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What It's Really Like When Your Video Goes Viral
Ever dream of having one of your dance videos go viral online? The experience may not be all that you expect. Four dance artists reflect on their sudden fame after their videos became online sensations:
Kirk Henning is a company member at Richmond Ballet. You've seen Henning and his groomsmen dancing for fellow company member Valerie Tellmann-Henning as a surprise at their wedding reception.
"After the wedding, our videographer asked, 'Do you mind if I put this online?' The YouTube video got 7 million hits, and then Jay Towers, a morning radio DJ in Detroit, put it on his Facebook page, where it's been viewed more than 120 million times. Answering phone calls and emails became my full-time job. That was the hardest thing: The demands on my time, which came out of nowhere, from every angle.
I didn't apply for rights to any of the music I used because I didn't expect it to go viral. Sony Music Entertainment had the video taken down for the longest time. This experience has made us look more closely at contracts, for sure. Now I'm more likely to say, 'Can we talk about this clause?'
Valerie and I were both surprised to be getting so much attention, but it was fun to ride it out together. The dance was done as a gift to her, so it was nice to have it last that much longer, and be so much bigger than I thought it would be."
Homer Hans Bryant is founder and artistic director of Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center and a former member of Dance Theatre of Harlem. You've seen Bryant's students practicing "hiplet," his own blend of hip hop and pointework.
"I'd been posting videos for two years, of all of the kinds of classes we offer, when the Facebook page Só Bailarinos posted our hiplet class video. It got 8 million views there. BuzzFeed picked it up and that story received 25 million. We went on 'Good Morning America,' then came back to Chicago and did 'Good Day Chicago' and 'Windy City Live.' We've done the 'Steve Harvey' show and gone to New York for a big Vogue thing with Anna Wintour, we did a video for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, and I gave a TEDx Talk in San Francisco. About 15 production companies have contacted us wanting to do a reality show.
The reactions we get are from one end of the spectrum to the other, from 'You're ruining their feet. This is not what classical ballet is all about!' to 'This is incredible!' and 'I wish I had this when I was studying ballet; I wouldn't have hated it so much.' What I'm managing to do is to keep the kids centered, grounded and focused. The parents can't believe what's going on."
Alexandra Beller is a choreographer and artistic director of Alexandra Beller/Dances. You've seen Beller's son Ivo, at age 14 months, "leading" her company's dancers in rehearsal as part of the process for an ensemble work titled milkdreams.
"The nature of virality is that it escapes you. By the time you realize it's happening, there's not a ton you can do about it. When something goes viral, that is all you are, for millions of people. I don't say, 'Hi! I'm Alexandra Beller, from the viral baby video,' but that's what I 'am.' I spent 22 years in the dance world. I danced for Bill T. Jones, I've had a company for 15 years. But at this point, that one video has gathered more than a billion views. It gets very skewed in terms of representation and, for me, it's led me to become more focused on curation, where I'm being much more thoughtful about what I put out there.'"
Erik Cavanaugh is a former student at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. You've seen Cavanaugh's improvised solos to songs such as "Eye of the Needle," by Sia, and Rachel Platten's "Stand by You."
"The day after my birthday I got a notification that @worldwidedance started following me on Instagram. Maybe 20 minutes later, everything was blowing up. Hundreds and hundreds of likes and new followers. I thought, What just happened?
By that night, my video had already been viewed more than 100,000 times on Worldwidedance's Facebook page. The New York Post ran a video of me the next morning and it broke 1 million views—then 2, then 3… Now it's at, like, 10.8 million views. Forbes magazine messaged me. People magazine and The Huffington Post reached out. I was on the website for the 'Today' show and on mic.com. The Radio City Rockettes named me 'Dancer of the Week.' The New York Post flew me out to New York for a live segment, which was fun. I said 'yes' to all of it.
I'm very happy that this happened. It helped me gain confidence about who I am. I think people are opening their eyes a bit more that dance is not just for a slimmer body type, and I think I'm helping move that conversation to a better place. I didn't always have the courage to keep going through discouragement in my younger days, and I'd love to be able to give that to people."
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
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When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.