Dance teachers are some of the most sensitive and empathetic human beings on the planet. Have you given yourself any credit lately for all you truly do?
Social media. That triggering place on the internet that can make your heart explode, your stomach sink, your head spin, your eyes water, your laugh terrify strangers in the coffee shop.
Acknowledgement that social media can trigger us to feel less than. Like we’re not doing enough. Like we need to invest $5,000 in new branding. Like we were never a child prodigy. Like we don’t design enough dancewear or have enough colors in our hair or understand how to do that many turns in sneakers.
Acknowledging that social media is a huge part of our lives, as human beings, is extremely necessary in this day and age. Owning that it plays a large part in our work as educators, is really the next level.
Here, I address some of the common triggers that come from dance social media specifically, and some perspective shifts to help us cope next time we’re spinning out at 11:30 at night scrolling our feed.
Trigger: The Videos
I think the thing that makes me feel most small when I’m scrolling Instagram late at night are the countless videos, professionally edited, with the logo of the famous studio in the background. 21,356 views and counting. 1,400 comments. Brilliant choreography. Unbelievable dancers.
For me, being the director of a studio in a small town where there are no other performing arts studios, I have too much on my plate to even fathom being able to record such professional video of my choreography. Nor do I have the adult professional dancers. Nor do I have the cool apparel. Nor do I have the Instagram following to begin with.
This is the rabbit hole I fall down as I scroll through video after video, both loving the choreography and the musicality and feeling so inadequate at the same time. Never mind that my nine-year-old jazz class restaged their piece without me in rehearsal last night to account for a missing dancer, while I was working with another group. Never mind that I gave them the tools to do that. Never mind that they took initiative to do that without me asking them to because I’ve been teaching them about work ethic.
I can only focus on the video that I don’t have the resources to produce.
It is incredible that some of these dance videos have accrued millions of views, giving visibility to multiple genres of dance in a groundbreaking and innovative way. Our passions are being recognized by communities that are not otherwise connected to dance except for social media and that is something to celebrate! Not all of us have the resources and following to have our work seen in this way, but we can be grateful for the choreographers and teachers who are using their platform to be a voice for all of us, and we can spend our time supporting them to continue to build awareness around our craft.
Additionally, there are moments that happen in class that will never be able to be captured on film. They are intimate moments that don’t belong in any marketing video. You know the moments I’m talking about. Those moments when your students teach each other. When they’re challenging each other to hold a plank the longest. When they try on their costumes for the first time and perform the piece in a bubble of joy and excitement.
We could film. We could photograph. We could hashtag. But it’s not the right time. It feels incredibly inappropriate to capture such intimate moments on my phone. It’s just not the time. Our students need to know that there is a space in their lives that is free from devices and documentation, especially in our current world. A space without pressure to nail it to promote my work or my studio. They need time where the space feels safe, and private.
Remember this as you scroll the social media feeds. There are thousands of moments that we are not privy to and I think that’s a good thing. Furthermore, there are dozens of takes and mistakes we never see. We are seeing the final edit. The highlight reel. Ground yourself when you’re getting overwhelmed by all the things you feel you can’t do, by coming back to the classroom and what you experienced today. Talk about it. Share it with friends. Just because it isn’t on video, doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable.
Trigger: The Photos
Those gorgeous, professional, stunning photos of the young girl with her hair flying behind her in her high cut leotard in a pose I don’t know I was ever able to hold at her age.
If I am not mindful as I scroll through my Instagram feed, I catch myself going down another rabbit hole thinking...
- Even at her age, I was never taught how to do that.
- Why was my dance teacher so inadequate?
- Why didn’t I look like that as a young dancer?
- Now I don’t know how to teach my students how to do that.
- I am inadequate.
- I can’t give my students what they need.
Again, never mind that my teen dancer just got her first internship at the local newspaper yesterday, thanks to her passion in the arts. Never mind that I’m carrying an entire nonprofit and handling 18 student classes, making sure every student gets individual attention in every class. Never mind I developed a partnership with the local physical therapy clinic to make strength training and education more readily available to my entire studio.
After seeing this gorgeous picture of a dancer leaping by the sea, I am nothing. I am the victim. I am a crap teacher.
As a woman living in these trying times, filled with constant misogynistic remarks from our country’s leaders and stories of workplace sexism on my newsfeed every day, I am overjoyed for these young women who have been granted opportunities to celebrate their athleticism without being sexualized. They’re wearing form-fitting clothing, showing their legs, their abdominals, their arms, and it isn’t promoting a men’s magazine or underwear. That is something all of us can celebrate.
The photographers that are able to capture these images are truly masters of their craft. They have to understand movement down to a millisecond, which takes years of research and practice. Their dedication to this skill is a validation of our art form. They have invested this much time into capturing dance in a single shot, which means they are also seeing how much work goes into that dancer’s career to make the shot possible in the first place.
These young dancers that are captured by incredible photographers like David Hofmann (Shark Cookie) and James Jin are inherently being told that their work matters. Do I wish to see more dancers of color, disability, and size in these photographs? Yes please. But if I focus on the opportunities being provided to young women, instead of focusing on how I can’t do that leap, I am able to scroll my feed feeling a sense of empowerment and community with the dancers in the photographs.
