Dancing in the Twittersphere

February 8, 2011

Alex Wong got his cast off, New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan is heading to Prada, Houston Ballet’s Melissa Hough feels narcoleptic after the fall rep, and Miami City Ballet’s Rebecca King is taking five before a Bugaku rehearsal. How do I know all this? Simple, I follow them on Twitter.


I was born to chirp random thoughts over a noisy bed of chatter. I grew up in a loud, Italian-American family, where you had to fight to be heard. Twitter works for me as a way to keep informed, inform others, and just stay connected to my field. Dancers hopped on the micro-blogging network faster than they did Facebook. You can find high-profile ballet dancers intermission tweeting, choreographers broadcasting details about their next show or the So You Think You Can Dance clan updating their gaggles of followers. Twitter is a cross section of life as it dances by.


Founded in 2006 by Biz Stone, Jack Dorsey, and Evan Williams, Twitter was originally designed as a way for people to broadcast their whereabouts or status to friends. Users had other ideas. In fact, no other social media platform has been more shaped by its participants than Twitter. The popular “RT” (Retweet) is a perfect example of something first started by users, then adapted by Twitter.


Once individual ballet dancers like San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and ABT’s Daniil Simkin joined the tweetstream, dance companies like Ballet Austin and Houston Ballet followed. The Twitter voice of any dance company determines the effectiveness of its communication. Just broadcasting your show details rarely works here, while pithy inside comments or insights engage and tease your followers. Curiously, independent choreographers are less active on Twitter than individual dancers and companies.

For Drew Jacoby, of Jacoby & Pronk, Twitter mixes business and entertainment. “I am a freelancer, so it’s a necessity for me,” says Pronk, who tweets from three accounts. I hear her pain. Freelancing means seeking out more gigs, assignments, and a lively net presence. “I am sillier on my personal account,” says Jacoby. “The networking possibilities are great. I always mention where I am performing. I try to follow interesting organizations and people.”


Jacoby built her network by searching “ballet” and “dance.” I did the same thing to get started. I followed every name that popped up. I have since trimmed my twitter tree down from 1,400 to 700.


Jacoby, a dancelebrity herself, has broader interests in her follow choices. “I like that slice-of-life quality coming directly from that person. I get a glimpse of what’s inside their mind, what their personality is like,” she says. “I also like that we are in control. We have a voice. I love it when non-dance people follow me.”


Jacoby has since become a more discerning tweeter. “I unfollow people who hog the feed.” She has a point: Overtweet at your own risk. I have days when I manically tweet and retweet. Other days I’m missing in action. Don’t get too paranoid about it, advises choreographer and Design Brooklyn co-founder Sydney Skybetter. “Twitter is pure syntax. It’s 140 characters, do with it what you will,” says Skybetter, New York’s reigning dance social media geek. There are no guiding principles. It’s the wild west out there.”


Skybetter sees some central advantages with Twitter. “With Facebook, updating your status more than once a day annoys people. With Twitter, you can share info more quickly,” he says. “Posts tend to get lost on Facebook; on Twitter there’s a different shelf life as a tweet can re-circulate longer.” Skybetter is right, if you follow your mentions, you can watch a sassy tweet travel all over the place.


The choreographer also cleverly—with style and intrigue—enlists Twitter to build a buzz about his upcoming shows. I followed Skybetter’s every tweet leading up to his company’s performance on the Inside/Out series at Jacob’s Pillow last summer. His tweets reflected how honored they felt to perform at the Pillow. For those following him from afar, the emotion of the experience was palpable. “It was frackin awesome,” he remembers about performing at the Pillow, tweeting and all.


The creative possibilities inherent in limitations appeal to dancer and choreographer Lisa Niedermeyer. We connected while live tweeting using the hashtag #DUSA at the Dance/USA conference in Washington, DC. A hashtag designates a topic/idea/event with the # sign, which allows you to use the search function. During the conference, a live feed of tweets scrolled on the screen during some of the sessions and on the Dance/USA website. It’s one handy way of knowing what the guy behind you is thinking. By the time Niedermeyer and I grabbed lunch, we already had an idea of each other’s interests. It’s like starting a friendship in the middle.


“It’s fun composing a tweet. For me it’s more of a collaboration tool, less of a come-see-my-show tool,” says Niedermeyer, who has danced with Jane Comfort and Doug Elkins. “I come from a place of working with narrative and theatrical artists like Jane Comfort, who taught me to look for what story the structure or form of something can tell. The structure of a twitter feed tells a real-time and unedited story of the community that is self organizing. I find it fascinating.”


Once, Niedermeyer de-constructed a review in tweets. “I blew it apart into juicy bits,” she says. “Twitter is more nuanced than Facebook; it’s not just a place to blast information.” Not remotely interested in building her brand, developing hoards of followers, or moving into “twinfluential” (twitter slang for being influential) status we could say “a twitter star”, Neidermeyer’s “handle,” (username) “MsRemixt,” says it all.


It’s not unusual to tweet from a handle different than your name, as it gives you a chance to play with your persona. Your profile can inform followers of your real name, website, or blog. Niedermeyer sets her TweetDeck to search “redefine,” “remix,” “reimagine” and “repurpose” to connect to like-minded folk. Platforms like Tweetdeck and HootSuite help users track their mentions, follow lists of people, and search key words. (The new Twitter is pretty snazzy too.) “Regardless if those people are in dance, I want to know what they are thinking,” she says.


Twitter isn’t just all about you. It took me my first 600 “read my story” tweets to figure that out. These days, I am just as likely to retweet a cool article in, say, Dance Magazine, tell you about a great show I saw, or some random, possibly silly thought that’s floating across my mind.


Editing elevates all that we do. Twitterese pushes us into being succinct in a way that can be downright fun. As Niedermeyer says, “Who better than a choreographer to be creative within a structure?”


Nancy Wozny, recently named “Houston’s Best Arts Tweeter” by the
Houston Press, tweets @dancehunter from Houston.