I recently came across this great article in Dance Magazine on the way social media, particularly Instagram, is influencing our art, addressing the wide-reaching impact the current trends could have on the ballet world. These trends don't just affect the insiders in the ballet scene (a.k.a. you & me - the ones struggling to "make it" in such a cutthroat field while we are bombarded with snapshots of extreme flexibility and tricks to compete with) but also the way ballet is seen and appreciated by our audience (the ones who aren't educated in the nuances of our technique and are being taught to expect these extreme feats as a necessary part of ballet). What will happen when they go see a classical performance devoid of all the overstretched positions and wow-worthy jumps? Will they be bored and expect more? Are all the flashy tricks numbing us to what is really beautiful about our elite art?
Even though Instagram has been around for almost 10 years, it is still relatively new to us all. We are still figuring out how to use it. I know how destructive it can be when I get caught in the comparison game, yet I still find myself scrolling aimlessly through dozens of pictures that make me feel bad about myself and only serve to feed the demons in my head. The author of the article describes it as "dance erotica," which is a fairly accurate description for how we can often get sucked into Instagram. We attempt to momentarily escape from the real world as we fetishize about the feet we want, or the extensions we desire, or the ability to pull off 11 pirouettes. You know that sickening feeling you get when you've just spent 45 minutes drooling over wow-worthy photos of perfect ballerinas that you feel so depressed and worthless about yourself that you just want to curl up in a ball and hide in a dark room forever?
Yeah, that's the kind of unhealthy impact we want to avoid with Instagram.
I won't go too deep into the dark side of Instagram since this article does a great job of covering that. However, I do want to shed a little light on the perks and how to ensure your personal Instagram experience is beneficial to your growth both as a dancer and a human being. There's no denying that Instagram is an important part of marketing yourself as a dancer as well as a platform for your artistry. But, it can also serve as a source of inspiration...if you are careful. So, let's talk strategy. Here are a few things to try to prevent your Instagram experience from dragging you down:
Instagram Inspiration Plan:
- Set a time limit or post maximum. One of my good friends recently told me he has a 5-post-maximum rule to prevent him from getting sucked into the endless scrolling game. He reads and likes 5 posts that come up in his feed and then puts his phone away. You could also set a timer for a certain time limit. Once the timer goes off, you're Instagram consumption is finished for the moment.
- Unfollow. If it makes you cringe to see the same account (even if it is a dancer account) posting images of bad technique, unhealthy, unnatural feats of flexibility, or anything that just doesn't feel right to you...tap that Unfollow button. It's not worth it to deal with those little pangs of disgust...even when you feel obligated to support other dancers. Realize that you are curating your own experience on Instagram, so make the time you spend on this app as useful & painless as possible.
- Find what really inspires you. An "inspirational" account isn't inspirational if it makes you feel bad about yourself. I'm not talking "bad" as in it makes you realize you have things to work on, change, and grow from. But, there's a big difference between knowing that and feeling inspired to do something about it...versus knowing that and wanting to give up, cry, and eat an entire gallon of ice cream. The gurus I follow all inspire me to level up in one area of life or another (business, health, lifestyle, dance, etc.). They show me what is possible through the success they have built for themselves. That gives me motivation and hope to reach for something greater, for something better than where I'm currently at. That is what growth is all about. That is what is truly inspirational. That is what I want in my Instagram feed.
- Be present. Pay attention to what you are doing while you are on Instagram. Don't just whip out your phone and start mindlessly scrolling while on your commute or while scarfing down your dinner at night. Set an intention. Whether it is to "find inspiration" or "check in on your friends," know what your aim is when you open up that app. Then, pay attention to your mindset. The moment your mood starts turning dark as those mental demons whisper sweet nothings in your ear to make you feel bad about yourself, put the phone down.
- Take responsibility for what you Like and post. We play a role in how our art evolves through this platform. If we post or Like images with extreme flexibility and "look-at-me" tricks, we are showing the rest of our audience what is valued in the dance world. It's fine to support friends and images that you really find beautiful, even if they are extreme and not practical in the real ballet scene. Just be aware of what you are supporting and the kind of message that sends the other users of Instagram.
Try some of these out for yourself, and let me know how your Instagram experience changes. Something that motivates you to make a change, whether mentally through mindset shifts or physically through actions, has the power to be transformative....to help you level up and be a better version of yourself. And, Instagram could carry that potential. My hope is that as we figure things out, the trend moves more towards both consuming and posting content that builds us up rather than breaks us down. While social media carries some real peril for the dance world, I think it also has the potential to save it...and to develop more respect for the intricacies of our elite art form...if we are careful.
Photo credit: Jacob Hiss