Instagram has become a huge part of dancers' lives. At its best, the image-driven platform can be a way for people to share their art and make it accessible to others. For dance influencers, Insta success can lead to opportunities to travel, perform, and build a career.
But recent studies have suggested a link between social media use and anxiety and depression, with Instagram being especially problematic. Possibly motivated by this news, Instagram has launched a trial in seven countries. Right now, instead of seeing the exact number of likes per post, Insta users in Australia, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Italy, Ireland, and New Zealand see something like this when they scroll their feeds:
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.
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine attended a professional contemporary class one morning, and later that evening perused Facebook to find that the teacher had shared a video of her dancing a phrase from class. A successful and professional working dancer, she was horrified to see a video of herself online that she had never given permission to be used, or even been approached about.
When Joffrey Ballet dancer Rory Hohenstein first created an Instagram account, the choice to make it private was merely incidental. This was before the platform became such a powerful tool for self-promotion in the dance world, and he was concerned about strangers having an inside look at his life and younger dancers seeing him use the occasional curse word.
Years later, he still hasn't gone public, and has come to value Instagram as a place where he can stay in touch with friends and family or relive favorite memories, not as a tool to advance his career.
Though social media has become a powerful way for dancers and choreographers to connect with audiences, land gigs and promote their work, not everyone is taking part.
When Instagram launched in 2010, few would have predicted it would become the identity-defining, I-can-make-a-living-off-this-thing behemoth that it is today. For dancers in particular, Instagram comes with a host of possibilities. Three dancers share how they translate double taps into career advancements—while thousands of people follow along.
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."
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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.
—Instagram Resistant, Boston, MA
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."
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."
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.