Growing up in Monroeville, Taylor Sims knew he wanted to be a dentist. And he knew he liked to dance. But he could never have guessed that his online fame as “the groovy dentist” would put him on national television.
It all comes together Tuesday evening when Sims will be one of the featured competitors on “Dancing with Myself,” a show designed to capitalize on the popularity of the dance challenges seen on TikTok and other social media. The idea still kind of takes Sims by surprise.
There was a moment during production of the episode when he found himself thinking, “I’m really dancing in front of Nick Jonas and Shakira. This is crazy,” he said. “It was definitely a mind-blowing experience, to say the least.”
Sims just finished the first year of a residency in pediatric dentistry at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Getting there was more or less a lifelong journey.
“Growing up, my mom had told me she was bullied basically because of her smile,” he said. “She was very adamant about getting my brothers and I braces, making sure we went to dentists every six months. … She couldn’t get braces, so she made sure her children did.”
“Being the youngest son, being a son in general, hearing your mom talk like that, kind of made me mad,” he said. “I wanted to do something that could basically serve as a gift to her every day that I go to work. Dentistry was the route for me.”
He went first to the University of Alabama, which he called his dream school. “”I’ve been Roll Tide my entire life,” he said. After graduating in 2016 he went to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, completing his dental studies in 2021. Now he’s halfway through his residency, still getting used to life in the District of Columbia. “It is completely different from the South,” he said. “I’m ready to get back in the South.”
He’s also getting used to his status. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself when someone says ‘Dr. Sims,’” he said.
The joy in all this comes through loud and clear in his posts at www.tiktok.com/@thegroovydentist. In one, viewers see him shimmying in a hotel room, celebrating the occasion of “Attending my first American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry conference as Dr. Sims! Truly dreaming everyday I wake up.” In another, he dances in a hospital corridor with a young patient.
In another, wearing scrubs as he moves to Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight,” he lets captions tell his story: “Only 3.6% of pediatric dentists are Black. … Growing up in Southern Alabama, I never seen a dentist that looked like me til I was 19-20 years old. … I dreamed it but had the hardest time trying to believe that I could do it. … No one in my family went this route so it was unfamiliar territory for us all. … But here I am, years later, the FIRST DOCTOR IN MY FAMILY! … I Pray my journey and my representation inspire people to go after their dreams even when they look impossible to achieve.”
Posting dance clips online has been an occasional thing, he said, not a brand he’s been trying to develop. He likes to keep it fun. Even so he’s had at least one clip that “kind of went viral” when he challenged another dancing dentist. Perhaps that’s how he came to the attention of the show’s producers.
“Dancing with Myself” was launched this spring. Pop stars Shakira and Nick Jonas are joined on the judging panel by YouTube star Liza Koshy, and Camille Kostek serves as host. Each episode puts a dozen contenders in “pods” in front of a studio audience that votes on every round of the action.
This isn’t a “Survivor”-type show where it takes a season to find out who takes the prize: Every episode pairs a fresh batch of contenders down to a winner. The fast-paced action features solo dance challenges, duo pairings and one-on-one face-offs. Judges “save” favorites who didn’t make the cut on the audience vote, but no one stays safe for long.
“I was very nervous going into it,” said Sims. “I’ve never done anything like this. But you only live once, I love to dance, so why not go for it?”
While he could not, of course, reveal the outcome of Tuesday episode, he was able to share a little bit about the experience. The hyped-up studio audience brought a lot of energy, he said.
“It was like one big dance party,” he said. “The show is called ‘Dancing with Myself.’ You’re dancing with yourself, but you’re also literally dancing with everybody out there watching.”
“It’s a very fast-paced show. But everybody associated with the show was kind,” he said. “I’ve made friends from all over the place, all walks of life.”
Interested viewers will have to tune in Tuesday night to see how far he makes it in the competition. But there’s not much doubt about his long-term path. For the “Groovy Dentist,” work is the main focus. Though having a fun persona definitely can be an asset in his particular specialty.
“Kids are very funny, they’re very unpredictable,” he said. “You never know what you’re really going to get. Pediatric dentistry is really a lot of behavioral management, making sure that they feel comfortable.”
When parents have had bad experiences and are nervous about going to the dentist, kids can pick up on that. “You’re basically fighting two battles at the same time” to win them over, he said.
“I know I’m in the right specialty,” he said, “because sometimes work doesn’t feel like work.”
No wonder he feels like dancing.
“Dancing with Myself” airs at 9 p.m. Central time on NBC. Tuesday’s episode is the last of the season. For more information, visit www.nbc.com/dancing-with-myself.