Kate Torline via Unsplash

Has Influencer Culture Affected How Dancers Are Hired?

New York City–based choreographer and director Jennifer Weber once worked on a project with a strict social media policy: " 'Hire no one with less than 10K, period'—and that was a few years ago," she says. "Ten thousand is a very small number now, especially on Instagram."

The commercial dance world is in a period of transition, where social media handles and follower counts are increasingly requested by casting directors, but rarely offered by dancers up front. "I can see it starting to show up on resumés, though, alongside a dancer's height and hair color," predicts Weber.


It's unsurprising that profit-driven dance enterprises lead the pack when it comes to leveraging artists' exposure; policies at nonprofit dance organizations are generally less defined or even in place. (Multiple major ballet companies declined to speak with us on the record for this story.) Jacob Jonas, artistic director of his own company and the impresario behind @camerasanddancers, notes that many small- to medium-sized companies' social media accounts only started after "dancers took it upon themselves, because nobody else was doing it."

Erica Fortwengler, associate director of marketing at The Washington Ballet, keeps a close eye on everything that informs public perception of the company, from lobby selfies posted by audience members at intermission to dancers' Instagram stories documenting downtime during rehearsals. Brief glimpses of life at the ballet go out to more than 30.7K followers of the company's official Instagram. That's 4.6K fewer followers than company member Nardia Boodoo has, and less than half of the number who follow artistic director Julie Kent.

Who, then, is responsible for the company's image? "We've talked about certain dancers being ambassadors for the company on social media," says Fortwengler, although "that's not something we've really dug too deeply into yet." She does confirm that a dancer's Instagram is not taken into account when considering them for a contract.

Los Angeles–based hip-hop artist Kaelynn Harris is closing in on her first million followers but claims an "old-school" perspective on how valuable that number really is. "There are people who literally work their butts off all day, every day, and are amazing at what they do," who find themselves at a disadvantage because they haven't cultivated large audiences online, she says. "You can be the best dancer in the world, but, if you don't have a 'K' in your following, you're not going to get hired."

Jonas asks for Facebook and Instagram information on his standard company form. But "social media never dictates whether or not I hire somebody," he says. "Your performance in the audition, your ability to learn our repertory and be a team player are the deciding factors."

Through @camerasanddancers—monthly photo shoots in architecturally significant locations aimed at cultivating new audiences—Jonas has helped increase exposure for the profiles of early-career artists, which he sees as essential to dance's sustainability. "If emerging companies are struggling with ticket sales and press, I do think it's important that dancers push their online brands as much as possible, because it helps the organization they're working for."

Weber has seen a performer's contract stipulate a minimum number of posts, baked into their total fee. But she adds that the data on conversions—how much producers can really count on a social media star to sell tickets—remains squishy, especially if the show is local while the artist's audience is global.

Either way, Weber is content to let the next generation wrestle with those questions. "If the people hiring want someone with half a million followers, I'm not getting that job," she says with a laugh. "I'm not interested in spending my whole life on social media. Now, if I was just graduating college today, I would think about it very differently."

Latest Posts


Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

contest
Enter Our Video Contest