Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #11 Is a Small Social Media Following Keeping you from BIG Work? (with Sam Hersch)
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Thanks everyone and congrats! Now, Let’s got to it!
Dana: Today I'm going to share little bits of a conversation that I had with a very special guest, a special guy named Sam Hirsch. Now I have known Sam since I think 2012 but this conversation was sparked because I ran into him recently. Uh, while I was teaching a class at movement lifestyle, I was making a mad dash for the restroom, like in the middle of class, had the moment, had to do it. And I saw Sam in the lobby and he handed me this flyer, like a full page flyer with a lot of words on it. And I was like, Sam, Oh man. Good to see you. Can't read this right now. Send me an email. So later that night I had an email from Sam. It was a couple of attachments, um, a user guide and then a questionnaire. Now this is something that he's been working on since June of 2019 and the purpose of the questionnaire is to get to the bottom of the question, how is social media influencing the dance industry and an individual dancers life?
So I opened the attachment for the user's guide, which was 12 pages long and I flashed back to the lobby area moment where I was like, Sam, I don't have time for this in this moment. Email me. And then the email moment was another moment. So I asked Sam if he would be willing to come onto the podcast and just hash this out over a microphone, um, and see what we can uncover about that massive question. How is social media influencing dance and is your social media presence as important or more important than your actual live work? So I asked Sam to come on the podcast and he said yes, and then he did come on the podcast and then we did talk for three hours. So this is an edited version of our conversation. Um, we really covered a whole lot of stuff, how we met years and years ago when I was teaching at millennium. Um, how I use my social media, how I consider it to be like a store front. The concept that I covered in last week's episode, which if you haven't yet, please go check out episode 10. Um, what else did we talk about? We talked about um, how he started creating this questionnaire and how he decided to unplug for a little while after working so hard on the subject of social media in dance. You know, that was sort of his impetus to, to get off the app for a little while. And you know what, I've actually thought about doing that too. Um, although with all of the exciting stuff that you daily doers are getting into out there, I don't think my break will be happening anytime this year. I absolutely love seeing what everybody's doing out there. Please keep up the good work and keep hashtagging doing daily. W T M M yes, there it is. #doingdailyWTMM alright. Without any further ado, let's get into this conversation with Sam and see what we can dig up about social media and the way it is affecting the lives of creative types.
Dana: Sam, take the floor. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your relationship to dance and the project that you're working on.
Sam: All right, thanks Dana. So the short version of my history with dance is that when I was 18 or 19 and I graduated, I had been in out of high school for about a year. Uh, my very good friend from high school ended up joining culture shock San Diego. I don't know if you’re familiar with that at all. Um, she was on the troop for about two years this is before the days of following anybody on, on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or anything. I would literally follow her to San Diego, um, to see her perform. Um, my first experience watching professional dancers in Los Angeles was um, in 2011 culture shock made one of their rare trips up to Los Angeles where they participated in Tessandra Chavez’s traffic show. And that was the first time that I saw Unity LA long before Tessandra knew where unity LA was going to go on long before any of my friends ended up being involved in that. And after that I started taking classes at millennium on a pretty regular basis. That's where I met Marty and that's where I met you. And, um, that is also where I began to notice, although I didn't think much of it at the time, the influence, Mmm. For lack of a better word of social media on the dance industry. I remember being in the room when Willdabeast taught upgrade you at millennium now that was the night before he went to Ida and recorded it. And, and the rest is, they say, is history,
Dana: Right? Viral internet history.
Yup. And ever since then I've, I've kind of started to notice, um, the influence of social media on the dance world. And I remember speaking to the person who was designing my website and telling her that of of all the artists in the world, singers, actors, dancers, a dancer's life has been the most impacted by social media. And these questions are my attempt at getting really to the heart of, Oh, what that relationship is like. not being a professional dancer, I don't consider it my right to judge how people use social media. But there's a part of me as a person with a disability that doesn't want people to be excluded in any sense. The, the, the dance community remains as welcoming as it has ever been. To and not only to people like me, but to everyone without having the burden of get your following up over your head. Right. You understand what I mean?
Dana: Cool. Well, I would like to dig into that with you, um, if that's okay. I sort of will treat this, I guess as like a, a cross interview perhaps. And then, um, we'll close up with, uh, I'll just have you ask me all of the questions on that questionnaire and we'll see if I pass wink, wink.
