How to Use Social Media As A Learning Tool—Without Letting It Take Over Your Life
Social media has made the dance world a lot smaller, giving users instant access to artists and companies around the world. For aspiring pros, platforms like Instagram can offer a tantalizing glimpse into the life of a working performer. But there's a fine line between taking advantage of what social media can offer and relying too heavily on it.
Seek Out Inspiration
For hip-hop choreographer and teacher Matt Steffanina, Instagram is all about getting inspired. "When I want to work on isolations or tutting or footwork, I'll look up some of my favorite dancers in that style," he says. "I want to feel their energy and get into that headspace. Then, I'll freestyle with that in mind. This can help you get outside the box you might be putting yourself in."
Think about what you need and search accordingly. Ready to dip your toes into a new dance genre? Social media can introduce you to styles and teachers. Striving to transform your double pirouettes into triples? Seeing Instagram's terrific turners can motivate you to practice harder. Meanwhile, getting a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to dance full-time can push you to chase your dreams, while also preparing you for the sometimes harsh realities of the profession.
Look for accounts that are positive, informative and professional. What you're viewing online should make you even more excited to hit the studio and stage yourself.
For Matt Steffanina (center), social media is about getting inspired and finding motivation from fellow artists.
Getting the most out of social media takes more than following the right accounts. Assess how you're consuming content. "Sometimes I'll select a variation online and show it to my students, and we'll discuss what they see," says Kathleen Mitchell, a faculty member at Boston Ballet School. "Instead of merely being impressed, you can look at transitions, musicality, entrances and exits—all those elements that make a complete artist."
Don't just scroll. "What happens after you follow someone?" asks musical theater choreographer and teacher Al Blackstone. "Are you just looking at photos, or are you taking note of what projects the person's working on and what else they're interested in? Follow up on what excites you."
You might pick up all sorts of tricks of the trade. For example, you could learn a new technique for breaking in pointe shoes, or discover a recipe for a snack that promises to give you energy for long rehearsals. But remember: No tip is one-size-fits-all, no matter how illustrious its source. Before committing to any big change in your training or lifestyle, talk to your teacher.
Al Blackstone encourages students to research whatever they find on Instagram that intrigues them.
Daryl A. Getman, Courtesy Blackstone
Know the Limits
Consult your teacher about any tricks, conditioning exercises or stretches you see on social media and want to try. "Some of the stretches you see people doing aren't healthy," says Brandy Brinkerhoff, a teacher at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio in Orem, Utah. "Even if they are legitimate, if you're not ready and you try anyway, you can get seriously hurt."
Learning choreography from social media can pose another set of problems. "Dance is a living art form," Mitchell says. "Thinking that you'll go online and find the definitive version of something can create issues in the studio." For instance, if you're learning a classical ballet variation, memorizing a version you've seen on Instagram can blind you to the nuances you'll be taught in person.
Social media is no substitute for going to a live performance, signing up for a master class or making a meaningful, face-to-face connection. And if you're lucky enough to be training at a school that also houses professionals, don't lose sight of what's right in front of you. "I want my students to be standing at the windows watching our company dancers in rehearsal," Mitchell says. Remember: Everything you see on Instagram is curated, even the rehearsals and classes.
Don't think of social media as an end unto itself. Instead, it's a launchpad that should send you off to read, watch and experience more.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.