Trigger: The Branding
That beautiful logo you see on every photograph from that dance studio with multiple locations and thousands of students. That consistent color scheme that captures your eye as you scroll, reminding you that you have no marketing knowledge and/or a budget for a Marketing Director. You’re running a studio on your own, putting the students first, but you feel like your image suffers because you don’t have time to dedicate to branding it.
On the other hand, maybe you work for a studio that doesn’t spend time on branding or market themselves well. Perhaps this affects your class size, which is particularly crushing when you get paid per student, but the studio owner won’t accept your help, nor will they let you market your own classes. If the studio owner isn’t open to hiring someone or simply cannot spend time on it, you feel stuck and now you’re attached to your students and it puts you in a really tricky situation.
Acknowledging that we are doing the best we can is the start here. Honestly, most dance educators I know clock at least 60 hours a week between class prep, parent communication, community performance, competition travel, and actual teaching. Let’s just take a breath and give ourselves credit for juggling all the things. All the things we do that you can never quantify on a contract. All the ways we give of ourselves for our communities. Before we think about the things we don’t have time to do, let us acknowledge why that is, by owning all of the things we make happen every day.
Here are some suggestions that have worked for me in the past in terms of building my personal brand as well as the nonprofit performing arts organization that I oversee.
If you are a studio owner and you’d like to find your branding but do not have the time or funds, check in with your parent base. I’ve never met a parent who isn’t open to a trade. If their child is really happy at your studio, they’ll often end up volunteering on top of that trade as well. Schedule a meeting and tell them what you’re looking to do with the image of your organization. They can always draw boundaries if you’re asking for too much, but if you don’t give them the full scope of your vision, they will be unable to truly help you build it. Just like a piece of choreography, you can have all the pictures in your head, but the piece is never complete without the individuality of each dancer illustrating your work on their bodies. Branding is the same way. You may have a vision, but that graphic designer can really bring it to life. Ask for what you need. The worst they can say is no.
There is no shame in asking for help. That is self-care 101.
If you are a teacher working for a studio that doesn’t market well and you are frustrated, there are a few options. Bringing a request to the studio owner, such as asking to design your own flyer for classes, can be too overwhelming for them because they are unsure of what you’ll come up with and if they hate it, they feel they have wasted your time. I live my life by the phrase “better to ask forgiveness than permission.” I suggest designing a flyer first and presenting it to your studio owner in a meeting, so you have something physical to show them when you ask if you can hang it in the community and share on your social media. You’ll show initiative and you’ll show where your priorities lie - in growing business for your studio. I really enjoy the templates and easy use of Canva, a free design site that changed my whole world as a studio director when we first opened.
If you design a flyer and your studio owner is still not having it, I suggest a serious conversation about how the lack of marketing is affecting your business as a dance educator. Express that you’d like to hear the action plan on how the studio will handle marketing moving forward. Don’t play the victim here. Explain your needs, use a few examples of how your classes have been affected, and volunteer to seek out resources within the community that will volunteer or trade to support the studio. Sometimes this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it will also give you a good idea of what you’re looking at in terms of your future with this studio owner and figure out how much you are willing to compromise. If they are not open to your suggestions or your collaboration, maybe it’s not the right fit for you at this time.
Let me sidebar here to say that learning your relationship with your studio owner may not be the right fit can be a soul crushing situation all it’s own, especially if you’ve already fallen in love with all your students. This topic will be addressed in this series if you continue to follow. It’s important, and it relates directly to self care.
Remember that what we see on social media is the highlight reel. Have you ever posted a picture of your dancers kicking their face if they have flexed feet? Well, neither has anyone else.
What we see on our feeds is a selection of pictures and videos that display the dancers’ best work for that day. There are hundreds of deleted photos that we don’t see. Thousands of video clips where the dancers forget the choreography that will never be a part of the final edit. Tons of emails back and forth with the Marketing Director who didn’t get the Facebook Event Header right the first three tries. We see none of this.
Only the perfect parts.
We can make a difference though, to alleviate triggers for everyone in the dance profession.
Let’s post sweaty pictures of our dancers after a long rehearsal. Let’s post videos of dancers trying new things, even if they don’t nail them. Let’s bring diversity to our feeds by posting pictures of dancers of color, disability, and size. Let’s tell their stories in the comments. Let’s break the rules, and post the real reel. I challenge you to explore what this looks like for you on a personal level, and on a professional level. It’s a different journey for everyone, but it is an action each of us can take toward a more real world, especially to set the example for our students.
I challenge you to break the rules. Tell the real story. Ask forgiveness rather than permission.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. If we’re going to be triggered, why not try something new? We have nothing to lose. So, why not set a new precedent?
Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comments! And stay tuned for next week’s installment in our Self-Care Series!
Amanda Trusty currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts, a nonprofit performing arts center on Hawai'i Island. She studied musical theatre at Shenandoah University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and currently studies tap dance under Gregory Hines' protégé Andrew Nemr. With a decade of professional performance and choreography credits from theaters both inside and outside of New York City, Amanda is passionate about using her artistry as a vehicle for change, with a sharp focus on empowering the next generation. As a freelance writer and activist, Amanda was recognized in 2015 by the Huffington Post as one of nine women bringing body positivity to dance. Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram