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.