How to Use Social Media As A Learning Tool—Without Letting It Take Over Your Life

Robin Worrall via Unsplash

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.

Steffania and two other teachers after a master class, sitting on a stage with hundreds of students crowded posing behind them.

For Matt Steffanina (center), social media is about getting inspired and finding motivation from fellow artists.

Courtesy Steffanina

Scroll Smart

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.

Blackstone in class, demonstrating a movement of the arms upward. Several students around him do the same thing.

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.

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