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."

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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.