YouTube: The Digital Disruption of Dance

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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.

Kyle Hanagami tweeting about his most recent YouTube video.

Kyle Hanagami tweeting about his most recent YouTube video.

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.

The Irony of Social Media

Can “social” media really be making us dumber and more socially awkward?! In a word: yes.

Yesterday, I spent thirty minutes editing a photo that I would later post on Instagram. I spent thirty minutes choosing a filter, altering the contrast, instagram-starbuckssetting up the perfect caption and geotag, and selecting the perfect emojis to go along with it all. Thirty minutes I could have spent talking to my family, laughing with friends, or even doing schoolwork. It’s easy to take a step back and see that social media is having an effect on our daily lives. But just how bad has it gotten?

 

According to an article by The Guardian, people are getting dumber. Cognition, critical thinking, and social skills are worse than ever, and social media is to blame. Studies show that on average, students spend 12 hours every day participating in social media, and since most sleep an average of 8 hours, that leaves about four hours for everything else. Where can studying possibly fit in with a schedule of this kind? In addition to this, a recent study studied how a group of students answered trick questions alone and in group settings. It was noted that the students had a greater tendency to copy others instead of thinking through the tough questions, and that this finding can be attributed to increased social media use. Thus, such information-sharing social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and many more, while they appear to pave the way for greater public and individual opinion, they also present the opportunity for people to just copy the opinions of others that they find online. This further perpetuates a lazy generation of human beings as we are expected to find a plethora information online and on social networks that tells us what to think and who to be – and we listen to these people.

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In a study conducted at Carnegie Melon, researchers found that people who are interrupted by technology score 20 percent lower on a standard cognition test. A second study demonstrated that some students can’t concentrate on their studies for more than 2 minutes without distracting themselves by using social media or writing an email. Multi-tasking and constant interruptions wear hard on the brain, and there are limits to what the brain can pay attention to. This kind of constant interruption can have long-lasting repercussions.

Not only is social media negatively impacting our cognitive abilities, it is also having a large effect on our social interactions in daily life. A recent study illustrated that Facebook makes people much ruder as they are interacting with a screen instead of face to face, thus weakening our ability to be compassionate. This lack of compassion can lead to so many negative consequences, including an uprising in online bullying as it’s much easier to be hateful when hiding behind a computer screen.

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It really is quite ironic that social media-a tool designed to help bolster our interactions with others-actually has a detrimental effect on our daily conversations and interactions. The infographic spells it out: 24% of those surveyed have missed out on an important time in their life because they were too busy on social media. Just as I was too busy looking at my phone over break and perfecting an Instagram post to spend time with my loved ones, it’s starting to happen more and more every day. And this infographic displays not only American data, but it also takes a look at what’s happening around the world. While this is undoubtedly a problem, it’s nice to know this is one thing that not just stupid Americans are doing.

As a member of a generation that grew up with online dating, mobile dating applications, and making and maintaining friendships with people you’ve never met face to face, the change has to start with us. If we’re not careful, we’ll be able to get married online soon enough (I hope this hasn’t already happened because that would be disgusting). We’ve already started to see change. Take the “phone stack” game for example:

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These changes start with taking responsibility for our role and keeping our phones out of our faces at important life moments. When I’m with my grandparents, or out to eat with my parens, you can bet I wouldn’t dare touch that phone. Why waste time on something that is only making me stupider and more awkward (if that’s even possible)?

It’s far too early, America.

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On Monday morning, I tuned in to Good Morning America on ABC at 7am at had my coffee with Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Lara Spencer, Amy Robach, and Ginger Zee. First of all, I can’t remember the last time I was awake that early in the morning, so just being able to focus was a challenge in itself. That being said, I really enjoyed watching the show and it made me so nostalgic. Growing up, my mom and I would always watch Good Morning America – affectionately known as GMA – when I was eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I pretty much grew up with Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts in my kitchen, and although Diane Sawyer has moved on, it was refreshing to have a little Robin Roberts back in my life.

The show began with extreme weather across the nation before moving on to a story on ISIS about an American man who was killed in Dabiq, Syria. While the reporter gave a little background on ISIS, the story focused on the man who was killed and his family. GMA chose to Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.25.53 AMmake it personal, which I personally enjoyed, although I would have liked a little more information on ISIS. Following that, they moved on to a story about the NFL painkiller lawsuit, speaking specifically about the random checks the DEA was conducting on NFL teams on the road to see if their medical staffs were carrying painkillers.

After both of these stories, the reporters mentioned the upcoming Ferguson ruling as well as the Pope coming to America. Next, they move on to a remake of “Feed the World” that is set to be coming out this year addressing the Ebola outbreak before moving on to the Bill Cosby sex Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.44.08 AMallegations. Pretty much for the remainder of the show, the stories were all less serious. There was story about a 17-year-old saving a baby in a Walmart, and then they had the segment that they call the “Social Square” in which Dancing With The Stars was discussed and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” was playing in the background.

