Ballet’s Social Media Generation

Rainesford Alexandra

rainsford

When I was twelve or so, I would write letters to my favorite dancers—the ones who inspired me, who made me see ballet in a different light. At the time, it just seemed cool—who wouldn’t want to reach out to people they idolized?—but now, given the intersection between the arts and technology, I see that as my way of connecting with the ballet world beyond my local studio.

Now, at twenty-one, I follow some of my favorite dancers on Instagram and Twitter. It’s the ultimate backstage-pass, no longer just a glimpse behind the curtain, but access that allows us to see not only clips and pictures of rehearsals, but what someone snacked on at breakfast or the outfit they sported on their day off.

It’s no secret that ballet is breaking open, pulling us through the metaphorical stage door and into a world that isn’t just about tulle and fairy princesses after all: Features in publications like Teen Vogue and Elle Magazine, ballerinas popping up in commercials and ads, like Misty Copeland for Under Armor and Maria Kochetkova multitasking Nutcracker-style for VISA Checkout, and collaborations like the one between Cole Haan and a group of New York City Ballet dancers.

And you can see all this without ever looking up from your smartphone.

There’s a lot of newness emerging in ballet, probably the most monumental being the fact that, for arguably the first time in the history of this art form, ballet is accessible. Dancers want to be followed, and we want to follow dancers. Why wouldn’t we? It’s edgy. It’s chic. Ballet isn’t just classic—it’s cool, and it is the performers themselves who are responsible for keeping ballet’s integrity thriving while allowing it to explode and excite in unprecedented ways.

Speaking of unprecedented, this generation of young dancers have found themselves where, quite literally, no one else has gone before: They have the power to market themselves via social media, and have taken to the world of likes and made it their own.

With followers ranging from hundreds to hundred-thousands, young dancers are now connected—not just with the professionals they aspire to be, but with each other. They meet at auditions and summer intensives and hit that follow button. They enter contests. They have photoshoots. They’re on the cusp of their careers and it’s playing out on one of the biggest stages they’ll ever grace: The Internet.

So how important is it for a dancer, especially a young one, to have a strong social media presence? Does social networking actually do anything for a young dancer’s career?

A resounding “yes” seems to be the answer: Brands like Discount Dance, Capezio, and Russian Pointe are snatching up this new league of tutu-ed It Girls and transforming them into models and spokespeople. Up-and-comers are shooting with the likes of Ballet Zaida and The Ballerina Project, and they’re crafting a presence that makes them impossible to ignore.

In fact—though I won’t name names—because social media has taken to the barre, the names of students we’ll surely see in prominent companies in years to come are floating around cyberspace. Though I can’t say for certain, I would imagine if fans and brands are watching, these dancers aren’t slipping under the radar of artistic directors, either.

So why should we care what any teenage ballet phenom is posting online?

Because they’ve had an opportunity specific to their generation: They are making ballet their own, and starting their careers with an audience, a following. They’re the first to stake their claim in the hashtag game, bringing their pointe shoes right along with them.

Though it’s certainly a case of “chicken-or-the-egg,” I often wonder whether the upswing in ballet companies upping their online presence is a result of the dancers that congregate there. It’s like they are a part of the professional world before formally entering it, which breeds a specific kind of pressure to post only the best pictures and videos.

Because we’re watching.

What does the future of ballet look like? Well, we’re getting a glimpse of it. It is exceptional and interesting, personally invested while maintaining the spectacular otherworldliness that makes us all want to be ballerinas from the time we’re three.

To those little girls who were writing letters, now sharing the beginnings of their craft through Instagram: I’ll see you onstage.

Until then, we’re watching from the wings.

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