Technology is taking the lid off of dance somewhat forcibly. The only way dance will thrive in this climate is by adapting, innovating, and meeting its audiences where they are. While the primacy of live dance performance is not in doubt, its scalability is. The relative popularity of television programs like “Dancing with the Stars” and entirely online dance spectacles like “The LXD” attests to a national interest in dance, which the contemporary dance community has been slow to address. The NEA study, Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation, reported that “over half of all U.S. adults (53 percent, or 118 million) participat[e] in the arts through electronic and digital media.” Therefore, we need to see dance in non-dance-focused tech-space: on Facebook, YouTube, monitors in the local mall, in the iTunes store, on Netflix, on airplanes, on hospital room TV screens, and in classrooms. In order to remain visible, the dance community must build new stages across multiple media platforms.
1. Audience expectations have changed. People are no longer as receptive to being talked at. Audiences want to have conversations. They expect a certain level of interaction and two-way communication. Audience expectations have changed. People are no longer as receptive to being talked at. Audiences want to have conversations. They expect a certain level of interaction and two-way communication. They want to be engaged and to see the results of being heard.
For a very long time we in the dance field have focused on “educating audiences” about dance, e.g., how to see, experience, and appreciate the art form. However, by actively listening to the needs of our communities we: 1) become trusted resources, 2) use our creative talents to fuse our vision with a collective desire, and 3) make our jobs easier—because we can spend time on sell-able programs. Sharing information of value, and generating solution-focused conversations are the currency of fruitful collaborations, and there is no easier way to join a conversation than through technology and social media.
2. Visibility of the individual dancer is on the rise. Points of public engagement and audience dialogue include, and are often driven by, individual company members, not PR and marketing associates. We are learning that by humanizing dance—telling the stories of dancers—we can engage new, younger, and more diverse groups of people. Trey McIntyre Project perfectly exemplifies this type of soft marketing. TMP company members are virtually present and followed by the public on platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr. This dynamic normalizes lives of dancers as they share experiences many people can relate to—getting engaged, having birthday celebrations, and eating food together. By providing common ground for the public, dancers are simultaneously cultivating points of engagement for current and future audiences.
3. Companies are being forced to innovate. In the IT world the mantra “Innovate or Die” has been circulating—and not without validation. Given the rise and popularity of new and social media, arts managers should note that this mantra applies to them as well. In a Fortune Magazine piece featuring the consulting firm Fahrenheit 212, the case was made for innovation:
“Faced with more frugal consumers and lacking the advertising dollars to court them, [the] companies [that] reevaluate their businesses and invest in one or two bold moves to make them stand out in the competitive landscape … [are often propelled] past their more conservative counterparts ….”
It is imperative to understand that these technological advancements are here to stay. While Facebook may not last forever, when it fades some other media platform will take its place. This is an exciting time—opportunities abound for true creativity and growth. Let’s continue this conversation—both through the comment box below and at the conference in July.
First published in the Dance USA’s e-journal, From the Green Room.