On a blinding Saturday last September, choreographer Joanna Kotze premiered Big Beats before a small audience gathered in Manhattan’s Riverside Park. Lasting just 15 minutes, Big Beats, which featured a cast of 20 brightly-clad downtown dancers moving synchronously in architectural formations, was presented for free. After using his grant money and presenter funding to compensate the dancers, Kotze paid a professional videographer out of his own pocket. Just as she usually does after a work premieres, Kotze posted the whole thing on her website and shared the link with her followers through her newsletter and social media. The approach, particularly in sharing shorter choreography than his typical one-night-stand pieces, has worked: Kotze is now working on commissions to stage Big Beats at two schools, a festival, and a company. “I know one of those presenters saw it in person, but the other three saw the video,” she says.
The advent of online accessibility, especially in the wake of a pandemic-influenced digital wave, means that choreographers like Kotze constantly ask themselves the same question: how much work is the right amount to post online? ? It’s a complex calculation, requiring artists to become experts in marketing, video editing and budgeting, in addition to dance creation. But when it comes to maintaining your digital dance footprint, finding the right balance between too much and too little can pay off big, opening up all sorts of new opportunities.
Share your gifts
For many dancers, especially those who didn’t grow up with social media, the concept of constantly having to sell themselves to stay relevant can feel overwhelming. But Nel Shelby, a dance videographer who’s been documenting performances since 2001, developed a more positive approach: “I learned early on that marketing is just a way to share your unique gifts,” she says. “Dancing online is a way to get people from all over the world to see you, which might get someone excited about your work.”
But how are dancers supposed to sift through the mercurial web of social media sites so they know where to direct their time and energy? Jennifer Archibald, Artistic Director of Arch Dance Company and Resident Choreographer of the Cincinnati Ballet, considers the diversity of her audience when deciding where to post. “A 70-year-old director doesn’t necessarily have an Instagram account,” says Archibald, who will focus on Facebook, LinkedIn or YouTube for this demographic. She also responds to requests for orders with a password on her private Vimeo page, where producers can view full-length versions of her repertoire. But when advertising its ArchCore40 summer program, Archibald posts short ads on Instagram, where the intensive’s target participants — 17 to 30-year-olds — spend more time.
Invest in documentation
Although Kotze could have asked a friend to film Big Beats on an iPhone, she made the decision to pay for a professional videographer and says it was worth it. “It’s part of the formula,” she says. “For people to really understand the work, you have to put effort into documentation.” Shelby says she’s noticed that artists who consistently invest in documentation or live streaming often find continued success over the years. During the pandemic, she and her team also discovered the benefit of having camera-only races, allowing videographers to rehearse their moves alongside dancers and then filming specifically for the camera. “The best products are when I have the choreographer sitting right next to me behind the monitors and he gives me notes as if they were dancers on stage, and then I give notes to my team,” adds Shelby. “It becomes a complete collaboration.” This type of intentionality yields much stronger results, providing more opportunities for dance makers down the road.
For Archibald, preparation is essential. She aims to always have digital packages of her materials ready to share. “If you sleep on it, someone else is working,” she says. “If a producer on the subway asks, ‘Hey, can I have a video of your work?’ then you should be able to send it to them before they go out on the platform.
fear of plagiarism
Every time a choreographer puts their work online, there is an inherent risk that it could be stolen and copied, without credit. But for sales agents Julie McDonald and Tony Selznick, it’s a risk worth taking. “The internet is a free game for everyone. I say to artists, ‘Be careful,'” Selznick says. “Don’t take things out that you’re afraid to protect.”
Selznick and McDonald have seen many artists dramatically improve their careers by posting their work online. In September 2020, at the height of the pandemic, their client James Alonzo released A Brand New Day on YouTube, an energetic, street-savvy piece set to a song by The Wiz. Although relatively unknown at the time, the success of the video helped him score shows on Broadway and in Las Vegas. “If he was worried about having his choreography stolen, he might never have posted, but his goal was to get his work seen,” says Selznick.
The push for accessibility
Almost everyone in the dance world can agree that seeing something online just isn’t the same as seeing it in person. But offering a virtual option shouldn’t detract from the in-room experience; instead, it may just make it more accessible. For the premiere of Kotze’s new feature Electric Eye at Brooklyn’s Irondale in February, she sold discounted tickets for a one-night-only live broadcast of the show. “I would prefer people to see it live, but I was excited to have an option for people who don’t feel comfortable going to a live show or live across the country,” she says.
Since the start of the pandemic, Shelby has seen the benefits of this kind of accessibility time and time again. After working with the Juilliard School to broadcast its New Dances program live, she heard that people around the world were tuning in and had never been able to see the famous conservatory in action before. Shelby also broadcast the Barnard College Fall Concert live, allowing parents of select students and distant family members to see their loved ones perform for the first time; Barnard plans to continue the practice even after theaters return to full capacity.
Archibald dreams of taking accessibility one step further: Last fall, the Tulsa Ballet debuted its Breakin’ Bricks, a carefully crafted full-length piece to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. , Archibald brought in seven black dancers to work with the predominantly white company. She considers the piece to be historic. “But the only people who saw it were in Tulsa, and that’s something that could have a huge impact on ballet,” says Archibald. University dance departments wanting to add it to their curricula asked Archibald for a link, leading him to reimagine how dancers could share their work. “We should be selling digital versions of our plays like the way people walk into the bookstore at the start of the school year and buy books,” she says. “For some reason, the dance industry never thought that our works could be monetized to this level. But we are actually worth a lot; that’s what we need to be aware of when exposing ourselves.
Mastery of social networks
Feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of platforms available? Focus on what makes the most sense for your images and who you want to reach. While some choreographers use Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and LinkedIn to share their work, Instagram and Vimeo are by far the most popular.
Sales agents Julie McDonald and Tony Selznick create a personalized approach for each client, but Instagram remains their benchmark. “It’s the main platform that we promote,” Selznick says. They found the visual platform led to success with their artists. Choreographers Jennifer Archibald and Joanna Kotze both use the app to share photos and short snippets of their work. And though Instagram accounts often veer towards the personal, Archibald and Kotze insist on only showing their professional life. “The world has made a shift in marketing, but to me, social media is strictly work,” says Archibald. “You don’t know what I’m going to eat in the morning.”
If Instagram is best for teasers and reels, Vimeo is great for posting full pieces and can become an easy-to-use digital archive for choreographers to organize their works. “After a premiere, I put a link in my Instagram bio to the piece on Vimeo if people want to see it,” Kotze explains. Archibald often posts complete works privately on Vimeo; it will share a password with directors and producers interested in orders. “You can include a longer description on the exact topic of the article and give credit to everyone who was involved,” she adds.