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#InstagramOverload: 5 Rules to Weed Out Social Media Negativity and Focus on the Positive

With nearly 43,000 followers on Instagram, Elisabeth Beyer is a social media sensation. The 16-year-old Ellison Ballet student came in first place in the senior women's category at the Youth America Grand Prix's New York City Finals this year and has been medaling all over the ballet competition circuit since she was 11 years old. But despite the thousands of likes she gets on each post, she also receives criticism. "It happens a lot," says Beyer. "I get accused of being too skinny or being anorexic, and it just isn't true."

The rise of social media has given dancers more visibility than ever before. The Pew Research Center reports that 71 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old are on Instagram. And in ballet, which strives for the pinnacle of visual perfection in both execution and physicality, it can be deflating to see perfect penchés fill your feed on #whackedoutwednesday. But there are also great benefits for dancers connected on social media: Instagram can broaden your worldview and open up doors to opportunities you never imagined. The following five rules of Instagram will help you to focus on the positives and develop a healthy relationship with your favorite app.


1. Remember That Feeds Are Self-Curated

Photos like this typically garner Beyer between 3,000 to 7,000 likes on Instagram. Photo by Siggul/VAM, Courtesy Ellison Ballet.

The images we see in social media posts are often well-cultivated personas that the dancer wants the world to see; you are unlikely to post a less-than-flattering photo. Lest you think that Beyer is perfect when you look at her feed, she can produce an almost comically long list of things she wants to work on. "You see the perfect picture and you think 'I wish I could do that,' " says Beyer. "It can be triggering," she says. "It's hard and we all struggle with staying positive." Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, points out that just because a dancer can put her leg behind her head for a photo doesn't mean she can pull off a difficult variation. "What you see is not the whole person," she says. "People post what they do best."

2. Haters Are Gonna Hate

Many dancers choose to make their accounts public, allowing for a larger following. But going public makes you more vulnerable, and opens you up to scrutiny from commenters you've never met. Despite all of her success, Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk admits that she is afraid to post videos on her social media accounts. "I accept before I post that there will be mean comments," she says. "I make sure that I am happy with myself so that I don't care what anyone says before I post a video." Nevertheless, Sisk does not delete or block comments as a practice except in the most extreme cases. "People don't always think about the person when they comment," she says. "They forget that we are human too."

Beyer tries to ignore the critical comments she finds in her feed. "I don't engage because it isn't helpful," she says of third-party posts. She will delete hurtful comments on her own posts instead of responding to them; engaging with a comment only acknowledges the negative, and she strives to stay above it. Though she and her family don't get involved, she adds that sometimes, other commenters will come to her defense. The majority of the negative responses that Beyer sees are critiques of her body. Some commenters even claim to know her and are sure that she has an eating disorder. "Most of the time I don't actually know these people," she says. "It doesn't bother me because it's not true. I know I'm healthy and my doctor knows I'm healthy, so it doesn't matter."

If you find yourself melancholy

after swiping through your feed,

it is a good indication

that you may need a break.

3. A Food Pic Should Not Inspire a Meal Plan

Dancers should remember that dietary choices are individualized, and not be swayed by trendy food pics. Getty Images.

Ballet dancers are known to try every trick available to maintain the demanding physique of the art form. And while images of brightly colored açai bowls or gluten-free avocado toast are increasingly popular, Emily Harrison, nutritionist and founder of Nutrition for Great Performances, worries that dancers will be too inspired by what they see. "Fad diets will always come and go, but now we have this instantaneous way to share sometimes misguided information, and that can spread with a quick click," she warns. "One's dietary choices can be very personal, and different people make different choices because their individual needs differ from another person's."

Harrison points out that some of her clients are gluten-free for medical reasons, but that certainly doesn't mean every dancer should be gluten-free. One dancer may be vegan and take great care with their nutritional needs, and, as Harrison points out, another may use veganism as an excuse to eliminate things from their diet to cover an eating disorder.

But Harrison also finds positives in the food images in her newsfeed and hopes that dancers will use them to encourage each other to eat well. "If we are finding inspiration in creative ways to eat a wider variety of healthy foods in our diet, then I think that can be a good thing," she says.

4. Don't Lose Sight of Self-Care

If you find yourself melancholy after swiping through your feed, it is a good indication that you may need a break. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of Instagram users ages 18 to 24 visit the site more than once daily. Kaslow worries about social media usage when it becomes an addiction. "When they spend too much time on it, social media use can become a narcissistic indulgence," she says. Kaslow urges people to ask themselves how their social media usage is making them feel, and adjust accordingly. She warns that when you find yourself engaging in social media rather than sleeping or practicing other acts of self-care (like spending time with friends face-to-face), you should dial it back for your health.

5. When You Put Positive In, You Get Positive Out

Kaslow says that a major advantage to social media is that when dancers openly share their struggles, it can help them to feel less alone and more connected with the rest of the ballet community. When Sisk posted a photo of an X-ray showing curves in her spine in 2014, she was met with an outpouring of support and questions from other dancers with scoliosis. "It felt so good to have people to talk to," she says. "When the young dancers started messaging me for advice it was so nice because I remember being that dancer."

Beyer is unflappably positive about her experience on social media. And when you look at her feed, it is easy to see why. "I like to use an inspiring quote or something that makes me happy when I post," she says. This is exactly the kind of Instagram behavior that Kaslow identifies as healthy. "I think that social media is a great tool for dancers to inspire one another," she says.

If you allow it, social media use can be emotionally damaging. But if you seek the good in it, and in other dancers, it is a way to broaden your ballet network, be discovered, and encourage and connect with other artists across the world that you may otherwise never get a chance to meet.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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