Robin Worrall via Unsplash

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.

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

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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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Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.