If Anna Pavlova, Bob Fosse, or Alvin Ailey had an Instagram, how many followers do you think they’d have? With such a rapid rise of Instagram celebrities in dance, it’s difficult to understand how an aspect that didn’t previously exist in the professional dance industry has quickly become one of the defining factors in a dancer’s career. Since the founders of our beloved dance genres didn’t have to garner likes, gain followers, or become Instagram famous to prove professional worth, why are these significant variables for today’s dance professionals?
The dance industry is certainly different now, due to the rise of social media and the facts are inevitable: your online presence and ability to market yourself matter. One look at a profile can immediately paint an entire picture of the type of dancer you are. Your pages act as resumes, ones that can be accessed by anyone at any time. Employers may be researching you before hiring and asking you to immediately put social media on a resume. Some are looking to see if you’re the right fit and others are interested in your followers with intentions of using you as free marketing. Besides taking classes, staying healthy, managing appearance, attending auditions, etc… dancers must now also be actively marketing themselves daily.
If all social media was suddenly banished, do your talents hold up in a room full of dancers?
People are spending hours a day on social media, which can create an inability to separate reality from the digital world. Other than from their dance teachers, young dancers are now gathering the majority of their information from Instagram and other social media platforms. They may not yet understand what is real and what is created for the internet, or the ability to be smart and safe online. If young dancers didn’t already spend hours a day in the mirror and feeling the pressure to be perfect, social media has increased that by having endless “perfect” dancers to compare oneself to.
Before I sound stuck in “the way things were,” the rise of social media has brought many positives. Information moving quickly means dance reaching increasing numbers of audiences and ones that love and respect what we do. With increased media comes styles changing and developing more rapidly. Also, the very act of building an Instagram profile is adding skillsets to the repertoire, such as marketing, networking, and editing. But when something enters, something could be getting pushed out. Does being an Instagram famous dancer give you the same qualities that perhaps formerly someone built from years of work experience in professional dance would have?
A dancer skilled with Instagram has the platform to paint a picture of themselves, one aside from the reality the professional dancer may be exuding in person. Having an impressive Instagram profile is a skill that can be practiced. Social media isn’t a fact-checked news station, it’s more comparable to hearing a person talk about themselves, which can contain bias based on that person’s needs. Any Instagram user also may be paying for things that are not seen by the public eye, such as followers, views, and post promotions. This creates a disparity in the “free marketing” playing field and furthers the largely held conception that anyone can succeed in social media.
Social media isn’t a fact-checked news station, it’s more comparable to hearing a person talk about themselves...
While Instagram may be able to get you through the front door, your attributes as a dancer are what keep you in the room, because 0% of your actual workload involves Instagram. Consistency, retaining material, spatial-awareness, applying notes, and managing health and injury are just a few skills gained by dancing and dancing alone.
Comparing yourself to dance’s Instagram celebrities can be disheartening, especially in well-edited videos. Dance in videos can be impressive and inspiring, but again, doesn’t tell a complete story. A good combination video will not tell you how long it took a dancer to pick up that material and perfect it, because it could’ve taken weeks of rehearsing to achieve. Though the video may appear to be in a class setting, that doesn’t mean that was the outcome of one single class, which can be a pressure that dancers feel when filming each combination at the end of one class and an hour after learning the material.
While gathering video content is important for a social media profile, don’t let that over-shadow the original purpose of class: your development as a dancer. Only having the intention of looking good on film will perfect certain performance skills but won’t always build or maintain a solid foundation of technique or stamina. Don’t let the less glamorous side of class be forgotten, such as working on one’s “weaker side” or trying the tricks we haven’t yet perfected because the desire to look perfect in a video holds more importance. Instructors are basing their class structure off the one long film-able combination, but that’s only one of many class-structure options. One should never walk away from a dance class feeling like s/he hasn’t achieved anything because you either didn’t film it or don’t like what you filmed. Remember, the knowledge you accumulated from an instructor is irreplaceable.
Instagram’s influence on the dance industry is causing overall improvement of specific skills, but a potential over-focus on just those skills. A choreographer may only be practicing her/his skill of creating minute-long pieces, because that’s the standard Instagram video length. If that choreographer develops fame from those short stints of choreography, s/he doesn’t necessarily have the ability or the practice choreographing evening-length works. Who would be the better hire: someone extremely Instagram famous who has never created anything longer than a minute or someone who isn’t highly-followed but has successful history of choreographing for an evening-length?
Most importantly, is having thousands of followers comparable to how you treat the people you work alongside? One of the most challenging dancers I have ever worked with has one of the most impressive Instagram profiles I’ve seen. I’m not saying that this is standard, but the experience was enough to open my eyes. Everyone knows that one person who portrays themselves as a positive individual on their online platforms but doesn’t personify that in their daily life. Being a pleasant person to interact with is not only important for keeping a job, but for maintaining your personal relationships. People will still remember how you treat them and hold that to higher importance than your Instagram celebrity.
While Instagram may be able to get you through the front door, your attributes as a dancer are what keep you in the room.
While skills are gained in the process, an Instagram profile leading to dance celebrity status doesn’t magically create a bookable professional dancer, rather hard work, perseverance, and strong industry relationships do. Ask yourself, if all social media was suddenly banished, do your talents hold up in a room full of dancers? While Instagram has grown to be important in today’s dance industry, remember that it’s a marketing tool: one that can be practiced and perfected over time, and one that only gives a first glimpse into what each performer brings to the stage. Continue to build your social media profiles, but remember that the time spent obsessing over likes, views, and followers may not be the best way to enjoy this art form that you love.
Allow yourself to be entertained and inspired by Instagram dancers but notice when you begin to feel discouraged or intimidated. We have all found ourselves in a dark place, obsessing over the number of likes on a post and letting it define our worth, when we should be more concerned with the uniqueness we each bring to the industry. If your online presence is what’s helping you feel worthy, you may want to put down the phone and find what originally brought you to loving dance.