Ballet stars Twitter as well as flutter


POSTED: Monday, March 29, 2010

In the rarefied world of ballet, where dancers are expected to speak with their bodies, sometimes it seems that aloofness is something to aspire to. Lately, though, the ribbons are loosening. Courtesy of Twitter, dancers are starting to make themselves heard. It isn't always dainty.

“;Hi, I'm Devin and I'm an MRI-aholic.”;

“;Once again I took 2 days off this week. My body is wrecked. At the chiropractor now getting fixed.”;

“;What you didn't know- fell in my dress reh. Fri, tweaked my foot, and couldn't finish! Thurs was the first time I did the whole ballet!”;

“;Don't let me be fat.”;

Tweets—like these by the New York City Ballet dancers Devin Alberda, Ashley Bouder, Kathryn Morgan and Alberda again—are starting to change the public face of ballet. They may never amass the number of followers of, say, the prolific tweeter Ashton Kutcher, but Twitter is making ballet dancers human. (A simple Google search of a name plus Twitter is generally all that is needed to find them.)

Kristin Sloan, a former City Ballet dancer who runs her own video-production company, was a pioneer in this trend with her Web site,, which posts photos taken by dancers backstage, in rehearsal studios and on tour.

That in itself was quite a step for ballet, which has long been seen as elite, ethereal and something to keep under glass. Casting, until it is made official by companies, is a closely guarded process, and when a dancer—a star or otherwise—is off the stage, the reason rarely becomes public.

But when dancers are the ones documenting their own injuries—as Morgan did before her debut as Aurora in “;The Sleeping Beauty”; last season—they hold the power. Morgan wasn't sure she would be able to dance the role until two weeks before her first performance. She tweeted the cancellation of her appearance in another ballet and assured her followers that she was saving her injured foot—“;super frustrated but it is for the best”;—documenting the ailment in before-and-after TwitPics.

Morgan said she saw no need to veil even the difficult parts of her career. “;When I was younger, I would always want to know what dancers were doing,”; she said in an interview. “;I would have loved to have Twitter to read about what they were doing on a day-to-day basis rather than just in a performance. I thought this might be a really good way to put ballet out there.”;

Bouder, a principal dancer at City Ballet, has a growing international presence that she credits in part to the connections she's made through Twitter and Facebook. For her, social media are a vital way to reach past the orchestra pit. “;We don't have celebrity status like actors in magazines,”; she said. “;That's the main reason people get interested in something—you get all the dirt, you get to know someone and you become attached, and in the dance world, we're like a face, not a personality.”;

With increasing frequency over the past few months, Bouder has shared aspects of her personal life—she recently moved to Chelsea, she has a dog named Scout, she is a friend of Rufus Wainwright—but her specialty is live tweets during intermission. “;I thought it would be super interesting to see how someone would feel in the middle of a show,”; she said.

And indeed, mid-ballet, she has tweeted assessments from her dressing room. “;Odette act II was ok today, mild foot cramps though. Yuck yuck. Onto odile. Going for evil sexy tonight;).”;

In between acts of “;Sleeping Beauty”; she tweeted: “;Intermission(EQUAL)feet up. Rose adag good, solo eh, vision good. Awakening and act III next.”; (Translation of bunhead slang: In “;Swan Lake,”; the ballerina performs the dual role of Odette and Odile; the Rose Adagio features challenging balances on point. “;Vision”; and “;Awakening”; are both scenes.)

Bouder's technique is so strong that unless she fell on her behind—she is a daredevil and that has been known to happen—an audience member might have trouble grasping why she thought her solo was “;eh.”; Her tactic is not to make followers feel bad about what they can't see, but to show them how to look more closely.

She also follows other dancers. “;You know when you're watching,”; she said, “;and you're like, 'Oh, that was so great,' and then you read that they thought it was just OK? You think, I wonder what they didn't like about it? Or if they didn't think that was good, what do they look like when they really feel good?”;

At City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, there are no policies on dancers' participation on Twitter, though some choose to keep their Twitter accounts private. (At the moment the relationship between tech-savvy dancers and company administrators seems to be akin to a child showing a parent how to use e-mail.)

Katherine E. Brown, City Ballet's executive director, said: “;There's something special about them talking about the company and the work they're doing in their own words and giving that behind-the-scenes sort of feel to it. In a way, demystifying it a bit.”;

But how far can the cloak slip? “;We rely on them to use their good judgment and discretion,”; Brown said. “;We really don't put parameters around it for them. This is really their personal thing.”;

Daniil Simkin, a soloist at Ballet Theater who, with Maria Kochetkova of the San Francisco Ballet, was one of the first professional ballet dancers to use Twitter, said: “;You cannot just go out there and say everything that comes into your mind. You have to filter it. I would say it's a delicate balance. The more you give, the more people want.”;

Simkin, who is as passionate about technology as he is about ballet, said he had been criticized by dancers and others who see his tweeting as an egocentric exercise. (He is, like the others, building an independent fan base.) “;I understand that it can seem that way, but I am not doing it for myself,”; he said. “;Of course I benefit from it. But for me, it's all about information and transparency. You see the things most clearly if there is no barrier and no filter, and that is the epitome of Twitter. It breaks it down: the ballet dancer is not that mystic creature anymore.”;

Alberda's tweets sum up that sentiment. His postings range from personal musings (”;Sometimes Kate Bush is the only person who knows how I am feeling,”; a reference to the English singer and songwriter) to the stress surrounding an injury. When a protrusion in his upper arm kept him off the stage last season, he tweeted: “;I have ultrasound jelly all over my armpit. The ultrasound technician didn't even hold me afterwards. I feel dirty.”;

Clearly, Alberda is a different sort of ballet tweeter—less self-promotional, more philosophical and always snappy: “;I've heard the voice of God and he is an angry God with a Danish accent who doesn't like my acting.”;

The god in question was his boss, Peter Martins, the company's ballet master in chief. As Alberda explained, he wasn't trying to be offensive. “;It's taking a difficult part of my day and making it slightly humorous,”; he said.

For now at least, the gods haven't tweeted.