As we have discussed in class all semester, social media presence can make or break a career. In today’s world, professionals are now expected to have an account on every social media available: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and the list goes on. This is no different in the dance industry. In fact, I personally follow plenty of dancers on social media. The medium that is the most valuable to dancers, however, is YouTube.
Dancers use YouTube in countless ways: from watching other dancers, to learning and recreating pieces, to sharing their own dance reels and choreography on the platform and so much more. YouTube has created an online space for dancers across the world to share their passion with one another and inspire those they may have never met otherwise. In my experience, and in speaking with other dancers, there are two overarching themes as to why and how dancers are utilizing this social media tool: learning and achieving YouTube stardom. YouTube can be used in truly incredible ways, and the ramifications this has and will have on the dance industry as a whole are just now starting to be seen in a more long-term manner. These effects have been and will be both positive and negative across the following two ideas.
1. Getting Educated
According to YouTube themselves, the site – at its most basic level – is designed to provide “a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe”. For dance, this means getting one’s ideas out into the great network that is YouTube; allowing others to see/judge/give feedback on your craft. So what happens when people start teaching dance steps on YouTube, and not in the classroom? Shelby Kaufman, a professional tap dancer and choreographer in New York City, decided to find out when she began making video tutorials (or TAP-torials, as she calls them) teaching basic tap steps via YouTube.
Kaufman claims watching YouTube make-up tutorials for years gave her the idea to start doing the same thing using tap dance, her area of expertise. “It took me a few years after coming up with the idea to actually go through with it,” Kaufman says of her project. Since posting her first TAP-torial in April 2014, she has created around 45 videos so far and has watched her subscriber number grow from 46 to 402: “This alone is the reason I know people are watching and tells me I should keep making videos.” Kaufman claims that her videos have been more helpful to tap teachers than serious tap dancers thus far, as she has had other teachers and friends of hers that have seen her videos shared on Facebook. As far as getting her work out there and getting herself seen, she says she is still trying to figure out what videos get the most views and why this is, as well as what measures she takes to ensure her videos get more views: “I add ‘How To Tap Dance’ before anything else in case that is what people are searching or not.” Along with this, Kaufman says that she utilizes annotations to provide links to previous videos that would be helpful to master before reaching the current one: “I don’t know if this helped me or not, but I keep doing it that way.”
In short, YouTube gives people the opportunity to learn tap dance from an experienced professional teacher in the comfort of their own living room. Other dancers including Matt Steffanina, Jake Kodish, and Dana Alexa have also been known to create “how-to” tutorials on YouTube. The question becomes: what are the implications of this method of teaching and learning? Is this really a good thing, or can it have negative consequences?
The positives: As mentioned above, YouTube is all about sharing an individual’s work with the world. Teaching dance steps via video on this social media site allows for those who cannot afford dance lessons or to attend a studio. Such videos allow dancers to continue growing and learning, even when the world is against them. For dance, along with these tutorial videos, the possibilities for teaching lessons outside of the physicality of dancing are endless. Shelby Kaufman even has a few more ideas for videos to expand on her YouTube repertoire. Examples include ‘How to edit music,’ ‘How to make a website,’ ‘Everyday makeup for dancers,’ and ‘Tap shoe reviews,’ among others. YouTube can be an excellent platform for sharing knowledge and helping those with similar interests achieve their goals.
The negatives: One possible negative consequence that may result in learning from YouTube is the unwanted effect of taking students out of the classroom. These tutorials are free, and they are being offered in every genre imaginable: from breakdancing, to hip hop, to jazz leaps and turns, you name it and they are out there. Kaufman insists that these videos are not meant to replace traditional studio training: “Honestly, I think it is a great tool for at-home practice, but it can’t and should never take the place of actually going to class, performing, rehearsing, etc. People learning off of my channel still need to try these steps with/for a teacher and get feedback and how they personally are doing,” she says. Another thing Kaufman worries about is people stealing material from other people. She claims that you can really be taking a risk when putting work out there, because anyone can take it and pass it off as their own: “Hopefully, the risk pays off,” she says.
Additionally, when using these videos to train, the outcome can be dangerous. An article from the Wall Street Journal describes a process where young, hopeful ballerinas post videos of themselves online, wanting critique from those watching. Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, is appalled by this new practice: “If you look at those videos, there is no potential – except to get hurt. Ballet takes 10 years of training before you can do anything… You don’t learn that by watching YouTube.” In the ballet world, learning and going up “en pointe” (where a dancer wears special shoes and dances on their toes) without proper training can lead to serious injury. Where is the line drawn for learning dance on YouTube?
