Should Dancers Get Political Online?
Lurking on dancers' social media pages, among the video clips of superhuman pirouettes and the photos that immortalize them above the stage in grand jeté or crouched on a windowsill wearing lingerie, pointe shoes and a sultry expression, is the occasional political post.
It's hard not to have a political opinion in the age of Trump. And on social media, opinions are easy to express. We might have to thumb the history book all the way back to Abraham Lincoln to find a more polarizing president (alas, the two leaders' similarities decisively end there).
In my lifetime, no president has been so far removed from the arts as our current one. Ronald Reagan was, of course, an actor before becoming a politician and GOP deity (although he, like Trump, sought to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts). Bill Clinton had decent chops on the tenor saxophone. George W. Bush paints. Barack Obama actually wrote his own books. Trump's closest proximity to anything artistic was through the highbrow sophistication of reality television, or maybe via the foul creativity of his "locker room talk" and the free-wheeling fictions of his tweets.
So should dancers share their political views on social media?
"Dance and the arts are of no value to the current administration," Wendy Whelan observes. "Of course, I think it's up to the individual artist whether to get political or not. But I do think we, as artists, have developed a voice, and that we're capable of communicating on the deepest levels with the world around us."
Misty Copeland echoes that sentiment: "I don't think it's our responsibility to speak about politics as artists. But if you feel strongly about your opinion, I think there are people in the public that feel empowered and supported when someone that has the platform to be heard uses it."
Many dancers are troubled not just by Trump's apathy toward the arts, but by his swerve away from the progressive mores that artists largely share. "This recent election has been a huge stimulus to stand up even more for my beliefs," Ashley Bouder tells me. "I feel that too many groups, women and the LGBTQ community in particular, are fighting a war with the leaders of this country. If I add my voice to the noise, perhaps we can create real change."
Any foray into the political discussion is a kick to the hornets' nest; the reactions are swift and sometimes uncivil. But Bouder considers the stakes high enough to be worth a few stings. "I think I've alienated some followers," she says. "I've alienated some family too, actually. But, in my opinion, the political situation in the U.S. is so extreme and intolerant, I just cannot imagine not doing all I can to bring about positive change." She adds that she doesn't mind debate, but that she's received "some truly hateful comments"—mostly from individuals with anonymous online profiles.
For Copeland—whose public image, to some people, intrinsically involves politics—losing fans who reject her values isn't necessarily a bad thing; it lets the chaff winnow from the grain. "I feel like I'm very open and honest and my political views don't differ from my daily practices, beliefs, and the way I present myself to the public. So if there are people out there who support me but are bigoted and racist, then it's not a loss for me to 'alienate' them."
The alienation burns both ways. One dancer, after posting on social media in support of Trump, experienced such a backlash, online and from her colleagues, that she turned down a request to be interviewed, even anonymously, for this article. In fact, most of the dancers I contacted declined to comment. Maybe they were too busy, or they felt there was nothing further to add to this mosh pit of a conversation, or they didn't wish to estrange any fans. Or maybe they recognized the incongruity of speaking out against a right-wing administration while performing in a theater named after a powerful right-wing figure.
Professional ballet, at least in the U.S., exists because of the generosity of patrons. By voicing their views publicly, do dancers risk losing not only fans but also sponsorship, guesting opportunities, or endorsement deals? Where should dancers' primary loyalties lie? Is it in poor taste to publicly oppose a patron's views—or is it, in some instances, a moral obligation? (Is taste now a moot consideration, given the leader of our country's boorishness, the savagery of the political discourse, and the sense of urgency many people feel about our planet's problems?) The answers to these knotty questions are as elusive as certain income tax returns.
I think we can all agree that a beautifully danced and crafted performance will always be the strongest argument for the value of ballet. And maybe, in a way, it can offer a gesture toward a broader kinship. "I think artists hold a lot of power," Copeland says. "Speaking or not, performing in times of stress, weakness and turmoil, we definitely can bring people together." I agree. Watching a ballet is a shared experience. A theater is a kind of church, where folks gather to examine or escape their world, and—to paraphrase Oskar Eustis—to remember the dream of who they can be. For a few magical hours, as they wax into a single audience, the distinctions between right and left, red and blue fade away.
So how to lure President Trump into a theater to see a ballet today? Do we get tricky and tell him he's attending a beauty pageant or Wrestlemania? The man adores Twitter, so maybe dancers' political posts will find him, after all. But let's be real. The only way President Trump will ever attend a ballet is if Putin takes him to the Bolshoi.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.