StEPS: Young Dancers and Social Media Pressures | Kelly McAuley

StEPS: Young Dancers and Social Media Pressures | Kelly McAuley

Young Dancers and Social Media Pressures

Welcome to Beyond the StEPS. 

Our question today is “what is our responsibility to promote and uphold social media safety for our dancers social media ”

Today we're answering the question: what is our responsibility to promote and uphold social media safety for our dancers? Social media has become a significant part of our culture, and its impact on the arts and entertainment industry is undeniable. While there are many positive aspects of social media, studies are revealing the significant amount of pressure, anxiety, and stress it is causing in our youth, including young dancers. There is a lack of regulation regarding social media protocol and standards for youth, leading to confusion about who should shoulder the responsibility. The question of who is responsible - the parents, studio owners, educators, coaches, or dancers themselves - is currently a topic of conversation. Today's episode will dive into this topic, with a guest expert providing insight on the matter. Before we introduce our guest panelists, let's take a moment to acknowledge the importance of this discussion. We are so very excited to be able to bring in Kelly* to the show.

Kelly In your words can you tell us a bit more about what you do ?

Kelly: Yeah, definitely. I would love to thank you again for having me and thank you for bringing this topic to light. I think it is so important that we have more discussions around it rather than just burying our noses in social media, but really talking about it. So this is great. But, like you said, I combine my love of dance and communications to help dance professionals with their branding. And what I love to tell people is the reason why I love doing this. When growing up, as you said, my mom owned a dance studio and when I decided to move away and find a dance studio to teach, I found myself a little lost. I could go teach at places with great technique, but I didn't really ever get a sense of what that studio was like until I was there teaching. And it's hard to find a good fit sometimes that aligns with your values and your teaching style. Fast forward 15 years, I've been working in advertising and communications and became a dance mom myself, started looking for a studio for my children, and those same feelings came back. It's like, how do I know what this dance studio stands for, what are their values, is it aligned to what I want my children to be learning, not just in dance because we know they're learning so much more than that. And I just saw this gap of what studios believed in and how they were translating that to prospective clients and even the people in their dance studios and maybe teachers looking to hire. So, what I really like to do is help dance educators, studios, professionals, choreographers, anyone in the dance industry, really, that's bringing in and teaching dance, is how they identify their values and their why and what they stand for, and then how they take those values and translate them to communications, whether that's social posts, their website, a brand strategy, a content strategy. I've worked with people on landing pages and things like that. So, it's really identifying those values and translating them into messaging. And so I work with people one-on-one, and I also have a customizable content toolkit that releases every month that people can sign up for. They're getting these content posts that include their values, but it's a time saver because they have some guides to go by."

Studio owners are able to have more confidence in knowing what they're doing by having somebody that's telling them what to do! We cannot tell you how many times we figure out social media or get to a place where we feel somewhat competent in it and then they change the algorithm or there's like a different update to the app and you have no idea all the things that change on a daily sometimes a weekly basis! Just the fact that you're giving this confidence in  something that can be really overwhelming, we think is so important. 

Apolla: Kelly dance is in your blood, you come from a long line of dancers including the legendary iconic Mr Gene Kelly. When you reminisce with your family about the history of dance and the industry and the impact social media has had on all of it, how it's evolved, what is the most exciting thing that's come from that, and what are the biggest challenges you think that has come out of that ?

Kelly: There's a long history of dance in my family, and many dance studios in different locations and different iterations of them through the years. I just try to imagine my grandparents figuring out social media…I mean my mom no longer runs her studio but it was starting to trickle in when she was still in the studio. It's changed the face of the studio, it's changed how you get students, it's changed how students show up to dance, why they show up to dance, they show up because they want to dance like people they've seen on social media, which is just great. It's getting more people interested in dance but it can be so overwhelming. When we start talking about dance on social media and how that's evolved over the years I  actually start to see a lot of congruence with what dance went through in the 40s and 50s when Uncle Gene was on the screen and they were taking dance from the stage to the screen. We're almost doing the same thing now. Back then they were trying to say how do we replicate the stage experience on the screen and now what we're seeing is we've gone from the stage to the horizontal screen and we've seen a lot of that in the past years So You Think You Can Dance did great things for dance on film, World of Dance and Dancing with the Stars. All these beautiful films of dance

on the screen, and now we've taken it and we've tilted it sideways so we're all dancing in this vertical space now. It's so fascinating to me that the film aspect of it has really changed the way we view dance and the way we interact with it. That's one of the things that really comes up when we start talking about what dance appears like on the screen and how people are taking it in. When we think about the challenges that come with that,  you have kids coming in, not saying they want to dance like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly or people they've seen the movies, they're coming in they're like “I want to dance like that person on tik tok.”

