Dance, Social Media, and the Danger of What we Don't See
One time when I was in my teens, I was sitting at school with a ballet dancer who grew up with me at the dance studio. She and I were sitting with a mutual friend, and we were talking about everything and nothing, as students often do.
At some point, our mutual friend took off his shoes, revealing his feet. The two of us stared at them with incredulity, and my friend said to him, “point your feet.” He didn’t quite understand, and my friend repeated herself. “Point your feet.” He did. He had some of the most beautiful arched feet we had ever seen— feet that my dancer friend and I could only dream of having. She asked him to straighten his knee and point again. When we told him how amazing his feet were, he just laughed with a perplexed look on his face. “What do you mean? I don’t understand."
My friend with the beautiful feet is in the medical field. He is not a dancer, and never has been. The aesthetic of a ballet line was totally foreign to him then, and even after we explained it to him, the idea that his feet were somehow “amazing” was a complete mystery. But I could have taken a picture of them and put it in a dance magazine, and it would be perfectly pertinent. It would have been an Instagram hit. That is, if Instagram existed at the time.
Now I realize that my story is a bit boring, but there is actually a point in me telling it. Having been in the world of casting for over 15 years, and especially in the world of filtering dancers specifically through video, I consistently see the enormous disconnect between self-produced video and reality. This was already true over ten years ago, when we insisted that performing artists limit demo submissions to ten minutes long. Now shorten that by 90%, and you’ve entered the realm of Instagram— and all the dangers that go with it.
We’ve all seen it — the viral accounts of dancers with extreme flexibility, dream abs, tours à la seconde… everyone’s got their “thing.” But having the high heels and putting them on doesn't mean that you can actually walk in them. Having a powerful throw arm alone doesn’t mean that you can actually play professional sports. And being able to get your leg up and behind your head doesn’t mean anything related to dance ability. My medical friend’s beautiful feet didn't mean that he knew the first thing about ballet. And he didn’t.
It has been said “clothes don’t make the man,” and “don’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet we do like wildfire. In our electronically social world, we do so more than ever, in a world where instant stars are made off of 60-second clips. They show 60 seconds, and our minds can’t help but extrapolate the rest. Our evaluation of individual has becomes based mostly on assumptions of what we didn’t see.
On video people show you what they want you to see, not necessarily what is. If you are regularly posting at a reasonable rate, then you only really have to be “on” a couple of times a week. On Instagram that makes you look absolutely hot. In the world of professional live performance, being “on” only a couple of times a week is cause for dismissal.
In as far as Social Media goes, I will be the first to say how much it adds an interesting element to life, and how connected it keeps us to numbers of people that would be unfathomable to keep up with otherwise. I enjoy it as much as the next person. But smart is the name of the game— understanding what one sees keeps us grounded, as is the challenge of analysis of the “invisible,” so to speak. A conscious, intelligent approach to what we don’t see.
This doesn’t mean that what one extrapolates from an image is necessarily not true. One just needs to be conscious of the fact that a snippet is a snippet, no more, no less. An image is an image.
And what is not seen, is simply... not seen. No more, no less.