Your Career on Social Media
Ballet is a funny thing as a career - the line between student and professional can be quite blurry. I mean, yes, one minute your parents are giving you a pointe shoe allowance and paying your tuition, and the next minute you’re in a company getting FREE POINTE SHOES and having to regulate your own schedule. So in that sense, you’re either a professional or you’re not.
But in another sense, you’re in a pre-professional limbo for several years before that contract comes along: you’re dancing lead roles at your studio, and placing in the Top Twelve at YAGP, and getting scholarships to summer programs, and filling in for Snow or Waltz for the big company’s Nutcracker one year. So at what point do you start treating your career like, well, a career?
Especially on social media?
Let’s face it - social media is everywhere, and permeates every aspect of our lives. You’re reading this thanks to social media. You follow me on Instagram and see the crazy things my dancers do to get stronger. You notice on Facebook I’m teaching an open recovery class in a week and you make a note to come. You “like” the articles I share, and chuckle at the jokes I make in my blogs. We live our lives side by side, and keep up with each other daily, through social media.
And while social media can be a fun place to express yourself and have some virtual hangout time with friends, it’s also, to put it bluntly, a big giant resume that tells prospective employers exactly who you are before they hire you.
Here’s a cautionary tale: a friend of mine runs a studio and has a dancer who is naturally gifted but lazy and takes a lot for granted. She auditioned for a college she really wanted to get into, and failed to snag the scholarship she was sure she’d get. My friend happens to know someone in that school, and they told her they’d looked the dancer up on social media and seen her, um, lifestyle and posts about “skipping ballet again! Woohoo!” and decided she wasn’t where they wanted to invest their scholarship money.
So as you build your social media presence, ask yourself these questions:
What should go on my Instagram account?
Well, the easy answer, of course, is: “Anything you want! It’s your life!” The realistic answer, though, is more complicated. Most of the successful up-and-coming dancers I know have an Instagram account filled with beautiful dance shots, hard-working rehearsal pictures, and humble training or rehab photos. Their accounts are a free portfolio for any company to page through and use to get a sense of their work ethic, natural gifts, and commitment.
Think about where you are in your career, and post accordingly. Lots of people want to see pictures of Tiler Peck walking her dog, or Maria Kowroski holding her wee baby in a ballet rehearsal: these photos give us a glimpse of the stars’ lives and let us see what their life is like under the glamour and sweat. But if you’re 15, posting a picture of your chihuahua dressed up like a Ken doll is perhaps not going to paint a picture of you that you’d like. Likewise, “throwback” photos of 8-year-olds in recitals are adorable if it’s Alessandra Ferri. But if you’re 12? It’s more awkward.
But what if I want to have fun with my friends?
Now, if you want an Instagram page where you can cut loose and post photos of the houses you’ve toilet papered and the friends you’ve covered in shaving cream, go for it. Perhaps a second account that’s private would be a great place for this! Just consider your virtual resume - do you want a photo of yourself working on your quad pirouette to be your profile picture, or a photo of you with duck lips, giving a peace sign?
When should I set up a website?
There’s no hard and fast age by which you should have a website; I think you simply start accumulating photo shoots and ballet reviews and good YAGP clips, and as you begin putting yourself out there- shooting for full scholarships each summer, aiming for the year-round programs, auditioning for PD programs or apprenticeships or studio companies - you’ll find it’s nice to have something companies can find easily if they want. Many website platforms are free or very low-cost, and can be built quickly with little to no knowledge (trust me on this!) of how coding or programming works. A simple, clean website can have a photo gallery, your resume, any press mentions you’ve gotten, and a few very nice videos. It doesn’t take much to give yourself a professional look.
If I don’t post much on my own sites, I’m safe, right?
A quick word about the flip side of social media - commenting on other people’s posts. The best comments I get from other people are encouraging, supportive ones. No-brainer, right? Remember that nothing’s really private in the cyber-world. So if someone posts a picture of a dancer from another school on your “private” Facebook school page, restrain yourself from gleefully jumping in and tearing that girl’s port de bras or sickled feet apart. I guarantee you these hurtful comments will get back to her. And follow you around.
And don’t forget - every time a friend takes a photo with you and tags you, it shows up in your own feed. Every time you guest artist at a small company and smile and pose for photos with hundreds of baby ballerinas, they tag you and the world sees you being gracious and kind and an excellent example to the younger kids. And every time you guest artist and a parent snaps a photo from the wings of you throwing a tantrum with the conductor, that goes in your feed, too.
Do I need a Facebook account? Isn’t it mostly just for old people?
First, ouch. But second, it’s entirely up to you. It’s certainly not the desired method of communication for younger people, I know. But I treat Facebook like a big giant address book - I can find pretty much anyone fairly easily on it. So I can look someone up and send them a “friend” request or a message much more easily than I could track down their email address or a phone number to text them. I think a lot of people use Facebook these days as their daily newspaper; it’s a news feed and classifieds all in one. Facebook is a great place to post a notice about an upcoming show, or to invite people to see your first choreographer’s showcase. It’s also the perfect place to “like” informational sites (like mine! Jennifer Milner Bodies In:Motion!) and get germane articles in your daily news feed, along with regular updates from favorite companies, Facebook Live classes and rehearsals, and more.
I will also say here that I have two Facebook accounts - a personal one, and then my business one. My personal one is where I stay in touch with high school friends and ooh and ahh over baby pictures - I try not to mix business and personal on social media. I have several friends in the more well-known realm who have private pages and then “public” pages or fan pages for people to follow. Just know that if a company “likes” your personal page, then that picture of you winning that water balloon fight will show up in their news feed.
So should I construct a fake, perfect life on social media?
Absolutely not. I am definitely not saying you should construct a fake life on Instagram, or any other social media. I think too many people see other people’s carefully cultivated social media feeds and despair of ever having such a perfect life themselves. There is a big difference between presenting a fake you and a professional you.
Think of it this way: if you are someone who has struggled with an eating disorder and are finally on the road to recovery, you could do one of two things. You could post pictures of yourself at your thinnest, knowing it’s not healthy but knowing a lot of people like the way that looks, and pretend that’s how you naturally looked. You could post staged photos of yourself eating donuts, which you spit out as soon as the photo’s been taken, and write, “See! Dancers eat junk food too!”
Or you could post photos of healthy meals you’ve prepared, thanks to the work of your parents and your new nutritionist. You can write, “Trying to stay fueled and healthy for a long rehearsal day!” Because even though you’re a 17-year-old pre-professional nobody, I guarantee you there’s a group of 12- and 13-year-olds at your studio who pore over your photos and want to be just like you.
Social media is a fact of life these days. It can be a valuable tool for promoting your own career in a business where catching the eye of an artistic director can be almost impossible. But it can also be detrimental to that career if you don’t think long-term as you post. How - and what - you post will shape your career, both for good and bad.
Today’s world practically demands that you live part of your life on social media. How you present yourself? Is up to you.