Guest post by Mike Barnes (“Anthropology En Pointe”)
Mike is an independent researcher who as a mature age student in Australia was awarded an honours degree in 2004 with a major in cultural anthropology. Mike has until recently been active teaching tutorial classes for “introductory anthropology”, “human evolution”, and “sociology”. In 2011, Mike started research with an interest in professional ballet dancers.
Dolly has been very kind and shared her experiences of dance and career in a guest post for my blog http://wp.me/p1OYEJ-cc). We decided it would be a good idea for me to write for her blog about my experience as an independent researcher.
I have been asked how this all started (http://wp.me/p1OYEJ-bx). My interest in ballet is a fortunate amalgamation of two interests. I have been a subscriber to The Australian Ballet for a number of years. I have very much enjoyed their performances. However, this activity took an interesting turn when I decided to blend it with my other love, cultural anthropology. It occurred to me in the middle of last year that I could study professional ballet dancers as a cultural group. I started doing a lot of reading and working through social networking groups and discovered that as a cultural grouping, professional dancers in general have not received the attention they deserve from a method of research that involves spending an extended period of time observing and interacting with dancers. Eventually, I narrowed down a specific research topic: “How do professional ballet dancers accommodate shifts in motivation through a lifetime of change, success and disappointment” (http://wp.me/P1OYEJ-3U). This question was not to take a simplistic view of motivation. Rather, I want to identify what motivates dancers and discover how they deal with progress and development changes that they experience as they proceed with their career.
In September 2011 I started a blog “Anthropology En Pointe” (see links below). Around this time I also started to engage with professional dancers and other interested people on Twitter, FaceBook, and various LinkedIn groups and individuals. Later I added a number of my own Pinterest albums to the mix. Apart from engaging with people, another purpose was to collect industry data through suggested links and reading material.
I have been quite successful obtaining general data and reading material about ballet and dancing (magazines, blogs, articles, academic reading lists). However, I have not been as successful with direct dancer engagement. There are many related blogs and online magazines out there, but many talk about ballet dancers, performances and companies from the “outside looking in”. To get an inside look at the”real” everyday experience of dancers requires much more it seems than what social networking has to offer. It is difficult to get people in general and dancers in particular to think about their own motivation and to talk about it openly on social media. Most dancers spend their time within the studio and with other dancers. As one former ballet dancer said to me in a personal communication, “would one of the obstacles you are encountering be a lack of understanding about what cultural anthropology and ethnography is about in the dance field? Dancers can be somewhat insular. We spend our days in the dance studio, sometimes very isolated from real world concerns”. I discovered however, some notable exceptions of varying degrees of personal dancer observations on social media. For example is Rebecca King, “a Corps De Ballet dancer with Miami City Ballet” (http://tendusunderapalmtree.com/about) who has talked about her experiences through her “Tendus Under A Palm Tree” blog, FaceBook page and twitter account. Rebecca also has a Pinterest account. Kathryn Morgan a “former NYC Ballet Soloist on leave from the stage due to medical reasons [and] getting well and back in shape to return to dancing” (https://twitter.com/Kathryn_EMorgan) has used Twitter and FaceBook in the past to comment on how injury has affected her and her prospects of returning to work.
Closer to my home, many dancers from The Australian Ballet are on Twitter. However, only a few of them regularly post with personal observations. Amongst my favourites, are those who are willing to respond to retweets and replies. They are Juliet Burnett (senior artist), Brooke Lockett (coryphée) and soon to depart the company, Yosvani Ramos (principal artist). Each of these dancers has from time to time spoken of their experiences in class, in rehearsals and on stage. They have also discussed touring both with their own company and as a guest with other companies. However, these snippets only scratch the surface of a professional dancer’s life.
Anthropology En Pointe Blog
My blog has been the main focus in trying to engage with people. I have used all of the other listed social media sites mainly to draw traffic to my blog. The amount of discussion that has occurred on my blog has been limited. From the 75 posts I have published to date, I have only received 137 comments 64 of which were made by me by way of follow up. Of the remaining comments, 20 have been made by Susan Lin (“Dancing with Joy”) a dancer who has since chatted with me a fair bit by email and I would say has been very supportive of my research. Whilst engagement with others through my blog has been disappointing, I believe this to be a common dilemma with blogs. On a brighter note, the statistics for the site indicate there have been 6,891 views over time which I feel is a good result for such a specialised topic. Many of the readers (681) have come from cross-posts that I have put on LinkedIn groups.
LinkedIn groups are a special case for engaging with targeted demographics in the dance industry (dancers, teachers, academics, writers, etc). My own “Anthropology En Pointe” group has had limited response. However, other groups have been the source of connecting with many interesting people. Through one of these groups, I met anthropologist Judith Hanna online who has an interesting web site promoting her research and writing (http://judithhanna.com/). Judith was kind enough to write a guest post for my blog which drew a good response. Another guest poster on my blog has been Dolly Williams for who I am now writing this post for her blog. It was in the “Dance Writers” group that Dolly asked a question which resulted in the idea of having guest posters on our respective blogs.
Twitter has been useful for gaining some small background knowledge of a professional dancer’s world but it is otherwise very limiting for any useful discussion. Connections with some dance media people and academics have resulted in finding links to good relevant articles. Otherwise, Twitter has a high noise to useful data ratio.
FaceBook Page “Anthropology En Pointe: classical ballet and anthropology”
My FaceBook page has a wider readership than my blog since I replicate links from my blog and put more popular “shares” on there. At the moment there are 84 people who “like” the page coming from many parts of the world. Maybe this indicates a regular readership but there are still very few comments. There are more “likes” on posts, especially on popular “shares”, than there are on my blog.
Pinterest is not really a social media site on which to exchange information. However, I am using it to gather dance related photos and also provide some referrals to my blog. My blog traffic statistics however, do not show this to be the case.
What have I learned from this activity? Quite a lot, but here are some of the larger discoveries.
- The Australian Ballet is a very intense and busy touring company. It is no wonder they rejected a request for me to conduct fieldwork with them.
- Some dancers use social media to mostly promote their companies’ performances whereas far less of them are willing to show a personal side of their experience as a dancer. However, there seems to be far less concern these days with admitting to injuries and other revelations which may be contrary to the mystique of ballet.
- Dancers experience their professional lives significantly depending on the context of the company they work for. Amongst major influencers are regional choreography preferences, whether or not the company is large or small, the contract is full or part time and whether the company does a lot of touring or not.
A number of people have written guest posts for my blog. Some others have also agreed to write future posts. I would like to invite more guest bloggers, especially professional or former professional ballet dancers but any dancer or academic working with dance is welcome.
My original intention of completing a formal research degree related to professional ballet in anthropology has been abandoned due to my inability to get fieldwork with the company of my choice. However, my interest in researching professional ballet dancers and what motivates them has become something of an obsession and I will continue my research, as limited as it is, through social networking. I will write more on my blog about this decision soon.
- My research blog: “Anthropology En Pointe” http://wp.me/1OYEJ
- Twitter account : “Anthropology En Point” https://twitter.com/mikebarnes50
- FaceBook Page “Anthropology En Point: classical ballet and anthropology” https://www.facebook.com/mikebarnesanth
- LinkedIn group: “Anthropology En Pointe: classical ballet and the social sciences” http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Anthropology-En-Pointe-classical-ballet-4112391
- Personal LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikebarnes50
- Pinterest albums: http://pinterest.com/mikebarnes50/