Are We Dancing for the “Likes”?

*Disclaimer: this is from my personal experience and humble opinion from my dance career. I would be honored to hear your honest opinion on this topic as well as your experiences. Please be respectful, my Mom is reading this!*

Dance has become so popular through the media. Various dance genres are shown on television with World of Dance, SYTYCD, Dance Moms, and other shows. Dance is very prevalent on social media as well. Often, dance studios post videos from their classes online. The growth of the dance world has increased in awareness through the media, especially with its overwhelming presence of dance online. Every day on social media, I come across videos of my friends, and dancers that I don’t know, showing their improvisations, choreography, and dancing in class. There are pages on social media specified for dance videos, which post nearly every day. Dance videos from individuals, studios, and companies worldwide can be found right at your fingertips. What are the long term effects of these videos online? Are dancers posting videos for “likes” and popularity? What makes me question the use of cameras in the dance world the most is when I see it in the dance classroom.

Growing up, I saw the studio as a home. A place that is always familiar and always safe. Dance studio walls and mirrors saw me mess up, fall, cry, triumph, laugh, cheer, and feel at home. The studio is a sacred place for students to grow and just be. Dancers make friends at the barre, warm up sore muscles during roll downs, sweat it out across the floor, and dance their hearts out through it all. Dancers do all this as a unit, with the security and familiarity of dancing in front of mirrors, walls, fellow classmates, and teachers. And then, a camera is pulled out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have danced and had been recorded doing a combination from classes a few times in the past, but when I did it, I did it to promote what organization I was part of or event I was participating in. The secure home feeling is so important to some dancers that there are studios I have took classes at in New York that don’t allow the use of recording within their studios. While in those classes, I would see signs stating the “no recording” rule on the wall of each studio I visited, and I appreciated the message that came across to me: we are here to dance for ourselves, this special moment is not for all to see.

Seeing dance videos on my timeline every single day is wonderful, yet also questionable to me. Many things come to my mind, such as

• Why do I mostly see Hip Hop and Ballet in class and performance videos (not just only; exclusively)?

• What lengths do these dance studios go through to make these videos?

• Do these teachers feel pressure to make their combinations “camera worthy”, or pressure to film their classes often from their studio owners?

• How do the dancers feel about this? Do they think that this is normal classroom etiquette now?

*My biggest question remains as is this what the dance world is expected to be like now?

As a dance teacher, I record my students for my own records, to remember what we did in class in case I want to revisit a combination for the students’ benefit. I have allowed students to record combinations that they have created themselves in my classes, as well as some of my own, but it is not something I do often. Seeing that I have mixed feelings on recording and posting videos in the classroom, I don’t see myself allowing my students to post videos taken in my classes, unless it is posted in the beginning of a dance season, with the dance studio page tagged in the video, as promotion for the studio enrollment. I see the value of the use of dance videos for promotion, but not for “likes”.

In the age that we are in of documentation, I can’t say that what dancers are doing aren’t benefitting them. Dancers are getting hired and recognized by different artists by simply posting a video of themselves dancing online. Studios are being recognized worldwide as well as dance companies. It’s a great business venture, putting yourself on camera and hoping that the right person will notice to make your business (i.e. yourself) take off. But, are some dancers taking videos of themselves for the attention?

Dance is a field of validation in ways. When you grow up in dance class, you want approval from your teacher to know that you are improving and that you are a good dancer. In college, you want approval from your professors to know that you can become a professional. As a professional, you want to be hired by a company or a show to get the approval that you are, indeed, a professional dancer. So, are dancers adding in the approval of the public eye to validate their hustle while they are still in school for dance, better yet, in between dance jobs? I know the feeling, as a freelance dancer, of wondering whether all the years of working on technique was actually worth it. “Am I good dancer? Am I still a good dancer if I don’t have a dance job?” My advice is to look within and see whether you dance for yourself or for something else. You can validate your own self in the dance studio without millions of eyes having access to your work.

My hope is that dancers who post videos of themselves aren’t doing so for the “likes”. If we allow ourselves to take a step back and re-evaluate the action of posting videos of ourselves and how it affects us and those around us, posting these videos is potentially harmful. By seeking approval through “likes”, you are allowing other people into your journey. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a field that thrives on critique, opinions, and comparing one dancer to another, you put yourself in a position to get more opinions than necessary. By letting more people see your progress online, this can harm your self- esteem and confidence if you don’t get as many “likes” as you would desire, or if someone posts a negative comment about your video. On the other hand, you could very well get all the “likes” you desire and feel very happy with your work that you posted online.

Yet, with regard to the dancers watching these videos, their self-esteem can be harmed by comparing themselves to the dancers they are seeing online. Maybe they don’t feel confident that their own dancing is worthy enough to be recorded and posted because they don’t dance with the same quality as other dancers online. Maybe they don’t have many followers on social media, so they fear they’ll receive a low number of “likes”. These dancers could also feel very happy and supportive towards the dancers they are viewing and give them that blue thumbs up we all enjoy. But, what does it mean to get more “likes”? If you get numerous “likes”, does it mean you’re more talented than someone that doesn’t get many “likes”? Absolutely not, we are all valuable dancers, but some people might view our talent that way. In the end, we’re all just trying to make it and enjoy our craft. Dance is already so competitive: with auditions filled with one hundred girls to fill one role, being typed out by casting, and judged on whether we look like a princess while performing a twenty-four count combination during a Disney audition; and now we’re just creating more competition by comparing ourselves to each other 24/7 through the work of social media.

Our sacred place does not need to be exposed, our progress does not need to be shared, but I acknowledge why some dancers are doing so. Personally, I feel that our work should be left on the floor, along with our sweat, as a reminder of the hard work that we put in each class. How we feel after we perform in class and on stage is the validation that we need, and earned. I urge you, my fellow dancers, to lift each other up in person, as well as yourself. Thinking of posting your amazing improvisation? Go for it! Just remember that every dancer is not the same, how other dancers can be affected, and every dance journey is different.

What are your thoughts? How are dance videos affecting your work? Why do you record and post your dancing?

By Shianne Antoine

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