After the next commercial break, “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Avicii started playing as the anchors discussed previews of what was to come. The show had pop news, a story about shark tank, and about a store that allows you to rent bridesmaids dresses, utilizing clips from the movies “27 Dresses” and “Bridesmaids”. To finish out the show, there are clips of each of the reporters before they were famous, a story on Kendall Jenner, an interview with Benedict Cumberbatch followed by an interview with Brooke Shields on her new book, and then finally a turkey-making tutorial.

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Essentially, as the show went on, the stories got progressively less serious and more toward the Entertainment-side of news. I think the producers of the show do this very strategically, as they know that their early-morning audience – those awake at the 7am start of the show – want the hard-hitting, serious news that will keep them updated on current events. As the morning hour grows later, the viewers up and moving around closer to 9am are seeing the segments on how to make a juicy turkey, or listening Brooke Shields talk about her relationship with her mother. These people could maybe be generalized as stay-at-home parents or those without 9-5 jobs, and the segments and stories are planned as such.

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the program. I thought the news segments were informative and relevant, and the “fluff” pieces were placed well and needed to break up the serious talk and regain the attention and interest of the audience. It’s clear that the audience at the beginning is the average working adult or young adult, as the news pieces were geared Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.05.24 AM toward more serious news, and the end was more meant for entertainment as the demographic of the audience shifted. Toward the end, the show included hashtags that the audience could interact with using Twitter to really get the audience involved in a charity event called “#popupsanta”.

As far as tone was concerned, it felt very different than traditional evening news. The music that was used included Taylor Swift, One Direction, and Avicii, and shots of the audience outside in Times Square Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.16.31 AMkept the tone very upbeat and happy. It seemed like the goal was to start everyone’s day on a happy note. The graphics were bright yellow, red, orange, and blue for every story, keeping the feeling light and cheery. Overall, the experience of watching this network broadcast on ABC made me want to tune in every morning. I got all of the news I wanted with the enjoyment of watching Entertainment Tonight.

Amy Yakima – Living the Dream

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Meghan Fuhrer, editor-in-chief of DanceSpirit Magazine.

Unfortunately, given my chosen beat, it’s difficult to find prominent journalists or citizen journalists that have a particular focus on dance that are experiencing first-hand the effects of digital disruption. At first, I investigated Margaret Fuhrer, the editor in chief of DanceSpirit magazine.  Her work is highly reputable, given both her dance and journalism background, but technologically speaking, she has not made any significant steps toward digitizing her work. Her recent publications for DanceSpirit and previously Pointe magazines are formatted traditionally in print, and although DanceSpirit Magazine has a mobile app and an updated website, Fuhrer herself only has about 240 Twitter followers and has only tweeted over 100 times since joining the social networking site in 2012.

Given all of this information, I chose to profile someone who was prominent in the dance industry, despite not technically being a journalist, because the dancers themselves have now developed online profiles and personas. Amy Yakima, a recently turned 21-year-old dancer from Northville, Michigan, recently shot to fame after winning season 10 of the hit dance series So You Think You Can Dance.

I was able to have a quick phone interview with Yakima, where she talked me through her rise to fame. She trained at Noretta Dunworth School of Dance from the age of 3 up until she graduated high school. After winning the “Senior Elite Dancer” title at the West Coast Dance Explosion (a dance convention) nationals in Las Vegas, Yakima was awarded a scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College for dance. She attended Marymount for a year before deciding to tour with West Coast as an assistant. She credits traveling with the convention for preparing her for So You Think You Can Dance: “I don’t think anything could have prepared me like West Coast did,” she says, “Obviously, dancing and working towards this goal for 15+ years was important, but traveling and dancing four days a week, non-stop, gave me that extra push and really made me realize what I wanted to do and exactly what I was going to have to do to get there.”

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One of Yakima’s Instagram posts from her time touring with West Coast Dance Explosion

Being on So You Think You Can Dance was a goal she had always hoped to reach, but it all became so real after receiving a standing ovation at her Detroit auditions for the television series. Along with this fame, Yakima started to realize that it would all came at a steep price – her privacy. Prior to being cast on the show, Yakima claims she only had a few hundred followers on Twitter. The producers of the show, however, required that the contestants create Twitter and Instagram accounts so that fans could follow Amy along on her journey: “That was really hard and I’m still getting used to that whole thing. Before, I used to be able to tweet when I was having a bad day, or use swear words. Suddenly, I had 10-year-olds seeing everything I was saying and I realized that I had to really monitor was I was putting out there.” Yakima’s Twitter following increased from that couple hundred before the show to now having over 27.1k  followers. The same thing with Instagram, where Yakima now has more than 70 thousand followers.

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Yakima’s old Twitter account before the television series.

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Yakima’s current Twitter account.

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A snapshot of Yakima’s Instagram ticket giveaway.

Since her success on the show, she has been cast in Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound tour, which will run October-February. Yakima has always admired Travis Wall, so she says that it’s been an absolute dream come true getting to dance and tour with him on a regular basis. Yakima continues to utilize social media to interact with fans, and recently, she even had an Instagram ticket giveaway contest in which she asked fans to make a video telling her why they deserved the tickets with the hashtag: #ShapingSoundAmyGiveaway: “That was fun! I got to see some homemade videos of fans, and they loved it because they knew I was watching the videos. The little girl who got the tickets was so excited, so that was really rewarding.”

