Evolve or Die: The Arts Must Use Social Media

Dan Meagher – Director of Marketing for Diablo Ballet

13 Diablo Ballet

Marketing dance & ballet is tough. We’ve built a wall up that keeps the many out because they feel they don’t fit in. I think it’s time to take the “classical” out of the “classical arts.” The word “classical” conjures up visions of going to a grand, marble columned opera house where people sit in velvet seats and drink champagne. Can we make people any more afraid to go see a ballet?

At Diablo Ballet, I believe that social media helps us break down these walls. We been able engage dance fans and non-dance fans by showing video of legendary dancer performance on YouTube, share inspiring quotes on Facebook, and even creating a new ballet via Twitter. And people love it.

The response has been an outpouring of support. In less than one year, we grew out Twitter followers from 500 to over 5,000, increased our Facebook followers by 90%, and reached over 10,000 views of our YouTube channel. How this was achieved was no great marketing secret. We simply talk to people and showed them why we think dance is one of the most powerful forms of communication. Very simple and basic.

For you administrator types..Yes, we even saw revenue increase related to social media. We sold out our May program and used a special SM code to track sales. Our November holiday performance saw a significant increase, in part due to our “Give Up the Nut(cracker)” SM campaign.

Simply put…non-profit arts organizations must embrace the power of social media. Our lives are mediated. We check our Facebook or Twitter several times day, send pictures on Instagram, tell our stories on blogs, and talk to family & friends on Skype. We have to harness the power to reach new, non-traditional audiences. They;’re out there and waiting for the arts to join the social media party.

We have many folks following us on Twitter who have never seen a dancer performance. I love that.

This is the power of social media. If we don’t reach this audience, the classical arts will slowly go away. Why? Because we are no longer relevant in people’s lives. We must tell and show people why the arts matter…why we can touch them. We face an uphill battle with the growing leisure industry. Not only does dance compete with other arts (theatre, symphony, opera, museums), but also movies, television, sports, and so many other options. Today, one doesn’t need to leave their house to be entertained. We can watch a movie of our choice at home on our computer, order food delivered from our computer, and even video chat with friends own our computer. Why should anyone lhave the need to eave home to be entertained?

One way Diablo Ballet is harnessing the power of social media is through our Web Ballet project. We are creating the first ballet made up of suggestions from the internet, which will be performed live this March. With this idea, we’ve engaged people in creating art, we’re allowing people to share in the creative process, and we’re showing them that they can be a part of dance. We’ve received hundreds of suggestions from all over the world, which shows that there is a desire for participation in the arts. On February 15th, our choreographer will review all the suggestions and choose 7 to incorporate into the new ballet. We’re excited to see what the world creates.

You don’t need to do project like The Web Ballet to engage your audience. Just talking to people in a conversational style about what your organization is doing is a great start. Share the inside stories, the behind-the-scenes tales. Take photos of your new sets or costumes. Share a video of your office manager’s birthday cake. Put a human face on your organization. Even though we are disconnected by social media, we still want to know that there is a heart beating inside the organization.

Social media is a new, exciting world for the arts. We must connect and engage in order to survive.

Dan Meagher is Director of Marketing for Diablo Ballet, a professional dance company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Reality TV vs. the Traditional World of Dance: Envisioning the Future

Ann Marie DeAngelo, Choreographer, Producer, Director, former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet


1. What do you see as the major issues in the dance world today?

I see a very deep-rooted issue, which has to do with the ability to have a vision or dream, and stick to that goal over the long-term, which is nearly impossible in our fragmented society and in our culture today. This is more about the creative process than economics.

2. How are changes in arts funding impacting careers?

The thing about the lack of arts funding, is there’s a lack of time to rehearse and to create, therefore there’s no process happening. We’re losing the ability to coach work, which is how you develop the art, and if you can’t do that, you basically have a sort of half-baked creativity that gets thrown up on stage.

What that does to young dancers, is require they learn quickly and they can easily get injured.  The industry is trying to figure it out. In fact I was just resetting a piece I choreographed for a company where exactly that happened  Companies are saying, “how can we deliver the same product in less time with less funds, and maintain the same standard?”  It is emblematic but companies have more productions to deliver with the same or less time, and maybe more dancers, but also more dancers they have to replace.

3. Is the field more entrepreneurial?

I think the field is very entrepreneurial, in the sense that there seem to me to be more dancers wanting to be choreographers and directors.  But it doesn’t mean creators are having an easy time producing good work, or much due to the lack of funds, and more people wanting exposure.

