Towards an Ethics of the Digital Dance Company

It happened again today.  I was getting ready to post a link to an upcoming performance and I stopped myself.  Or, I was stopped.  My newsfeed was filled, as am I, with concern for and anger about Sandra Bland, a young black women found dead in her jail cell after being pulled over for a traffic violation.  As I scrolled through #JusticeforSandy, my impending dance company promotional post would be inflicting a violence all its own.  And so I remained silent, a silence made of privilege, concern, and confusion.

It is the very nature of many social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) that your feed is a disconcerting mixture of personal information from friends and family, political opinions, news of the day, viral videos, pop culture, and the ever-present cat meme.  With all of these disparate voices, how does a dance company live online responsibly?  How can I possibly promote a modern dance concert in a moment of crisis?  In those moments, can I ethically and sensitively share a ticket link and proclaim (exclamation points and all), “Come to my show!”  Am I naive to think that there are moments outside of this chaos, more appropriate for abstract (I’ll say it, elitist) modern dance sharing?  And then, when I really go down the rabbit hole, why dance now?

_MG_6898While there is no clear, succinct answer to these questions, I wanted to propose some initial do’s and don’t’s for the contemporary digital life of a dance company.  My hope is that this is an ongoing conversation.  My hope is that we can continue dancing through the chaos, while acknowledging it, and participating in change and advocacy (both online and in person) when and if possible.  My hope is to foster more sensitivity and awareness between my digital dance company and the current moment.  Content marketing is often lauded for its two-way directionality – not pushing information at the public, but rather engaging the public in a back and forth conversation.  Likewise, the digital dance company is a conversational platform and should respond to the world around it.  As ethical human beings, integrating online organizational imperatives like performance promotion, ticket sales, fundraising, etc. with the current socio-political moment should be on all of our minds.  With that said, here goes my first draft:

Read. While we all have different self-inflicted boundaries about expressing ourselves in public, the least you can do is read a lot.  Be aware of breaking news and trending topics. Don’t “post” into a vacuum.  The first step is knowledge, and then we work towards understanding.  My favorite mantra to this end:

“Listen, until listening is like breathing.  Then move.” – Dr. Jasmine Johnson

Be Flexible and Responsive. While many dance companies plan their social media posts for weeks ahead of time  (i.e. ticket link on Monday, rehearsal video on Tuesday, #tbt on Thursday, etc.), do your best to be flexible about changing the content and the timing if necessary. Automated posts are dangerous to this end.  Timing can be everything when sensitivity is the goal.

A Hashtag is Not A Solution. Posting your rehearsal photo and then adding in a socially relevant hashtag that has nothing to do with the rest of your post is a bad idea.  Don’t do it.

Dance is Made up of Dancers. Be sensitive to the online lives and lived experiences of your company members.  Be knowledgable about their personal, digital profiles when including them in your digital dance company.  Ask questions about how, when, and if they are willing to be included (tagged in photos, posts, writing blogs, etc.) in your digital dance company.

Don’t Only Show Up When You Need Something. If you only post when you have tickets for sale or are running a Kickstarter, you are abusing your online community.  Participate as a giver and a taker.  Comment, like, and share at will.  Understand the different modes of “urgency” that operate online.  Only 2 hours left to raise $2,000 is a privileged urgency.  Be ethical in tone, timing, and reach.  Give of dance (photos, videos, written thoughts) when you need nothing in return.

Silence is an Action.  Just as stillness is a dance, silence is a statement.  Be conscious of your quietude, as it is a choice.  As a private person, I struggle with this one on a daily basis.  But I know the internet is our primary communication tool, for better or worse, and we can all think about when, where, and how to speak up.

Don’t Fool Yourself that Dance is Apolitical. I could write a dissertation on this one (in fact, I know a ton of people who are).  In other words, we are all implicated in the systems that we operate within.  It is a life-long task to figure out how to participate tactically, but most of my favorite art is made from some level of conscious investment in the world around it.  Not sure how this point translates into utility, but this is only a draft after all so I’m allotted some level of incompleteness….

(Send me a message with edits and additions.  I have written and deleted blog posts like this many times, afraid of the triteness of the question, when there are always more pressing issues than the digital life of a dance company.  I publish this version, this time, because I have come to accept one simple thing. I make dances and write about dance for a living so it is worthwhile to ask how I can do this more responsibly and ethically. Please understand this blog as step 1.)

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