I thought the salacious news from the Bolshoi would have diverted the dance world’s attention away from little old me and my meager six hundred some followers (even after all this media attention), but apparently everyone has something to say about the New York City Ballet’s proposed online social networking policy. As mirror articles continue to dilute Erica Orden’s clear and careful reporting, miscasting me either as a rabble-rouser or a martyr, I thought it might be time to weigh in.
I started tweeting three years ago, for no other purpose than to entertain myself. I was originally drawn to Twitter because the 140-character limit allows users with diverse interests to comment in short spurts on a variety of topics and organize it thematically with hashtags. Hashtagging has devolved into ironic meta-commentary on already mind-bogglingly brief posts, but this only increases the site's appeal for creative wordsmiths. I tweet about politics (less-so since the Republicans swept the House), film, hip-hop, gender, sexuality and riding the subway/homeless people. Of course, being a dancer with the New York City Ballet takes up most of my time, so I do occasionally tweet about work.
My Twitter persona tends to be snarkier and more irreverent than I am, so much so that when I blogged about Sugarplumgate, the recent media uproar over Times critic Alastair Macaulay’s comments about NYCB principal Jennifer Ringer’s weight, my sober contribution to the debate surprised some of my followers. I’m a thoughtful young male dancer in the corps de ballet with a slew of interests outside of work, but on Twitter I’m primarily concerned with entertainment value.
Twitter feeds afford readers a glimpse into the psychic life of the tweeter. As artificial and controlled as classical ballet may seem to a first-time audience member, a dancer’s Twitter account can have a humanizing effect. As our audience ages and we struggle to entice a younger generation to replace the loyal patrons drawn to the company during Balanchine’s heyday, making ballet accessible to novices and relevant in an increasingly crowded cultural landscape should be our primary concern. The great thing about dancers on Twitter is that audience members, who would prefer that the illusion of the performance be maintained, need not peek behind the curtain.
I’ve never revealed proprietary information or tweeted about another dancer's injury. I recognize the need to protect the company’s interests as well as its employees, but a restrictive online social networking policy would limit the access dancers would be able to allow the public to their professional lives.
I’m not a star, I don’t go on gigs, nor do I have a public image to maintain. I revel in irreverence, and yes, perhaps making a joke about my boss’ DWI arrest is pushing it. But the incident was widely covered and to ignore it completely would be dishonest. I’d much rather defuse the tension with a playful quip. Incidents involving a performing arts company that enter the public discourse should not be taboo to its artists. Similarly, when a company produces or revives a ballet that is tone-deaf to the representational concerns of contemporary racial politics, I don’t think dancers should be discouraged from initiating a thoughtful discussion about an offending character. Of course starting a thoughtful conversation on Twitter is difficult, all the more so with my own hyperbolic tendencies.
I don’t think anyone should be worried about my Twitter feed. I definitely consider the ramifications of certain comments, but Sandra Bernhard and Richard Pryor are two of my personal heroes and as a result I may locate the line separating tastefulness and distastefulness a little differently than many people in the dance world do. I don’t think I’ve ever crossed that line. I’ve known for over a year that the New York City Ballet’s administration reads my tweets more carefully than any of my other followers and I’ve taken that into consideration with every tweet I’ve made. Despite speculation to the contrary, I don’t believe my online presence will have an adverse effect on my career. I’m a talented dancer who works hard and cares passionately about what I do. I may not encounter ballet as an apolitical aesthetic pursuit, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the beauty of it. Sure I’ll quote Susan Leigh Foster’s essay “The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe” at you, but that’s only because I’m fascinated by gender, enjoy the security of theoretical scaffolding, and understand that an intelligent engagement of form cannot overlook the reification of assumptions about gender that frequently occurs in ballet.
As to my involvement in AGMA negotiations with management, I signed no confidentiality agreement and being on Twitter put me in a unique position to clarify certain union positions as the media distorted some of the issues. This is a difficult year for the relationship between the artists and management and I do not intend to exacerbate those tensions. But I will not stand idly by when the conflict is distorted and the dancers’ concerns are trivialized.
I’ve never claimed to speak in an official capacity, nor do I intend to. I’m just going to keep tweeting about the things that I care about, trying to make some people laugh and recording the absurdity of my daily life. I’ve been spending most of my time off ranking the members of the Wu-Tang Clan according to the quality of their solo efforts, but it’s been a struggle. They’re some mad talented motherfuckers! I’ll probably go back to that. To borrow from the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard: when it comes to the children, my Twitter feed is for the children.