 

Yakima says that although winning the show and touring is exactly what she always dreamed she’d be doing, she never thought she would actually achieve it: “I can’t believe it’s all really happening. Just two years ago I was a regular girl, dancing away my stress and dreaming that I could do what I loved for the rest of my life.” Yakima says she feels truly blessed by every opportunity that comes her way, and she can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Dance goes digital

In this age, technology is taking over. Dancing and performance art began with the accompaniment of live music: jazz musicians, bands, just a group of artists feeding off of one another’s energy. With the development of technology, recorded music became possible with the creation of the record, followed by the cassettes and CDs, and now, music is most commonly played from computers or MP3 players. Editing, cutting, and creating music became possible with the help of technology, and this isn’t the only situation where we can see technology having an effect on dance.

A development of portable music players.

A development of portable music players.

Filming and putting videos onto YouTube and similar sites has become increasingly popular in recent years. Sharing videos gives artists the chance to show off the pieces they have created to a much larger audience than what would be possible with just performing the production on stage. Choreographers will film their dances or create concept videos and post them online, growing a fan base full of people whom they have never – and probably will never – meet. People are being seen online who may have otherwise not been discovered. Brian Puspos, for example, grew in popularity when he began posting his work on YouTube and now has over 370,000 subscribers. Below is one of his more popular videos with more than 1 million views, and that’s not even the one with the most views!

Similarly, recently I read an article about Crystal Ballet, which is a new enterprise that aims to take ballet dance and put it on our mobile devices (http://www.crystalballet.com/). Crystal Ballet’s is more about accessing dance rather than messing with the art – in a sense, to create ballet that you can download alongside all of your other applications. The filming of the dances is done with the intention of being viewed on a small-scale screen and in an intimate way so as to bring the essence of dance to the small screen. What’s different about this as opposed to Puspos’ videos and following is that it brings classical, professional ballet into the limelight in a way that’s not meant to just get views and create YouTube sensations. This takes dance back to its most basic and simple form, and the goal is to really bring the art form back in a way that is pleasing to this generation. Below is a preview of the enterprise as seen on their YouTube channel.

Personally, I believe that being able to share content online is an amazing feature for dancers. It can give credit to dancers who may not have been otherwise discovered, they can serve as inspiration to other choreographers, and it keeps the dance world going in this age of mobile technology. Despite this, there’s something about seeing a dance live and really understanding that risk the performer is taking when they step out on stage. That feeling where you only have one moment to make the performance count without the ability to re-take or fix any part. The dancer feeds off of the energy from the audience and vice versa and taking that away feels like a betrayal to the art form. There is nothing quite like a live dance performance that takes your breath away, and putting dance into this small-screen, digital format isn’t ideal for the dance world although it makes sharing much easier. The dance world is constantly putting to use technology in new ways, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.

An Infographic Injury

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A study done on dance-related injuries in children and adolescents by The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hopsital.

This data visualization that I found focuses on dance-related injuries. It investigates many different aspects of these injuries, including how many injuries occur every year from 1991-2007, the most common injuries, the cause of the most common injuries, where the injuries are most frequently occurring, the age of injured dancers, as well as a small section dedicated to injury prevention among dancers.  I find this visualization extremely effective because it really caught my attention. Each different aspect of the study’s findings is represented using a different infographic, which really made each one seem unique and stand out in its own way.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.26.27 AM     For example, the first graphic uses a line graph to show that the number of injured dancers has been on the rise since about 1995, and that it has been rising ever since. The line graph is effective in comparing on a Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.26.50 AMyearly basis. Also, the graphic of the ballerina illustrating where the injuries occur on the body I thought was very interesting, and really laid out the information in a relevant way. Additionally, I liked the section labeled “Age of Injured Dancers” because the piechart was simple and easy to read, and the colors and information kept me intrigued. I also liked the 4/10 ballerinas colored in on the side because it brought that 41% figure to life.

Among the items I didn’t like was the section labeled “Most Common Injuries.” While it included pictures and percentages, it didn’t jump out at me and I found myself really searching for the information. I think perhaps maybe an infographic more similar (although not the same as) the piechart would have been helpful in visualizing just how much of each injury there was. Also, I felt that the digital visualization itself was far too long. The segment at the Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.26.43 AMend titled “Safety Precautions” could have been a bulleted list, or just simply smaller than it is. Having to scroll so much – even just while referencing the graphic to create this post – became rather annoying.

Overall, I think putting the information into this infographic was more effective than simply writing an article because it paints a picture in the viewer’s mind of what all of this information means in real life. Instead of reading that 12% of injuries occur in the head, you can actually see that number next to a physical dancer’s head. That being said, while digital visualizations undoubtedly make the information clear, they also can leave out crucial information. For example, I would like to know more specifics about these knee injuries: how are they happening? Are all dancers injuring their knees while doing jumps or turns? Details like this are hard to get in an infographic, because if there’s too much going on, people will stop reading them.

Some of the same information can be seen in an article-style format here. Clearly, although more boring to read, it offers a lot more information than the graphic itself does.