Sassy Gregson-Williams launched Naturally Sassy while still a ballet student. Photo courtesy Sarah Hall Productions
Some dancers call them "fake" ballerinas. Some resent their lack of serious stage credentials to back up their success. Some feel their accounts are deceitful, since regular people who don't know the difference between a great dancer and a great dance model.
But most ballet influencers aren't out to trick anyone. They're simply finding a new way to keep ballet in their lives.
LA Dance Project. Photo by Jonathan Potter, courtesy LADP
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance?The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
Many dancers have successful careers without being active on social media. Getty Images.
It goes against my core values to promote myself on Instagram, since the quality of my dancing matters more to me than tricks. Yet some of my favorite companies hire dancers with large followings on their IG accounts. Should I bother to audition at these places? I have strong technique, but I'm not Gumby.
Choreographer Loni Landon is no stranger to the enticing power of social media. Instagram, for example, makes it very easy for Landon to connect with other artists. "I feel torn about it," says Landon. "On one hand, I think it can be used in a really positive way. I have received so many jobs through connecting with people on social media. But I do think sometimes people are on it for the wrong reasons and it becomes a popularity contest."
A successful career takes more than great technique. Photo by Thinkstock
Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.
"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough motivation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."
Social media validates extremes over clean, solid technique. Photo by David Hofmann/Unsplash
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
Anyone can see that online influence can change how the average Joe or Jill is perceived. In dance, social media has helped boost familiar faces like Misty Copeland and Eric Underwood, who have both gotten athletic ad campaigns, book deals and endorsements.
Having a clear Instagram presence can help dancers create additional job opportunities within the entertainment industry. Check out these tips from four dancers who've used the platform to land new gigs.
love a good inside joke, and what goes on at the ballet studio is perfect fodder: Ever been in a rehearsal and you're just not feeling it? Or your partner messes up and blames you? Or you're asked to run a piece "just one more time" and it sends you over the edge? Sometimes, you have to blow off steam and laugh.
@balletmoods Instagram totally understands. And we at Dance Magazine salute the mystery man or woman behind it for turning every dancer's eye-rolling moments into hilarious memes.