Um, so I guess if we're going to talk about that big question, what is the relationship between a dancer's social media presence and their live performance? I, I really think it's a beautiful thing and one of the most unique things about dance as a fine art is that unlike a painting or a sculpture, which stays there while you get to behold and think about and reflect on, it dances moving and then it's gone and it's over. And I think that's one of the most beautiful things about it. But I also think that there's great power in, in the capture of it so that it can exist long after the moment that it was created in where it gets ugly is when we start determining our value based on views based on follows. And I think that that is really up to the person. As you mentioned, you've taken actions towards protecting yourself from falling into the cycle of seeking external validation. You know, you got rid of the social media or maybe you regulate it. Maybe you only look at comments once week, maybe you don't look at them ever. You know, I think our techniques in terms of coping with that or whatever works and that's going to be different from person to person. But um, is that helpful? Does that answer the question?
It does and it is helpful. And, and, and, and the reason why I wrote it as a questionnaire or not a blog is because, because I, I wanted to get answers from people rather than being an armchair critic or in my very literal case, a wheelchair critic and write what I thought.
Right. Well, I think in any situation, a, a discussion is better than a seminar. I think we learned so much more from these things and are able to go so much deeper with feedback with conversation opposed to just, you know, standing on a box and shouting through cone. What is that whats a, megaphone. There it is a mega cone.
Dana: Yeah. Okay. Seminars are good. Discussions are better, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on what a dancer's relationship is, can be or should be with social media. As I mentioned last week, I think the majority of us use Facebook, YouTube, Instagram of some sort, but if you don't use any of those things, I would especially love to hear from you. The way that you would do that is to slide into the comments on my website, the Dana wilson.com/podcast under episode 10 wait a second. This is episode 11 episode 11 wait, I gotta double check that, confirmed.
This is episode 11 all right, next, Sam and I scribbled ourselves into talking about the what ifs. What if social media went away tomorrow? Would you still be okay? I'll tell you what dance would be. Okay. Dancers would be okay. We would still make dance. We'd just put it somewhere else. Okay, here's another one. If what if you had to be popular to get work? Well then we wouldn't have Monet. We wouldn't have Edgar Allen Poe and other weirdos. Like actually Vincent Vango. I don't know if this is true, but I've heard that he only sold a single painting during his lifetime, but today you cannot hear that name without immediately thinking art or artist. It's wild, right? So popularity and value not connected. I mean, I'd say they're not mutually exclusive. You have quality and you have quantity like you know, number of followers. I guess you can't have a Venn diagram where there's a center circle there where you have a really, really awesome thing that gets a lot of attention.
Beyonce, for example, man, I really, I held out for a long time. You guys. I was not a fan for awhile, but I think it was her. Um, Oh no. It was the year of Rhianna's MTV Vanguard award that Beyonce performed and absolutely roasted. It was insane. I, I subscribed at that moment, I was onboard, she was flawless and that was a big bite of a performance. Holy smokes. Okay. Maybe sidebar Beyonce episode down the road. We'll jump to it. What if, what else did Sam and I talk about in the what ifs front. Oh, what if things keep going like they're going right now and that's where we'll jump in. Check it out.
Dana: You know, I do, I imagine a world where social media keeps going like it is like, I'll, I'll say it right now. I have, I actually don't know that I have 32,000 and some change followers. And that used to be, I remember when I broke 30,000 and I was like, Oh my God, that's a big deal. I'm a mega star. And now I'm on the other side of casting tables, listening to people say things like, I don't know, she only has 300,000 followers. We really need somebody with more pull. And I'm like, my mind is blown because I'm like, that's larger than countries. Like that's bananas. Um, so I, I have seen that working in ways that are distasteful to me, but I also do try to remember that if not for social media, the cost of entry into the industry used to be a, you had to have paid for a dance education, right? You had to have paid for good headshots, you have to be in the room in LA at the one audition that that one choreographer has in six months or whatever. And then additionally under that, you have to be having a good day. You have to be remembered as being great. Versus on Instagram you get to curate. I get to decide what I put up there and it is there 24 hours a day working for me for free. So I really, you know, it's got, it's got its ups and downs for me. But that's in a nutshell, that's kind of my, that's my love. Hate with “soceh meeds” Oh my God. I said social media. Sorry. Julian Meyers, if you're listening, she hates. Mmm. Uh, abbreviations. So it is, sorry, Julie. Um, okay. So I don't know. Do you have anything else you'd like to ask me before we get into the questionnaire?
Sam: Well, when, well we'll just to clarify what you said on my end. I am, I'm not trying to, to bring the dance industry back to the pre social media kind of era, but all I would want to come out of this, of this questionnaire is when you go to auditions, you guys should fight for the opportunity to be seen live and not let um, your social media presence or lack there of exclude you from actually participating in the audition. Like you were meant to.
