traced to Jalaiah Harmon, a social media savvy 14-year-old from Fayetteville, Georgia. 

"Wow, to do that at 14 is amazing," Oldfather said. "Maybe I'll follow her on TikTok."

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591

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