Career

Get Booked: 4 Tips on Using Instagram to Land More Jobs

Eric Underwood's Instagram is a mix of fashion, dance and fun. Photo for ESQUIRE UK by Tom Craig

Anyone can see that online influence can change how the average Joe or Jill is perceived. In dance, social media has helped boost familiar faces like Misty Copeland and Eric Underwood, who have both gotten athletic ad campaigns, book deals and endorsements.

Having a clear Instagram presence can help dancers create additional job opportunities within the entertainment industry. Check out these tips from four dancers who've used the platform to land new gigs.


Tip #1: Be You

A scoliosis advocate and champion, Paige Fraser has turned what some would call a handicap into something that has kept her "booked to capacity." She leads with the philosophy: "Be you. Know who you are and put your best self forward." Throughout Fraser's social media presence, it is clear that she is proud of who she is and all of the things that make her unique—including her scoliosis.

A founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, she notes that showcasing her talents on social media has helped her land commercial opportunities that she wouldn't have foreseen otherwise. Namely, Fraser booked gigs for FOX's "Empire" and a documentary called "Women That Inspire" for ESPN Latin America all through Instagram.

Fraser wants to inspire others to be an inspiration: "We are #trending, especially dancers of color. I am not ashamed to use it as an advantage. I live to inspire and share my experience of living with scoliosis."


Tip #2: Dance Like No One is Watching

Formerly a dancer in Ballet Hispanico and Broadway's On Your Feet, Chris Hernandez has a more relaxed approach to his Instagram strategy. "I never take my social media too seriously," he says.

Hernandez knows that people are curious to see what he's up to, and uses that to engage followers. "Although its primary use is geared toward sharing my work and career updates, at any given day you may find me acting a fool on my story," he says. It's worked: He has been offered both teaching and performing jobs via social media.


Tip #3: Be Honest

Being honest about who he is has proven to be an empowering tool for James Whiteside, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. "I have an undeniably queer voice," he says, "and I aim to give people a fun, honest look at an artist." He believes that his social media followers are full of love and acceptance, which comes in handy when he shares cheeky photos.

"I like to post photos that will reach a wide audience, not just balletomanes," he says.

Whiteside also uses social media to connect with other artists. He recommends that you interact with people whose work you respect, then reach out—the worst they can do is ignore you.


Tip #4: Mix It Up

Los Angeles-based commercial dancer Aja DePaolo, who currently dances behind Britney Spears, stresses the importance of sharing different kinds of photos. "A healthy mix of professional and fun makes people feel a sense of connection to you," she says. "I try to come off relatable and aspirational."

Are followers important? "A huge part of booking jobs now is your social media presence!" says DePaolo. "The last few gigs I've booked have asked how many followers I had on social media."

Showing some vibrant aspects of her personal life has kept DePaolo's 27,000 Instagram followers deeply engaged. Depending on what job she is on dictates what she posts: "If I'm on tour, I typically post pictures of the places I go or fan interaction. If I'm more LA-based, I like to take pictures that focus my hobbies like food, traveling and my love life."

Megan Fairchild in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. PC Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.

Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'

I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.

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Dancers & Companies
Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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Breaking Stereotypes
Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.

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Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

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Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


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PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."

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