Sam mentions the idea that social media could be excluding people from taking part in auditions. This brings up a lot of big and pretty important questions. Does having a small following or anything other than a huge following keep you from being seen at auditions? Really? does it keep you from getting management or an agent's representation? What is small and what is huge following? Anyways, all of these questions are really, really important. So I put my feelers out to some of top agents here in LA to get some answers. And here is what I learned.
I learned that there are now full blown departments and agencies dedicated exclusively to representing talent in the digital space, um, representing “influencers” In other words, and I am sure that those places look for specific things in terms of an individual's following, but none of the dance agencies that I know of and certainly none that I spoke to, require a minimum number of social media followers to get signed. In other words, you can have three Instagram followers or no Instagram at all and still get a top agent here in LA. That is great news. It's great news both for the talent and for the agents. Think about it this way. If agents only signed people with a specific range of followers that would really limit their talent pool, it is absolutely in their best interest to represent the best. And one of the best things about having an agent is that you get notified of auditions and projects that you would be a good fit for.
Which leads me to my next question. How many audition breakdowns are asking exclusively to see talent with large followings? Well, the responses I got to this question were kind of all over the board, but I got the gist that there are certain types of projects that are more likely to make that ask. Music videos, specifically music videos for up and coming. Artists that don't have a really big pull yet, they want a big builtin audience. They want to hire talent that's going to attract a lot of eyeballs. One agent that I spoke to said that roughly 20% of music video auditions care about a social media following. That's not to say that they absolutely won't consider someone without a big following, but it's a common ask. It's something that it looked for 20% okay.
Even more striking than that, almost everyone I spoke to said that almost all projects seeking a lead, male or lead female, imagine like a Co-Star scenario, a love interest, if you will, for a music video. Almost all of these castings are looking for somebody with a quote, large social following. So I asked what is large social following and again I got some mixed responses, but the low end there was about a hundred thousand that's a pretty big number. Let's back up a little bit here. Sam also mentioned that he hopes that a dancer's social media or lack thereof wouldn't keep them from being seen in auditions. Now to that, I really have to say from my experience auditioning, which is hefty, that once you're in the room you could have 100,000 followers. You have negative 100,000 followers. If you roast, which is code for crush it, which is code code for really, really do well, you will be seen. period. In the room. There is no substitute for talent and until that black mirror day where our number of followers is glowing over our head, all you see in the room is your talent. So two thumbs up for auditions and simultaneously two thumbs down for auditions because they're tough no matter who you are. It's just kind of an unnatural experience. Speaking of auditions, however, I've got big plans.
August is going to be Audition August. Every single episode happening in the month of August is going to point to crushing it at auditions. Get ready for that. Okay. Whew. So now let's see what else we can uncover about the effects of social media on a modern dancer. Not a modern dancer. Well maybe modern dancers also, but modern day dancers and our way of working
Sam's questionnaire is 35 questions long, but because I talk a lot, we jumped around a lot. Give a listen and answer for yourself as we go. And if you'd like to go deeper, you can visit Sam's website. Questions for dancers.com. Okay, here we go.
Sam: Before an artist's begins to cultivate their social media presence, what's the first thing they should know about that world?
Um, the, the dance world or the social media world.
The social media world.
Ah, ooo. Um, I would say that the most important thing to know about the social media world is that it will be whatever you make it, it will mean exactly whatever you make it mean to you. If you treat it like it is the most important thing in the world, it will be the governing force of your life. If you treat it like a fun opportunity to share your work and your breakfast, then it'll be exactly that.
Right. Well, Question 2 what is more important. Bear in mind, I use the word artists here, but I really mean dancer in some sense. What is more important that an artist should work on their craft first or begin to cultivate a social media presence?
Ooh. Um, to that I would say is it possible to do both at once? Is it possible to genuinely work on your training and nurture, um, a public presence? Yeah, I think it is.
Is it entirely possible for an artist to operate outside of the social media sphere these days?
Ooh, I love this question and I think about it all of the time. Um, although it is rare, I would say yes. Uh, actually I just saw an interview with the star of the film 1917 George McKay. Um, and by the way, the film is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best film. And he is the, he's the star of the film. I don't even know if there's a shot that doesn't have him in it. He's on, on screen the entire time and he does not have social media. So yes, definitely possible.
Regarding any promotional content for a class or a convention or, or any other performance, what's your perspective on collaborating with other social media personalities for promotional content? I.e. YouTube videos.