4. Is social media changing the relationship with the audience?

The only thing I can say in regards to audience building for a dance company is that with the onset of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’, it’s the first time in America where dance has been on a main channel. So now it’s okay to be a choreographer, and for a guy to have tight pants on and dance, but I don’t think that’s necessarily increasing the performing arts audience. Schools are growing. But now there’s a dichotomy in what they’re teaching – there’s the traditional route, which is ballet, modern, musical theater; and then there’s the commercial route.  There is a whole new dance competition circuit evolving that I am not really a fan of.

These are big industry, as the recent article in the New York Times said, where you’re taking young kids, teaching choreography and claiming it’s dance. It’s not. It’s really based on gymnastics, then they teach some pirouettes, some jazz and some hip-hop moves, and have these thirteen-year-olds learning choreography with no foundation.

I think everyone is trying to figure out how to use social media. Certainly Justin Bieber got discovered, and Susan Boyle wouldn’t be Susan Boyle without it. I just don’t know how that translates for others. I do think you need to put your work on the web, since there are now scouts who look for talent there. I think it’ll work well for some and not for others. In a way, there are more outlets and opportunities.

5. Why did you pursue your career in such a multifaceted way?

My aesthetic to blend and work in a multifaceted way actually started when I was struggling as a ballet dancer to get into a company. I was too small for most directors and, even though I was a virtuoso and powerhouse (not words you usually attach to ballerinas), I was outside the box. My dream was to one day have a company of misfits – versatile authentic artists – who were also outside the box. That turned into everything I ended up doing as a choreographer, director and producer…..mixing dance forms – and working in a cross-pollinating way. It creates a unique product that can’t be repeated – something you can only experience and take in the magical impact  of once. This may also be the future.

6. Are there trends you find exciting?

 Yes and no. One trend is something I started doing in the 80’s when I helped revitalize the Joffrey when it moved from New York to Chicago and I was the associate director, called a pickup company. It’s basically a format and paradigm used now, but was a larger version. It’s not always good, because you have to assemble people who have lots of other jobs to have them do a particular show, and then you disassemble. It’s very fragmented, and what you assemble appears to be a company, but in fact it isn’t.

The upside is that’s eventually where funding’s going to be, and it’s what I’ve been trying to sell and market. I’m not 100% successful at it yet, but the concept is to support projects instead of funding a company all year round when in actual fact it doesn’t work all year round. When you realize that if you have six months of work and you’ve got four seasons as a ballet company that are 4 days each, that’s hardly a year’s worth of work for you to be spending on an organization’s administration.

There’ll be another way of working in the future where people just fund individual projects that will be assembled for the time needed. Since we’re also working more globally, I see these projects funded internationally. That’s another conversation, but what it means in terms of trying to put a piece together when it’s fragmented, is you can’t really get to the core of what it is in the way you could before.

7. What’s being done to bring new audience to dance?

I think organizations are doing more educational and outreach work, as well as finding ways to make programming accessible. I think artists are beginning to create more full-evening work, and returning to story driven pieces – I know I am.

8. How can dancers create opportunities to showcase work?

Studio showcases, workshops, appearances on fund-raising events.  Creating video tapes of the work on their Sites.  Having a website.  I’ve discovered most small and new companies that work on a project basis are creating without a full deck of cards (or any deck!). Dancers are busy with multiple jobs or, if in the area of a dance company, trying to juggle opportunities for money or exposure. Either way, it is impossible to coordinate schedules for one person or twelve,  studio space (which there’s a dearth of), and cohesive time.

It used to be you’d look for somebody with a specific job description to be executive director, development person, or a performer and they’d need to of course have the education and experience. The new paradigm is to look for someone who has multiple skill-sets organizationally and artistically.  Then hire someone else who has a different skill sets to cover five other jobs. All of a sudden, I’ve got three people and myself, and we can do the work of a forty person staff, which is what I do now successfully.  That’s where I think we need to go from an organizational point of view.

Ann Marie DeAngelo, is a choreographer, director and producer. She was a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, whom Time Magazine called “one of America’s most promising ballerinas”. She was featured in Backstage as a “multiple-career artist”, and her dance career spanned almost three decades. As leading ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet she performed in works by the most renowned choreographers including: Balanchine, DeMille, Robbins and Tharp. She performed internationally and later founded her own experimental dance troupe called Ballet D’Angelo, and she was founding Artistic Director of Ballet de Monterrey, the first privately funded arts organization in Mexico; and was Associate Director of the Joffrey Ballet. One current project is, IN THE MIX, a story about dancers from multi-genres who are at the top of their fields, exploring the trajectory of what happens as each pursues their career.

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