The 20-year-old Filipina TikTok star talked to NYLON Manila about her success, the Filipino TikTok stars she looks up to, and how K-Pop and BTS inspired her to dance.
Out of all the social media apps currently available, TikTok truly stands out for how much potential it offers for users. It has a low barrier of entry so a lot of people can post their own videos. The app also has many tools available to make more creative and eye-catching videos. TikTok is a place where you can go from being a nobody to a social media star, and it doesn’t matter what field you are in. Whether it’s dancing, acting, comedy, fashion, cooking, and so much more, you can become a social media star practically overnight.
Case in point: Hannah Balanay, a 20-year-old Filipina living in Australia who mainly posts dance covers on TikTok. What started out as a hobby and her just participating in dance trends made her one of the app’s top creators. But Hannah Balanay isn’t exactly a household name, especially when compared to other Filipino TikTok stars. Though her success alone is proof that she is also worthy of praise and attention as she has garnered over 17 million followers and 365 million likes (and counting).
NYLON Manila chatted with the 20-year-old social media star to get to know more about her story, her success, and the young Filipina behind the viral success.
HOW HANNAH BALANAY GOT INTO DANCING
Hannah Balanay, who more popularly goes by the username thexhan on social media, was born in the Philippines on March 12, 2001. At a young age, she, her siblings, and her family moved to Australia because of her dad’s work and to pursue better opportunities for the family. They settled on Christmas Island, a small Australian territory off the coast of Indonesia. Hannah describes herself as an introvert, but someone who is also friendly and honest. For someone who describes themselves as an introvert, Hannah really knows how to attract people’s attention with her dancing, which is something she says she’s been into ever since she was young. “I’ve always been into dancing since I was little, so it’s been a part of my life for years! I guess the love for dancing came naturally.”
Watching her dance videos, you will notice that Hannah Balanay has a chill, slightly laid-back, but confident aura about her. When she dances, it doesn’t look like she is trying to get the views, but genuinely enjoys what she is doing. “I love that when I dance, I get to express myself and have fun at the same time.” She adds how the feeling gets better knowing that she gets to share what she loves with her fans and audience.
( dc @gooseyj23 ) THANK YOU SO MUCHHH FOR 14M!!! I LOVE YOU AND I APPRECIATE YOU ALL ??♬ BILLIE JEAN X BOO X F IT UP VMESHBEATS MASHUP – Varoon Ramesh
There was a time though when Hannah’s passion and fire for dancing nearly dimmed when she used to live on Christmas Island. “When I lived on Christmas Island, I had no one to dance with, so I just stopped dancing for a while,” she explains. So, how then did Hannah find that spark again to dance? Through K-Pop and stanning BTS, of course. She shared that once she started getting into the genre and the group, she started dancing again and would “learn as many dances as I could and record them.”
BEGINNINGS ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND VIRAL SUCCESS
Since Hannah loves dancing, it was only natural for her to post dance videos and covers online. “By posting dance videos, people can also take inspiration from my choreography. It’s always amazing seeing other people recreate my dances.” The first time Hannah ever posted one of her dance covers online was on Musical.ly, the predecessor to TikTok. “Back then I would also join in on some of the dance trends on the app.” Hannah started to regularly create content on Musical.ly and when it was converted to TikTok, Hannah transitioned to the new app. And once she transitioned to TikTok, Hannah’s career truly took off.
Hannah Balanay started gaining traction on TikTok in late 2019. “At the time I was posting a lot of dance trend videos whilst wearing bucket hats and that became what I was recognized for on the app,” she recalls. “I think a lot of my supporters like following me not only for my dancing but also for my fashion and style.”
If you don’t follow Hannah, then you most likely have seen some of her dance covers on your For You page, with her videos regularly getting one million views. She is most known on the app for wearing her signature bucket hat and usually with a sweater, hoodie, or something comfortable. Some of her biggest videos on TikTok have reached more than 40 million views and more than five million likes. She even has a video where she teaches how to do a body wave that has over 26.5 million views and 4.4 million likes.
Her biggest hit though on the app was her dance cover of Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now that she posted in January 2020. Her dance moves went viral on the app with stars like Charli d’Amelio and Addison Rae doing her dance challenge. Hannah Balanay’s Don’t Start Now dance challenge became one of TikTok’s most popular dance challenges of 2020 to the point where it even has its own emote in Fortnite. The original video currently has over 53.8 million views and 6.6 million likes. Even outside TikTok, she has been recognized for her talent as she was featured in BTS’s IDOL ft. Nicki Minaj music video.
pls do my dance?♬ Don’t Start Now – Dua Lipa
All of this has made her one of the most followed Filipino creators on TikTok. At 17 million followers and counting, she’s only behind the likes of Niana Guerrero and Bella Poarch. She also is the most followed on TikTok in Australia, too.
HOW HANNAH BALANAY HANDLES FAME AND DIVERSITY DANCE CREW
They say the bigger your career gets, so does your ego, but that isn’t true for Hannah Balanay. While she does acknowledge that she is a social media star, Hannah remains humble and grateful for all her success. “I feel so happy and blessed that I have the opportunity to share my content to such a large audience. I’m absolutely speechless from the love and support I get on the app!” She credits her ability to handle all her fame at a young age with the people who surround her. “I’m very lucky to be surrounded by friends and family that support me. I also take breaks when I need to take a rest.”
Outside of the social media app, Hannah also is part of a K-Pop dance cover group called Diversity. From Christmas Island, Hannah and her family moved to Perth where they are currently based. Moving to the city made her want to join a dance crew. “I joined Diversity when I moved from Christmas Island to Perth. Diversity is like a family, so once I joined, I felt very welcomed.” So, not only does Hannah kill it on TikTok, but she and her friends in Diversity also light up the dance floor with their K-Pop covers, most of which are filmed in public.
Aside from these activities, she also has her own YouTube channel and likes to play video games. She specifically sites playing Valorant with her friends as one of the ways in which she relaxes. She even streams herself playing video games on Twitch. And if you’re wondering, yes, she does follow and look up to quite a few of her fellow Filipino TikTokers. “There are loads! Some of my favorites are Niana Guerrero, AC Bonifacio, Bella Poarch, Yanyan De Jesus, and Sai Datinguinoo.”
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING CONTENT CREATORS
So, what’s next for Hannah Balanay? While social media is a fickle place and changes so quickly and unexpectedly, she does have a pretty clear idea of what she wants to do 10 years down the line. “I hope to continue creating content that people enjoy and entertain people with my dancing and maybe even singing, too!” As for advice for people who also want to make it big on social media, she says “Create content that you love, then people who enjoy the same things as you will naturally find you online. It’s important to make sure you have fun when making the content, too!”