A burgeoning on-line community is providing space for dancers to share their experiences, writes Belle Beasley.
For dancers growing up in the information dense landscape of the ever-expanding cyber-space, it can be hard to know whereto turn for advice, guidance or connection. However, a burgeoning online community is providing a space for dance students, professionals and educators alike to acquire knowledge, publicise issues and vent frustrations: the dance-meme instagram page.
An unlikely pedagogical tool, I know. But hear me out.
Before the recent years of lockdown-induced digital connectivity, dance-related memes were already becoming increasingly popular in the virtual sphere. A light-hearted way of laughing at industry clichés, dance memes appealed to those desiring to make the most of the internet’s satirical potential. But memes are not unique to internet culture. First coined by Richard Dawkins in his seminal text The Selfish Gene (1976), the term “meme” emerged as a unit for cultural information transmitted through imitation and repetition. An abridgement of the Greek “mimema”, Dawkins explained memes as the cultural parallel of biological genes, experiencing a similar “survival of the fittest’”: popular memes go viral and stay around for years, centuries, even millenia. The rest simply die out. In the late 20th century, the term began to be used for communications in the digital space, describing visual internet media evolving at the fingertips of users. Internet memes exploded, spawning infinite offshoots of genre, style, subject matter.
Dance memes are now bigger than ever, with countless pages dedicated to meme-ing every niche of dance imaginable. Dance memes have become an increasingly political and educational visual medium, tapping into a desire to raise awareness of industry injustices, rally activism and unite like-minded virtual communities. The heightened reliance on technology created by the Covid-19 lockdowns has only spurred on the form’s proliferation and utilisation.
Enter, stage right, veiled in plumes of smoke, two of the biggest dance-meme pages out there: @balletmoods and somatic_based_content_only.
At 67.6K and 28.6K followers respectively, and single images accruing countless international reposts, the pages’ widespread virility and relatability are undeniable. Staying strictly anonymous, the viral memers shed some light on the meme-making process, and provide some top tips about auditioning, self-belief and navigating industry potholes.
Q What drew you to making memes about dance?
@balletmoods: The idea came from a friend of mine in the middle of a long Nutcracker run. She came into the quick change area and in her really funny way said “I DON’T WANNA DO IT”. It made us all laugh and then I started joking that there needed to be an app with phrases that explain your ballet mood, then that slowly changed to “or maybe a meme page”. Then I was bored during the time off after Nutcracker and decided to just start the page.
@somatic_based_content_only: It was during a lockdown last winter and the whole dance world was starting to feel kind of theoretical to me. I wasn’t really engaging with my practice. I was bored. I watched as various pockets of dance migrated online, square pegs in round holes with sometimes surprising results. My brain kind of automatically engages digital content with a meme logic, and I thought, why not bomb the feed with some memes about postmodern choreographers? I’m attracted to memes because they are byte-sized, use bad fonts, are immature and can get straight to the point. Dance is a mimetic art form and lots of us are playing with the relationship between text, image and context. Memes aren’t a big jump from there.
Q Was there a moment when you realised you were onto something?
BM: The memes started doing well quite quickly just because there was no page with the amount of insight I had commenting
on dance at the time. I really knew it was something special when I saw comments from people in the Paris Opera Ballet.
SBCO: No, I’m still not really convinced I’m
on to something, but thank you to everyone who is. I was pretty surprised when I hit a thousand followers tbh: who was this audience I was engaging?
Q How do you see your role as a maker in this space?
BM: I had a friend in the company tell me that I used to say the things they thought about but would never say. I picture myself that way as @balletmoods. If you’re frustrated or annoyed or need a laugh I want the page to relate to your situation and let you know that you’re not alone. I just want to say the things you’re thinking so you can keep your sanity.
SBCO: I think I see Felden Krisis as a disruptor. I think about all of us generating content for this endless feed and by extension revenue for Meta and Mark Zuckerberg. I feel the dependency on these platforms for our professional networks and livelihoods and the ways in which that creates a certain kind of fever pitch or volume. Enter Felden Krisis, who can be silly, critical or just really, really, strange. They don’t have to worry about posting reels with their cool moves or documenting their work in a way that might get an invite to another venue. They’re just totally free to dunk on Labanotation or make an absurdist meme about liminality.
Q Why is it important to create visibility in the digital space for these ongoing issues? And, in terms of affecting change, what do memes offer that other kinds of social commentaries aren’t able to?
BM: I just think it’s important to comment on what is happening at the moment. I also think it’s on me – as a page that makes
memes about the plight of a dance career – to include as many facets of the industry as possible. The time off in the pandemic held a mirror up to this profession, and it showed me a lot of things that even I as a POC hadn’t fully thought about and there was a bit of guilt that came with that. I took action in my real life and at the company where I dance but as far as the meme page I wanted to let the community know where I stood on the issues. I don’t think the memes make any difference other than to help reinforce that the issues exist and need to be addressed. Through a meme you can be brutally honest and people can repost it as evidence that their thoughts are valid.
SBCO: Visibility and transmissibility. A meme isn’t an essay but you can make a meme about an essay that people can then go read. You can make a meme about an issue that people might feel afraid to articulate as a private person but that they can post as a story or share via message. Displacing authorship, maybe. I think it’s important to use the digital space because we are all already using the digital space, are saturated with digital communication. Memes function a lot like barometers.
Q You want to remain completely anonymous. Why?
BM: It helps because I’m not just talking about where I dance. I really enjoy my work environment, and being anonymous helps me relate to more dancers. People don’t have to look at my personal actions or dance world presence and pair them with my memes. They can just come, have a laugh and treat @balletmoods as its own entity. @balletmoods isn’t a person, it’s the voice in our heads.
SBCO: Felden Krisis is a disembodied entity making memes about embodiment, but the person behind Felden Krisis very much lives within the social context of my body. Anonymity is a complicated concept because no meme is made in a vacuum. The danger that comes with Felden Krisis is a kind of pretence of universality when I’m limited to myself, to my kinesphere of knowledge. Which is why I’m always grateful for the conversations I have with people through the account: I’ve really learned so much from people writing in (thankyou!).
Q Do you have any top tips for the most common dance red flags to avoid?
BM: A red flag I see often is a choreographer or director telling you to dance like someone else. They may not do it directly,
but you can feel when they are coaching you [that they want you] to be someone else, and not coaching you and your dancing. A way to handle that is to communicate with the person at the front about what you’re going for. Sometimes that can give them your perspective and make them understand your intention and inherently make them coach you from that point of view, sometimes they just say you’re wrong and act rude about it and in that case then you kind of just have to stick it out and do it for yourself. My top tip for dancers in general though is to KNOW YOUR WORTH.
SBCO: Dancing is wonderful and we are lucky to be able to find joy in it. That being said, you don’t have to take [crap] from anybody.
All photos are examples from @somatic_based_content_only and @balletmoods and kindly supplied by them.