2. Getting Famous
Another reason to use YouTube as a dancer: getting that “big break.” One YouTube sensation that receives regular attention is Kyle Hanagami who has over 290,000 subscribers. Kyle is known for his impressive use of social media to promote his videos – some of which have upwards of 1 million views.
One of Kyle Hanagami’s more successful videos was his choreography to “Yonce” by Beyonce, which currently has over 6 million views. When it was first posted, YouTube immediately exploded with people who had already learned his choreography and posted their own videos in response. A University of Michigan dance student by the name of Jimi Nguyen was one of the first to post an imitation video.
With over 24,000 views, Jimi and his friends’ video was among the most popular re-makes on the site. Kyle Hanagami himself even took notice, commenting on the video – and making Jimi’s day: “We weren’t planning on Kyle seeing it at all – we were just joking around,” Jimi said, “I was looking through my notifications and I was like.. Holy shit, Kyle Hanagami saw my video!” Having his video seen by Hanagami felt like an emotional high, according to Nguyen. He attributes YouTube’s upper-hand in reaching the masses for all the success and attention his video received, given the site’s international capabilities and its general design qualities. Also, Nguyen says that his video had the same title as the original (“YONCE choreography by Kyle Hanagami”), so it was sure to pop up whenever someone was watching the first version: “We still make sure to credit the artist, though, because it’s important to not appear like you’re stealing someone’s work,” he claims.
Yet another example of “getting famous” on YouTube is being contacted directly by people who have seen your video. Katherine Lieblang, a 19-year-old aspiring musical theater star from Detroit, Michigan, thought she was just posting a video of one of her performances for friends and family to see. What she would soon find out, however, was who else exactly was keeping an eye on her material. Shortly after posting a performance of her duet “Chain Gang,” Lieblang was contacted via e-mail by the producers of America’s Got Talent and asked to go straight through to a live audition. I sat down with her to ask her a few questions about the process, and what she thinks of YouTube in general after this whole experience.
Since their audition for the show, Lieblang and her partner have not heard anything and aren’t expected to until February. “They seemed to really like us, so we’ll see!” she says.
Is YouTube fame all it’s cracked up to be? And what happens after one becomes “youtube famous?” YouTube began at a time where the children who were YouTube sensations at a young age are just now reaching their teenage years: what happens to them now? Will they fizzle out, or maintain the fame? And what does it all mean?
The positives: Being “youtube famous” is essentially a lesser version of being actually famous: people will recognize you in public, scrutinize every post on social media, and follow your every move. YouTube has created a way for dancers to be famous outside of their hometowns, so they are recognized at every convention, competition, and dance event they attend. This will get a dancer’s name out there without even having to do much of anything, other than post a few videos on a website. Those with a greater following will be more successful in the job market because every product they represent or television show they appear in are more likely to get more attention and be more prosperous with their name attached. Take Sophia Lucia, for example: she has over 30,000 YouTube subscribers at age 12. Why? Because she became YouTube famous at a young age. After being discovered by Abby Lee Miller of Dance Moms, Lucia joined the show for a few episodes as Miller saw this as a chance to bring ratings back up. Being a young YouTube celebrity has already begun to pay off – literally – for this little girl.
The negatives: One of the main negatives of becoming famous and recognizable from this platform are the effects it has on what most viewers value when they consider dance. The dancers who get famous at a young age are doing leaps, tricks, and turns that are getting them noticed, when in reality, dance is so much more than that. The error of being a YouTube sensation falls on the younger generation, as Jimi Nguyen describes it: “These young girls don’t think they’re dancing unless they’re doing 8 million turns,” he says. They believe that the more views, subscribers, or likes a dancer has, the better that dancer must be. Considering the fact that not all dancers have strong YouTube presences, dancers may be overlooked simply because they’re not raking in 30,000 subscribers like Sophia Lucia mentioned above. This could be a tragedy if viewers and dancers alike begin seeing dance in this way, where more likes = more talent.
All in all, it’s clear that YouTube has played an extremely large role in the dance industry. “Dance is so much networking and who knows who,” says Nguyen. It’s clear that YouTube has made this network tighter and more compact, as I can easily type in a few words and watch thousands of dancers from other countries. Dancers that may never have been noticed if it weren’t for the medium can get that “big break” they’ve dreamed of, just as Katherine did; or Jimi being noticed by a YouTube sensation himself. YouTube gives opportunity to those who normally wouldn’t have it, and this can be a great thing if we’re careful. YouTube should be a place where the dance community shares passion and grows with one another, and since it’s all relatively new, there’s no knowing for sure what kind of long-term effects this site will have. Knowing how much social media affects professionals in every field it’s no wonder this platform has made such a huge difference in the dance industry, but we must be careful that the future remain bright and not clouded by a generation that values “likes” more than talent. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.