Okay. Um, I, I think strategically using, uh, collaborating with other personalities for lack of a, I'll call them humans. Um, collaborative, collaborating with other humans is, I think the most practical way of expanding your audience. Right? If I have 12 people watching my videos and only those 12 people watch my videos, Mmm. Then we've, you know, we've hit the ceiling. It's not until I texting my friend Sam and I'm like, “Hey Sam, what are your 12 people doing right now? Do you think your 12 people would be interested in joining my 12 people to listen to his talk? And you're like, Oh my gosh, yes.” And that's how 12 becomes 24 and so on and so forth. So, um, I, I don't use YouTube as often when it comes to promotion. Instagram is my platform of choice for like class promotion, stuff like that.
All right. How do you make sure any person that might have a consequential will impact on your career, an agent, et cetera. Mmm. Is drawn to your own unique personality and attitude as opposed to your social media presence. And if an opportunity for performance comes your way, that's life changing. How do you make sure that the person responsible for that opportunity looks beyond your social media presence, gets to know you and is it necessary to remind that person to look beyond your social media presence and know the real you?
Oh man, this is loaded. All right. So the short answer to that, that long and pretty nuanced question I think would be if the social media person and the actual person are the same thing, then there's not a lot to worry about. On the subject of how do you get people to look like how do you get someone to be interested? How do you get someone to care? To that, I am afraid, I would say that is out of your control. All I can control is the way I respond to the circumstances in my world and how I put myself forward. Mmm. You know, in what I call the storefront. I consider my Instagram account to basically be, it's, it's my storefront. If I were a retail business, it would be the, the place that people go to find all things me. So everything I put in that store is something that I'm proud of and something that is uniquely me. And I, um, I, I wish I could say I really don't care if it's right for the job. I can't say that I'm not heartbroken when I don't get the job, but I, I am training myself to believe that it wasn't meant to be. If it, if it doesn't become mine, it was not meant to be mine. I've done it again. I've made it a monologue. I'm sorry, but I, I think we've got to stop trying to change social media, stop trying to change the world and just change the way that we think about it changed the way that we operate in it
Sure. Absolutely. And, and, and that brings us to, to our last, um, set of questions. Mmm. There, there are only two more cause I just had to skip a few. What are the rules for master classes in your, in the social media age? And I consider myself very grateful and very lucky to have been in the room. Um, on a number of occasions. I'm a number of classes long before the camera or the camera rig ever comes out.
Right. And in some cases it is literally a jib, like a full blown rig with lighting and Oh, it's wild. What is come of dance class is wild
if you were to wave a magic wand, what would be the ideal rules for, um, social media, his relationship to, um, master classes. And what would you say to kids in those master classes?
Hmm. Mmm. This is another loaded question because again, one of the beautiful things about dance and the way it's taught is that there is no one syllabus, there is no school, single school of dance that says this is how it is taught and this is the best way to teach it and this is the only way to teach it. And once you graduate from this school, then you go and get a certificate and then you can go teach to other people. That just isn't the way our world works. And I'm thankful for that because everybody has a different style of learning and everybody has a different style of teaching. Um, that said, if, if I go to wave a magic wand, it would simply be open discourse around the subject. I will be transparent with my class when I say I am going to film this next group. I have a theory about in the classroom that cameras actually don't change anything about the energy or the environment in the room. It is our thoughts about the cameras that change the energy and the environment in the room. Cameras are just pieces of glass and plastic. They don't mean anything except for little bits of light are received by a sensor. And this moment will ask outside of this room in a digital sense but not in a actual sense like scientifically, this moment will end and it will be over and I will be fine whether or not I mess up, whether or not I am in the last group, whatever. So I, I would just like there to be more conversation around the topic. Um, I would like for a little bit more transparency. I definitely as a teacher I would definitely like for students to consider asking permission from the teacher before filming themselves in class. Um, I get really distracted when I see dancers off to the side. Again, I've been teaching for a convention for a really long time and I see first of all blowing my mind that some like seven year olds have iphones it just takes some getting used to, but off to the sides I see little seven year olds filming each other, dancing during my class and um, that has raised little flags for me. Um, and I'm kind of working with my cell phone. What I'm making that mean? I think it means they want to share that moment and to them sharing means filming and then posting. I know that there are different ways to share that moment but they don't. So I might in my class talk about the different ways you can share the different ways that you can measure your progress. But again, I believe that video is one of the best ways to measure your progress and a visual art like dance. So, um, I, I would just love for there to be more discourse around it. I would love for us to have some more transparency, talk about it and um, yeah, period. Good. I seriously, I could talk forever.
