It will not be a surprise you when I tell you that I am a total convert to social media and for me, it has somewhat drawn back the curtain and opened up the world of ballet. The social media explosion couldn’t have come at a better time for the Arts sector, especially with budgets that were always tightly squeezed, experiencing further cuts in funding, leaving companies to find ever more cost-effective means of communication and to gain audiences to get their message out. Audiences will be made up of existing customers and new audiences that hope to reach and nurture into lifelong ballet fans. Social media is the most democratic means of communication and works very well for genres and niche organisations who can build a very loyal following with various interactions. It allows interested parties immediate interaction and the beauty is that it allows the public to see the personalities behind the superhuman acts they perform on the stage. Twitter has been a revelation in letting us see the day to day life of stars such as Lauren Cuthbertson (@LondonBallerina), who really is a hoot, particularly interesting is the interaction between Royal Ballet dancers which is relaxed and informal and encouraging, without the silly rivalries often portrayed, these interactions are colleagues and friends in an extraordinary job. The best dancers to follow are those that don’t just tell you what you can get off a website but give you a true insight into their lives and personalities that translate onto the performances we see on stage. Dancers have given us unprecedented access to backstage areas, seeing them transform from ordinary citizens into magical and often long-dead characters. Roberto Bolle (@RobertoBolle), alternates between Italian and English and posts the most gorgeous pictures of Milanese sunsets or New York skyline or the training room pet dog. I have also conversed with Northern Ballet dancers during and after performances where the dancer told me at half-time that the upcoming scene was her favourite.
Social media transports you around the world in an instant and into ballet studios and companies without having to pay for a plane ticket. This has been possible since the internet but the beauty of social media is that you can get it all in the one place and shift yourself from the UK, through Europe to America and through Asia to Australia within seconds as social media now feeds us the information instead of clicking round and in and out of multiple sites. Social media also has a much more personal feel to it and some individuals have been much too personal, not many can forget the Sergei Polunin tweets where he revealed to the world, his shock departure from the Royal Ballet. It is not just the stars that can be revealing on social media, as a follower or once you have hit ‘like’, I have to remember that this person does not know me and it is highly unlikely that they will never be my friend, so don’t expect them to reply like a friend, they are revealing a large part of themselves and we have to respect that they will reveal as much as they are comfortable with. I content myself that someone may possibly read a reply and be moved by something I have posted. My favourite thing about social media is easily following people I deeply admire and seeing the personality behind the public persona but I follow organisations as well and this is usually the starting point. I follow organisations that have a connection with ballet in Northern Ireland or have the opportunity to see on television or cinema. Although, the best organisations are those that interact with their followers, starting discussions about ballet and letting you feel cherished as a fan. They need to give you more than you could read on a website and some organisations have embraced it fully, encouraging their staff to become immersed in it and this will ensure that social media will become more and more mainstream. One of our largest institutions, although not necessarily ballet-related but shows the measure of how much social media has become part of the mainstream, the BBC, who were at first reticent and distanced themselves somewhat from social media outlets has now actively encouraged programming to use social media as a central part of communicating and expanding its’ audiences and some interactions are solely through a Twitter feed, ditching email but this needs to be managed. For many though, the idea of ‘Tweet Seats’ in theatres, seats reserved for people who wish to tweet through a performance, proved too much for the most ardent tweeters and I myself find that I need to fully concentrate on the performance to truly experience it. I hate to see the little light come on people’s phones in the dark, even without any blaring ring-tones, usually at the most inopportune moments.
Dedicated Social Media teams are now becoming a part of Arts organisations as this allows them to control their message and get it out, directly to fans and patrons who will push it on much more effectively and quicker than other media outlets. However, Social Media can be very niche, so would never become the only source for Arts organisations but is definitely increasing in reach and importance. It is not just ballet companies that have created the biggest presence for ballet on social media but the Ballet Bag girls, and whom I owe much of my existence as a ballet blogger, who are very dedicated amateurs to their craft. These girls have very busy lives and continue to produce ballet-related information that would usually take a whole team of professionals to produce. Social Media has made this possible and the Ballet Baggers have found fame and notoriety all over the world, not just in their adopted country. They show us the world of International Ballet as well as what’s going on in London. Ballet News is a fabulous site, full of interviews and lots of other add-ons related to ballet such as the best in ballet literature or ballet-related stuff to buy, fashion and book reviews. Ballet News is also full of gorgeous photographs taken on a camera, helped to purchase by fans of the site. Not to be outdone though, professional writers have taken to social media as well and share their years of experienced ballet writing and criticism. Where bloggers like ourselves largely praise everything tht we see or put a positive take on most things, professionals are paid to be critical and their writing is insightful and moves helps to make us think critically about what we’re watching and why we love it so much. There are those of us who do it for fun and because we are passionate about ballet. I feel privileged to be part of the ballet community that I find neither unwelcoming or closed in any way and Social Media has helped to break down any barriers and create this community, irrespective of location or depth or breadth of knowledge. Just as I’m writing this, I’m watching the Olympic Opening ceremony, one of the first global events where Social Media has played such a pivotal role, especially with the inventor of the world-wide web receiving a specially honoured place in the ceremony to mark how deep this is embedded in our lives and has become an extension of our socialising.