I enjoy social media; most of my generation do, and those younger than me seem to like and use it even more. It is a great way to stay in touch with friends, make new ones and get inspiration. However, there’s no denying it’s a big distraction. With the progression of technology, we can now be browsing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in bed, in the studio and walking down the street. Is all this distraction having a serious effect on young dancers’ progress?
Recently, this Telegraph article (with what I think is an unnecessarily hyperbolised headline, just had to say that) quoted Diana Vishneva’s comments on todays’ graduating dancers. She said;
“I was lucky. I came from a generation of teachers who were great at preparing us. Today’s dancers are weaker, less prepared even than our graduation class. If you look at conditions at the school now, they are so much improved. It is warm, clean, well refurbished.
I remember how it was in my time. There were holes in the floor and it was always terribly cold, because the window frames were not fixed properly. But there was good discipline and we were very concentrated.
Now, with this different style, with the internet — young people get so much information, and their attention is taken away from work. But every day is important.
Maybe now children are happier. There is not so much shouting and demands — but probably this is a reason as well. When I was at school, I was taught not to spare myself, to give everything I had.
When we were entering the school, 90 people were competing for one place. That is why we were so determined. We were not taught twice what to do, because we could be kicked out if we didn’t do what was demanded of us.”
I, for one, can certainly see her point- however her view on the whole matter of today’s dancers might be construed as rather harsh. After all, is adequate flooring and heating really an unnecessary luxury? I would say these things are important for a young dancer’s health. However, it could be said that focus and discipline are starting to wane. Not a morning goes by when I don’t see other young dancers coming in to the studio early to warm up, plonking down into a stretch and starting to browse Instagram. I’m guilty of this, too- I stop between exercises to have a little peruse of social media, and often use it as a good time to reply to comments and add to my Instastory! This can’t be good for focus. Maybe things would be better if dancers were less distracted by the outside world, and more focused on themselves and the studio.
However, we can’t live in the past. Times have changed, technology has progressed, and life is different to how it was a few years ago. It is unrealistic to expect young people to stay off of the internet and to not use social media.
Indeed, there are actually many benefits to the internet and social media that young dancers can and should take advantage of. Social media is an amazing way to connect with other dancers all over the world. It provides support, camaraderie, and young dancers can learn from one another whilst making contacts that could be very useful once they begin their professional careers. In fact, it is possible to do some fantastic networking without even leaving home (or the studio, or the bus, wherever you may be!). Many companies, choreographers, directors and other important figures have Twitter accounts, and some have email addresses available. Anyone can reach out and make a connection.
More than that, the internet is a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration. Dancers are more than just athletes; they are artists and should be enriched by as much knowledge as possible. I love looking at other dancers on Instagram and being inspired by them. I also like to spend time on Pinterest for the same reason, making online vision boards of things I want to achieve. Blogs (like this one!) are good sources of inspiration and ideas, and I really like the Pointe magazine website- there is a goldmine of useful, trustworthy information in their archives! Dancers can watch full ballets on YouTube which they might otherwise be unable to see, and there are also get great tips, exercises and even whole yoga and pilates classes and guided meditation. My favourite YouTube channel is Claudia Dean Coaching– she really knows her stuff, and I’ve based most of my conditioning routine on her great original exercises! These are all things that can really enhance a dancer’s development as a well-rounded, knowledgable artist.
Yet we can’t ignore the dangers of social media. As well as it being distracting and addictive, it encourages dancers to compare themselves to what they see online. It can foster unrealistic expectations, as the images we see online can be very deceiving. I don’t just mean editing, although that does exist out there, but what we see is only very selective. ALL dancers have a unique journey with many ups and downs, but the things we get to see are only the highlights. A dancer will showcase their strengths and their good days. Young dancers may feel a lot of pressure to look like or be like the images they see on social media. It can also encourage young dancers to learn ‘tricks’ that look good in pictures and videos to get likes, taking away time that should be spent working on perfecting technique.
Another danger is that there are a lot of well-meaning people out there giving bad advice, or just inadvertently setting a bad example. I see a lot of advice about diets and nutrition, exercises and stretching which haven’t come from a reliable source. There are a lot of pictures and videos of people in really extreme stretches that could be damaging and are unlikely to actually be very useful, and I see so many videos of very young girls in pointe shoes dancing variations.
In tandem with social media being a great place to meet people and network, there is also the danger of dancers actually putting off potential employers by uploading posts, images or videos that show them in a bad light or engaging in a Twitter argument!
Vishneva’s points have made me think a lot about how and when I use social media and the internet, and my focus and discipline in general. Whilst I’m not about to give up central heating, I would like to shift my use of electronic devices and social media to focus on finding inspiration, educating myself and connecting with others. Of course, I run a blog so the internet and social media is a really important part of that. It helps me to reach out to other dancers and dance-lovers and spread my message. However I do often find myself picking up my phone out of habit, and I think from now on I’ll keep it out of the studio (apart from taking pictures!).
If you want to be able to enjoy the benefits of the internet and social media whilst avoiding the potential pitfalls, I recommend the following advice:
- Decide if you want your social media accounts to be related to dance and your dance career, or if you want to keep them personal and separate. If you want to be able to just be your non-dance self and connect with friends, switch your profiles to private so that you don’t need to worry about your posts affecting your image in the dance world. You should also do this regardless if you are under 16.
- Avoid comparing yourself to other people you see online. The images we see are not representative of reality; you only see what that person wants you to see. You don’t see the years of hard work and practice, and all of the bad days, that got them to the point they’re at. Then there’s editing and filters which are great from a design perspective and are really fun, so enjoy using them but be aware everyone else is using them too! You can’t put a filter on real life!
- Be wary of any and all information and especially advice you see online. There are a lot of people giving bad advice, wrong information, and even those who are just plain lying! You don’t have to disregard everything, just check it against the advice being recommended by reliable sources. I only pass on information and advice that I trust in my blog posts, and any time I’m putting anything out that’s based on my own opinion or experience, I will say so. I also suggest checking out Kathryn Morgan’s YouTube Channel, Claudia Dean Coaching’s YouTube Channel, the OneDanceUK website, the Pointe Magazine website and The Ballet Blog for people who know their stuff!
- You can and should use social media to connect with people who could be important contacts in the future, but if you’re going to do that keep it very professional and make sure there’s nothing in your online profiles that will make you look bad to a potential contact.
- Set aside time for using the internet and social media. It’s too easy to open Facebook the second the alarm goes off in the morning, and start responding to messages before you’re even out of bed. This isn’t a healthy habit and it’s detrimental to focus. Wait until a certain time in your morning routine before you even check your phone, maybe after breakfast or when you’re on your way to the studio. It’s up to you whether or not you choose to give up using your phone in the studio- it can be a distraction, but I’m not going to say it’s wrong to have it on you for music, taking pictures and maybe using it whilst you’re in stretches that don’t require much concentration. However I suggest that you try to break the habit of just picking it up and browsing when you should or could be doing things that will help you reach your goals.
That’s all I have to say on the subject! Let me know what you think about this issue in the comments- is social media helpful or harmful to your dancing?