Okay. Okay. Okay. Last two questions. And these are very loaded set of questions. Are you pressured? Did take jobs or work with people because of their or yours? Social media presence
Pressured is an interesting word to use there. I did mention a little earlier. Um, yes, I have been on the other side of the casting table or I've been uh, a choreographer on projects where we're casting talent and are taking followings into consideration. But I think when it comes to um, commercial dance and I say commercial dance meaning dance that is used to sell a product, whether that product is an album or Amazon prime or whatever. I consider commercial dance to anything that exists to sell a product including class. Is that you are engaging in somewhat of a business transaction and you have to make transactional decisions based on certain values and having built in audience, having eyeballs knowing that your product will be seen is a consideration that I understand. Yes, I have felt pressured to work with certain people because of their followings. I have also experienced situations where if I present the right person following or not, if they have the right talent, I have seen productions change their mind and say yes, that is undeniably who we need regardless of a following.
You know, what I took away from your user guide to the questionnaire is that you are a person who undeniably, relentlessly supports dance in the dance community. You're there paying for classes, you're there going to the shows, you are there both in person and you know when you're sitting doing this work, I'm sure countless hours at your computer or over a journal hashing out these ideas, trying to help the community improve. And I see you as being frustrated that at times the dance industry or the dance community doesn't support itself. And from the outside looking in, that's what, um, it looks like this project could achieve. And I hope that people were, as we're answering these questions along with us because it was very informative for me.
I cannot thank you enough for taking this time, Sam, and doing this work. Asking these questions I think is very, very important, uh, that we be having these conversations. So cheers to you and thank you so much
Dana It's my pleasure and thank you. Thank you so much.
You are so welcome. I will talk to you soon. Sam
Have a good night, Dana.
Dana: All right everybody. I hope that got your social wheels turning. One of my biggest takeaways from that conversation is that there are really a lot of misconceptions around what a social media following means in terms of your work. I would really argue that it is the work itself, the content, the actual stuff and not the number of followers that factors most into getting you more stuff, more work. I also believe there's a difference between doing it for the gram as they say and doing it for the doing and simply sharing it on the gram. The latter is the insta world that I want to live in and thanks to getting to choose who I follow. It actually is the world that I live in and I love it. I really love it. I see great value to it. So I want to take a quick moment to shout out my favorite social media accounts of late that have less than a hundred thousand followers and of course I have to start that list off with my fellow seaweed sisters, Jilly Meyers. That's J. I. L. L. Y. M. E. Y. E. R. S. the one and only
Megan Lawson, M. E. G. A. N. G. U. W. R. E. and the story behind Guwre is a story that I will let Megan tell for herself when we have our seaweed sessions on the podcast. Oh, speaking of seaweed, obviously the seaweed sisters @theseaweedsisters spell it just like it sounds, um, without any spaces or interesting characters because we're all the interesting character you need. See how I did that. Um, okay. Also, please, Holy smokes, get your phone right now. This is important. Go follow @jamsv, which is Jermaine Spivey at JA M S V Y as well as Spenser Theberge, which I'm hoping I'm saying that last name right. It gets me every time. His handle is @spensermyles and that is a Spenser with an S, ladies and gentlemen. S.P.E.N.S.E.R.M.Y.L.E.S. and one of my favorite lady birds. The one and only Cindy Salgado. She is at C.I.N.D.Y.B.E.T.H.S.A.L.G.A.D.O which leads me to my next favorite lady type Michelle Dorrance and Dorrance dance. You guys get with it. I was lucky enough to get to see them perform at USC last week and my mind was blown. My eardrums were tickled, my heart was warmed, all of the good things so, so impressed and inspired. Um, check her out at M. A. S. H. D. E. E. Z. as in zebra. And the company is at D. O. R. R. A. N. C E D. A. N. C. E. that's DorranceDance. So good. Speaking of, so good. One of my favorite movers is also a director and she is wildly talented. Her name is Mimi Cave. Please go check her out on the internet, but also on the gram, she's @M I M I C A V E and one final super special human. This was a, a person that I got to meet when I was working on In the Heights and I'm so glad that I did. His name is Haseem and his handle is Gorilla Sage. So follow him at G. O. R I. L. L. A. underscore S. A. G. E. beautiful soul, beautiful human, beautiful mover, and some really special stuff on his page.
So, um, yeah, that's it for my share for the day. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope that this keeps the conversation around healthy social media relationships going, um, you know the deal. Well, you know the deal. You know where to find me at words that move me podcast on Instagram. I'm @danadaners of course, and you are keeping it funky. I hope that was kind of a stretch. That wasn't a really good sign off moment. Where should we do? What should we do? What should we do? Sign off. Sign off. Side off. Vocal. Warm up. Sign off. Keep it funky everybody. I'll see you next week. I won't see you. I will talk to you. I will talk to you next week. Have a great rest of your day night. Awesome. Bye.
Brought to you by Dana Wilson of Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson