‘I feel like my sister died’: inside the shocking TikTok dance cult

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Since they were young girls, Miranda and Melanie Wilking danced together. The sisters, two years apart, grew up exceptionally close in suburban Detroit, dancing in their basement, in competitions and eventually in pursuit of a professional career. When Miranda graduated high school and moved to Los Angeles to chase the dream, Melanie followed as soon as she could. The duo, who looked nearly identical – long brown hair, bright blue eyes, sharp features, deep tans and lithe physiques – found modest work auditioning together, but greater success online. By this point, in the late 2010s, TikTok was on the rise; short, peppy dance videos to a front-facing camera were the fastest avenue to a following, and thus a living, via sponsorships. Miranda and Melanie started an account together as the Wilking Sisters; by 2020, they had over 3 million followers on the platform.

But in 2021, the sisters suddenly stopped posting new videos together, as things fell apart behind the scenes. Through her boyfriend James “BDash” Derrick, a dancer well-known for the LA-based street-style krump, Miranda and several dancer friends had joined a management company called 7M as well as its affiliate Christian church, Shekinah, both run by a man named Robert Shinn. Melanie always followed her older sister, but was put off by Shinn’s “weird” messianic vibe and the pressure to attend services. Soon Miranda began acting strangely, distancing herself from her formerly close family and anyone not associated with 7M. She chopped her hair short, dyed it blonde, and started new social channels, posting dance videos that followed a distinct 7M template: punchy, polished, slightly hypnotic, with aspirational backdrops – expansive patios, mansions, Hollywood landmarks. By January 2021, she cut off contact with her family entirely. Though Miranda was posting frequently to social media, to those that knew her, she wasn’t Miranda any more. “I literally feel like my sister died. She’s everywhere, but nowhere,” Melanie explains in the new Netflix docu-series Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult.

The three-part series begins in February 2022, when Melanie and her parents, Dean and Kelly Wilking, went public with their concerns on Instagram Live. It was Miranda’s 25th birthday, and they hadn’t spoken to her in over a year. The Wilkings used the word “cult” to describe 7M and Shinn’s church, and asked the public for help. The internet, always primed for a new cult scandal, took up the cause, especially given 7M’s relative ubiquity; several dancers had follower counts in the millions. While Miranda and Derrick, by then married, insisted publicly that they were fine and not in a religious cult – Miranda posted several eerie live videos to stress the point – online sleuths began to dig into Shinn’s past, issue explainers and close-read 7M dancers’ videos for signs of distress. Meanwhile, the Wilkings agreed to be part of a documentary capturing their efforts to, as they put it, free Miranda and expose Shinn’s psychological manipulation.

Content retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/article/2024/may/28/tiktok-dance-cult-netflix-documentary.

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