The cult of celebrity – what really hurts Lindy Hop instructors?

SwingStR has posted a video summary of a Ryan and Jenny class from Lindyfest 2011. In the comments Minuslain has written:

“Why is this posted on you tube? Valuable information should be paid for, not freely given to those who don’t.  This hurts the instructors most.”

Does posting class summaries on YouTube really hurt instructors? I assume we’re talking about financial hurt here. There might be a handful of dancers who say I don’t need to pay to go to a workshop because I can watch a 1 minute summary of an hour long class on YouTube instead but I am sure this must be a tiny minority and would hurt the organizers of the workshop more than the instructors who are probably going to get a fixed fee no matter who turns up. I can see why instructors might not want people recording a series of moves that they are just about to put into an instructional video but I would have thought doing a marketing shot at the start of the summary, saying buy our new video with these moves properly broken down from xyz.com is going to get them more video sales not less. (Perhaps I am being naive here? I am missing something about ownership of material taught in classes?)

In the UK at least, the Lindy Hop community is growing rapidly.  Every year the latest crop of new instructors try to make their mark and many new workshops and events are being staged. As the pool of instructors swells it becomes harder and harder to keep track of who’s who. Fantastic European instructors are often unheard of in the US and couples who haven’t competed recently quickly become invisible.

I think YouTube clips, including class summaries, are an incredibly important way of getting yourself noticed, keeping yourself in the public eye and give dancers an idea of whether or not they might want to take your class. Ask newer dancers (e.g. dancing less than 5 years but not not total dance nuts) in the UK if they know who Ryan and Jenny are and the answer will almost certainly be no. Why should they know?  Ryan and Jenny don’t compete, there are very few videos of them on YouTube and they only teach at a select number of events all of which makes them almost imperceptible, especially to US dancers. Older dancers will tell you that you must go to Camp Savoy and learn from the masters but a quick google search is probably not going to tell you a lot about this couple or turn up much that is going to make you think wow, I want to learn from them.

I think lack of visibility hurts dance instructors. Everyone who reads Lindy Hop blogs, Yehoodi or looks at Lindy Hop stuff on Facebook will have now heard of Dax & Sarah. Rightly or wrongly their profile has just shot through the roof. How many of us have taken a quick look at Sarah dancing with and without heels? Can’t say I would have deliberately sought out a clips of Dax and Sarah’s dancing before the heels post but now I’ve watched a couple of their performances. Next time I go workshop I will recognise their names and I might take a class simply because their blog posts have piqued my interest in them.

Dogpossom, who has a much more thoughtful post with a slightly different take on this topic, writes:

This recent event also reflects a wider issue that’s been in the back of my mind for a while. The last year or two has seen a leap in the number of blogs written and maintained by high profile international dancers. Most of these dancers are what I think of as younger American ‘rock stars’. Rock stars in the sense that they have a modicum of celebrity: well-known, high-profile, fashionable with some dancers, younger, often American. Most of them have had their websites designed and implemented by only a very small number of web nerds, and all have implemented various social media tools.

This is where things get really interesting. I’d argue that these websites have included social media tools – blogs, Faceplant plug ins, twitter feeds, etc – not as part of a carefully planned media strategy, but as a response to a general trend in website design. Yes, social media tools do raise your profile, and do ‘get you out there’. But as with all public relations tools, exposure is a double edged sword. If it were me, I’d vet my contributions to broader discourses very carefully. In fact, I’m not sure I’d even post personal blog posts on my official ‘business’ website – the website promoting my professional persona. I would use my twitter feed fairly prosaicly: updates on my travel and appearances at international and local events, perhaps. I’d also be very careful about my links.

Word of mouth is the most powerful and important promotional tool in international lindy hop. It can make or break a reputation. But a good PR strategy is about knowing how to limit talk as well as encourage it.

The more events I attend the more I agree with Dogpossum’s comments about word of mouth – the events I want to go are the events that are recommend by people within my dancing community that I respect. The instructors I want to take classes from are the instructors who have been recommend by people who opinions I trust. I have been turned off some instructors because of what they have written in blogs or Facebook. However, I feel like I am in the minority and that the cult of celebrity is taking over. Dancers who blog have a higher profile than those that don’t and as a consequence they tend to become the ‘in’ dancers and the dancers with something to say, even if what they say is somewhat curious. (There is so much more I could say here). It’s only natural that people want to take classes from the ‘in’ dancers but I don’t think it’s so great if we as a community start rejecting camps and workshops because other teachers are regarded as second rate because they aren’t on YouTube, aren’t being blogged about/blogging or aren’t the bright young things winning the coolest competitions.

So what am I saying? Dancers don’t reject workshops out of hand because the instructors aren’t American ‘rock stars’. Instructors, please make some free material available so that dancers know who you are and can get an insight into what your class might be like. Class summaries seem to me to be an easy way to make this information available.

BTW – if there are any friendly leaders out there who are thinking about going to Camp Savoy and are doing the Intermediate Advanced level I need someone to book with…

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4 responses to “The cult of celebrity – what really hurts Lindy Hop instructors?”

  1. Rebecca Brightly says :

    I keep re-reading this post. I really like your talking points.

    I tend to agree about giving away useful tidbits. There’s a whole method to it, so that it doesn’t have to bite you in the a**. Personally, I like to know what I’m getting into if I’m going to pay good money for instruction.

    P.S. Found you via Jerry Almonte’s FB page. Yay, blogging! And who the hell cares if you’re intermediate.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      It’s interesting to think about where we might be in 5 years time. If the current pool of travelling instructors remains the same and another x number of upcoming dancers joins the pool that means there will be need to be more events/bigger events held to support all of these instructors. More events will mean more choice but how will dancers decide which ones to go to? In a competitive market short biographies and a dodgy picture probably aren’t going to cut it and video clips will become more important.

  2. dogpossum says :

    Jenny and Ryan are an interesting example. I really admire them as dancers, and I still remember a jazz class I did with Ryan in 2004 (or was it 2005?) at Camp Savoy (coincidence much?) that was really HARD and also really exciting. But they’re hardly known at all here in Australia, especially with newer dancers.

    I think it’s a mistake to not put clips on youtube, if you are looking to promote your dancing. Here in Australia most dancers don’t travel overseas, and we really don’t get that many international teachers visit. Well, we see far fewer ‘high end’ ( 😀 ) teachers here that American or European scenes. Just because we are so far away. So the interkittens really is a very important promotional tool for teachers looking to travel.

    Word of mouth is just as important – dancers returning home talk up a teacher, locals talk about visiting teachers, dancers who’re watching lots of online footage talk about teachers they’d like to see. Entering comps, doing performances at events, etc – all of it is PR for a teacher.

    For me, a 3 minute clip on youtube feeds my interest in a teacher. It makes me _more_ interested in doing classes with them, or in seeing them perform. It certainly doesn’t replace a class. Sure, I might be inspired by a particular move (how many times have I watched those Stephan and Bethany clips now? a jillion?) but I’m pretty sure that watching clips doesn’t make me a better dancer, let alone capable of ‘stealing’ someone’s hot shit. More’s the pity. 😀

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