If you’re like me and you started your dance career before the days of “photo or it never happened,” this shift towards documenting your pre, during and post dance happenings can feel a little, “Ew.” Is social media obscurity really a career killer? How can we make peace with trying to capture the attention of the interwebs without compromising ourselves in the process? As dancers, our careers evolve and we make choices about what we’re cool with adopting or dig our heels in resistance and let the chips fall where they may.
Even beyond the world of bellydance we hear about the importance of building a personal brand. In my day life as a career counselor and resume writer, I help clients tap into their value propositions or, the stuff that makes them tick and the outcomes they have celebrated when their stuff is ticking. A lot of people (okay, mostly women) are initially uncomfortable with this concept. We’re taught that knowing your unique value is bragging or impolite to discuss. Their feelings tend to change when I explain that knowing it, owning it and being able to tactfully speak about it reduces the need for external validation that it really exists. We all know those people who need constant attention and approval from others because they don’t know (or believe) that they really do rock at this or that. Knowing your worth is a quiet confidence that people can sniff out and we tend to relax in its presence.
But social media is different because there’s a relentless quality about it. I’ve found myself thinking, “Oh no! I don’t have anyone with me to take video at this really important gig!” or “Damn, I forgot to get a selfie with the band.” These are not real problems. The belief that I have to document every move sometimes seduces my brain like bad TV. But I am lucky that I have a good relationship with my ego, my grounding friends, my practical and dry-witted husband and enough regular meditation to let that sh#t go. But I’m human and sometimes I compare myself to the sparkly posts of my busy dancer friends and think, “I won’t matter as much if I don’t share an equally impressive clip.” In those weaker moments, instead of feeling inspired by what I see and enjoying the talents of my peers, I sometimes feel a bit of shame or regret that I haven’t met my imagined posting quota. Or worse, what if their clips come during a slow gig week? Sacre bleu!!
I’ve come up with a few strategies that help me preserve some peace of mind and leave me feeling more thoughtful and less “pining for time with strangers’ eyeballs.”
Sharing is Caring
When I see a dance friend (or, for that matter, a dance stranger who I dig) I share it! Having an active social media presence doesn’t mean it has to all be about me. I have some talented peers and when they do something that moves me, I want to support them and put it on my wall so more people can see it. Will I really lose a gig because a potential client sees them instead of me? Doubtful. And if it did happen, eh…I wouldn’t know about it anyway.
Sincerity with a Side of Feeling
Most of the posts that resonate with me are sincere enough to cut through the noise of social media. I sense the authenticity and it immediately grabs me. When I post about how happy I am after a particularly enjoyable hour with my students, I’m not bragging about the fact that I have a loyal group of ladies who study with me. I am genuinely moved by spending time with some kick-ass women who dig the dance that I love the most. It doesn’t ever feel “dirty” to talk about that.
Captions with a kick.
Sometimes to lower they “Hey look at me” factor of a post, I’ll pair it with a clever caption that helps the viewer understand I’m having fun and not taking myself too seriously. It’s a compromise. Case and point, yesterday’s instagram post about dancing with my own private nebula. I often feel that whirling with colorful wings has an ethereal, galactic quality and I’m kind of obsessed with nebulas…nebulae?? I shared a party photo that could have been captioned with a “I recently performed at a Gala in Westchester. It was my 3rd gig of the night but the crowd gave me all the energy I needed.” That’s not bad at all, and sometimes my captions are like that, but I like to shake it up and change the focus. Bonus points if I make someone laugh or Google image “nebulae.”
Celebrate the Accomplishments
When I have a career moment I’m proud of, I’m not afraid to say so. Making the front page of my local paper was an honor because it was an event supporting two causes I really care about. If there’s a photo that I enjoy because it showcases my art, skill or emotion, that’s ok to feel proud of it. Humility is great but not at the expense of diluting something I feel is a high point. If your social media presence also shows your integrity, people will be happy to celebrate your victories alongside you.
Don’t Play the Numbers Game
I have budding dancers and new professionals in my mentorship program and sometimes they lament about a lack of followers on this or that platform. I myself have blocked easily 200 people on Instagram. I occasionally make my account private if there’s a rash of shirtless selfie dudes holding stacks of cash that all start liking my photos. I’m not here for them. They have every right to like what they want to like but there’s no shortage of people for them to follow. Attract the right people more than the amount of people. Also, it’s easy to get yourself a bunch of fake followers. They’re easy to spot. When a YouTube video has a million views for something very average with loads of generic comments, that’s one way to go. It’s hard to generate “buzz” without being “buzz-worthy.” Keeping up engagement with people who are likely to be in a position to hire you or attend your classes is worth far more than hashtags like, “sexybrunette” but that’s just my opinion.
Also, many of my favorite performance videos are the ones with the least views because I value my unique artistry over my commercial side. Sure, I have a commercial side because I still rely on money from my gigs. I appreciate my skill to earn income with performances that people enjoy. But I also appreciate my skill to perform something without any regard for how clients will perceive it. There’s a time and a place for both.
Spend Time In Reality
Social media can be an addictive, isolating tool for social comparison. There are times when my fingers know to slowly close the screen and go outside for a walk. If you start to notice that posting or reading posts leaves you with a feeling that is worse than you how you felt before you logged on, take note. Do something that feels real.
Yes, an online presence is important as a small business owner. That’s what we are when we’re working dancers –whether or not we run a studio. Yes, we have to have a steady presence. No, that doesn’t mean we have to overly compromise ourselves in the process. If you’re starting to feel “digitally dirty” change up your strategy or just take a break. Promote yourself in the way that feels the most comfortable for YOU. And, by all means, don’t take the comments sections to heart. I’ve seen people write incredibly cruel things about this one’s weight or that one’s cheap-looking costumes or even questioning which body parts were surgically enhanced. Yuck. Stay away from the comments.
Use this as a tool to raise your platform but have the awareness to know when it’s too much. Sometimes real life, without a filter or floating dog ears, deserves our focus.
See you on the interwebs.
Tava is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor and choreographer. She performs regularly throughout Connecticut and the NYC Metro Area. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.
In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling from Fordham University and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.