The Impact of Social Media on Young Dancers

Friday 19th June 2020

A pertinent blog entry given the current time in which we are relying on online social media platforms to connect us

After countless reflections about this subject matter, I would like to consider the minefield that is Instagram, and its impact on young dancers. I have chosen to write this blog entry given the current time in which we are relying on online social media platforms to connect us.

Previous to the lockdown, I was alarmed by how much time my own students spend on social media. To exemplify, one of my teenage students once walked into class and exclaimed that her phone had just notified her that she had spent twenty-two hours on social media in the last three days. This must surely be impacting her in someway?!?

What’s more, in the last few years I have even begun to notice some of my adolescent students presenting with kyphosis and a forward head posture! Perhaps this is caused by them hunching over their desks furiously studying for exams, but could this actually be attributed to them constantly being on their phones? The underlying reason maybe debatable, but if the you spend twenty-two hours on your phone every three days then you are bound to suffer ‘tech neck’. This is somewhat worrisome.

I have also observed many students pose in extreme positions for extended periods of time, and/or execute virtuosic acrobatic tricks repeatedly, all in the name of an Instagram worthy shot. Yet, in a regular class setting such students’ effort could be interpreted as minimal. It seems they don’t put in 100% effort, unless it is being filmed or photographed. My concern is that many young dancers’ motivation for dancing is in fact the number of ‘likes’ they receive on Instagram. This constant need for approval and quantification of one’s value is a slippery slope…

Despite finding the aforementioned phenomena worrying, as a teacher I appreciate that I likely have a duty to educate my students on such matters. However, in an ever changing world I’m not quite sure where to start! Hence, why I am also writing this entry. I realise that further understanding is required in order for me to approach my students and better educate them on this topic.

According to the Children and parents: Media use and attitudes 2018 report by Ofcom 99% of 12-15 year olds spend an average of 20.5 hours a week online, while 69% of them have at least one social media profile. It seems that what I am witnessing as a teacher is in fact accurate and backed up by statistics. However, it’s not all negative. Although social media can bring a plethora of social pressures there are positive influences too.

Primarily, Instagram and other social media platforms makes dance accessible to the masses. Indeed, one could argue that Instagram does in fact promote dance. Dancers of all backgrounds are now able to showcase themselves online, regardless of their financial means. As long as you can afford a phone, you now have an improved chance of being noticed.  Surely this is only a good thing? What’s more, it does seem to motivate students to practice. Which again, is surely only a good thing? Some young dancers are even able to make some money, by acting as social media ambassadors for dancewear companies. Again, a good thing? More work for anyone in the industry is only positive! Finally, Instagram may help alleviate the ‘big fish, small pond’ syndrome and motivate young dancers to work that little bit harder, as they more likely notice and understand their worldwide competition.

It is, however, not without its disadvantages. Perhaps most pertinently, Instagram brings with it a safeguarding minefield. It opens up the possibility of cyberbullying, peer pressures, grooming and online abuse. Most worryingly, the FBI have found that many pedophiles follow young dancers online (Scott, 2019). This is absolutely horrifying and truly brings home a dance teacher’s responsibility in educating young dancers about being safe online. Safeguarding is and must be the number one priority.

By a similar token, Lisa Howell, a prominent dance physiotherapist, is concerned about young dancers injuring themselves in their vain attempts to achieve Insta-worthy shots. She states:

Young students are copying their idols on Instagram, and putting themselves at serious risk of injury.

Lisa Howell, 2018

As such, I believe it is a dance teacher’s duty to educate their young as a means to ensure their safety and limit their risk of injury.

Although Instagram can motivate students, it may be motivating them for all the wrong reasons. Its appears that some young dancers continue to dance so that they can become Insta-famous. Each ‘like’ is their motivation and validation for dancing. Not only does this concern me for their mental wellbeing, but also because those wishing to dance professionally ultimately need to be intrinsically motivated. Life as a dancer is hard work – the drive has to come from within if you are to succeed. Plus, live dancing is just that – dancing … and not a series of impressive and/or edited stills! What’s more, I think this Insta-craze can further feed the unhealthy drive of ‘dance moms’ and ‘helicopter parents’. I have to admit I do find all of this extrinsic motivation disconcerting – surely it cannot be good for one’s mental wellbeing in the long term…

Arguably, Instagram is altering young dancers’ perceptions of what dance is and means. When one scrolls through Instagram much of what one sees is only acrobatic or virtuosic. As a consequence, I find that all students want to do are attempt aerials or fouettés. (Oh how I cannot stand messy fouettés or fouettés thrown into routines just for the sake of it!!!) They don’t seem to appreciate the artistry, musicality or the foundations of ballet – and they certainly don’t seem to have the patience for it! Dance is so much more than tricks, and yet Insta-tricks are my students’ experience of what dance is. Indeed:

While a picture might be worth 1000 words, it is not worth 1000 steps.

Theresa Ruth Howard in Dance Magazine, 2018

Although it is advantageous that dance is so prominent and accessible on Instagram, it is hard for young dancers to differentiate between what I refer to as the ‘Prada version’ or the ‘Primark version’ of dancing. (Thank you to Karen Berry who provided me with such a wonderful analogy!) As such, there is clearly a need to educate young dancers on the difference between mediocre and quality dancing, and also on what is safe and appropriate to their age and stage of development and training.

Although the minimum age to have an Instagram profile is 13, only 28% of parents are aware of this according to the Children and parents: Media use and attitudes 2018 report. It seems that one cannot take it for granted that my young dancers have been educated by their parents about such matters. Thus, it follows that teachers should be willing to educate their students about the use of Instagram. After all, a teacher’s primary responsibility is to safeguard children and young people.

To conclude, it is the responsibility of dance teachers to discuss Instagram use with their young dancers. Dance teachers must act as advocates for staying safe online and promote students’ vigilance in regards to what they are posting. They should stress the importance of safe dance practice – no Instagram shot is worth sustaining an injury. They should also aim to educate students’ parents on these matters. Perhaps writing a social media policy/guidebook would be a helpful resource to create?

In this ever-changing digital landscape, the issues surrounding young dancers’ use of social media are not about to disappear. Therefore, we – the dance teaching community – need to be proactive in our approach. We cannot assume somebody else will do this for our young dancers. As dance teachers, it is OUR responsibility.

Resources:

Francis, R. (2018) The Dangers of Social Media for Dancers. Available at:                   https://dancemagazine.com.au/2015/08/the-dangers-of-social-media-for-dancers/                

Fremont, L. (2019) Be Devoted to Your Dance Training, Not Instagram. Available at: https://www.danceplug.com/articles/be-devoted-to-your-dance-training-not-instagram

Howard, T. (2018) Is Instagram Changing the Dance World’s Value System? Available at:   https://www.dancemagazine.com/instagram-dance-2585216791.html                                

Mark, M. (2016) Instagram has ushered in a risky new dance trend — and it could be harming     young dancers’ bodies. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/instagram- trends-are-changing-the-way-young-dancers-develop-2016-7?r=US&IR=T

Ofcom. (2018) Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report 2018. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/134907/Children-and-Parents-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-2018.pdf                                   

Scott, L. (2019) Impact of Social Media on Dance. Available at:    https://www.danceteacherweb.com/en/videos/business_building_seminars/2017/10/24/impact-social-media-dance-leslie-scott/

Urmston, E. (2015) The Spine: The Impact of the Head Position. Available at: https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/212855/The-Spine-The-impact-of-head-position?hhSearchTerms=%22social+and+media%22&terms=