It's now reality and so we have to face it.

In dance studios, we're teaching a lot more than just the repetition of these movements that are in this vertical space. It has this power to draw people in, but then it also has this interesting dynamic of oh wait that's not what you do here. There's this tension that I feel with what social media is doing right now 

Apolla: There's definitely a push and a pull, a good and a bad. It's almost like you have to look at it like let's figure out how to channel these powers for good and make everybody do that and it's hard because there is no regulation so it's almost a necessary evil right? What are some ways you're seeing in your work and what research is showing us in the ways that social media is negatively impacting different facets of our community whether that's businesses like retail and studios, dance educators, or the dancers themselves? 

Kelly:  I think it does have positive and negative impacts. Something that I think is really on the  top of the mind for everybody, is what is the access of social media doing to our dancers? The American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychology has a lot to say across the spectrum  of topics and when it comes to social media. I think one of the main concerns that they highlight is the exposure to inappropriate content and you can use all the filters in the world and block things, but the truth is you just don't know what's out there until you come across it.  I think that's a big danger for our younger students, there's exposure to dangerous people, there's cyber bullying, there's oversharing of personal information, and privacy concerns and Identity theft, and those are all real concerns out in the world. We have the internal concerns of how the dancer is developing and is social media affecting their sleep? Affecting their relationships? Affecting their time spent with their family? Is there a comparison trap that we fall into of either talent OR look or the amazing content that they're doing? Or the choreography? How is that contributing to our overall body image and there's a lot of factors at play for dancers as individuals and I think for Studios as well. We just touched upon it a little bit,  people see this dance online or they see this dancer that's the same age as their child, so the studio owners  have parents coming well why can't my child do what this child does they're the same age, why can't my child go into this level, why aren't we doing these tricks or this choreography.

That is such a tough position to be put in because as a business owner you want to say the customer is always right, but as a dance educator you have to draw limits and you have to set boundaries and you have to educate not only your dancer at that point, but the parents as well, and say this is what the reality is and it's gonna hurt and it could turn some people away but I think it's something that has to be a constant conversation, especially when a parent brings it up. I think it's a teaching moment for all of us.

Retail was mentioned and I think that there are some negative effects about people finding brands online, and they're just buying straight from them, which is great but then I'm thinking about the local dance store owner and how much that can affect their business. Sometimes social media is a necessary eviI, like to say in my positive spin, that it's a beautiful opportunity because I think it really is a chance for everyone, dancewear and dance store owners, to connect with their community. You know your community better than the brand that's on Instagram just shipping from a warehouse. I think there's a really great opportunity for studio owners to connect with dancers to find out what they need, and really serve them.

Apolla: We are a brand and we also have retailers that carry our brand, and I will say this, the biggest thing that I'm noticing and this applies to any business really, but specifically to dance studios and retail stores, if you're not comfortable on social media you're going to be left in the dust. I mean I have to say as a part of a dancewear brand who's trying to evolve the thinking in an industry and make an impact on an industry you really have to incorporate social media into your business to connect or it's just going to be that much tougher, do you agree with that?

Kelly: I agree that it would be a very deliberate decision to ignore social media and not necessarily the best business decision, I think that people can do it.  There's stores out there that are doing it but, knowing how the audience of dance wear is evolving, I think that social media is really an integral part of that marketing journey and that marketing plan.

Apolla: So many of us dance educators bury our heads in the sand when it comes to social media because we have that fear of comparison. We hear it so much 

“well can my child go on pointe? she really loves the way Misty Copeland looks” and…it's like well she's two so no pointe is not the option right now.


“I saw so and so is the same age as my daughter and she's on pointe and my child is not on pointe and I want my child on pointe right now”

There's also then the realm of no regulation in the dance world as to what is acceptable and what is not and while this child over here might be on pointe, they shouldn't be on pointe how do you explain that to a parent they're seeing it in front of them on a screen? How do we reverse this negative effect of comparison and people coming in and saying I want to dance like fill in the blank a dancer who has only posted their best takes on Instagram? How do we combat that?

Kelly: I think conversations like this are a perfect start. I think it's great that we're having this conversation today. I think conversations like this need to happen in studios, with parents and with dancers. I remember back to being in the studio with competition teams and and you would always have your team meeting and the parents would be there, and the dancers would be there, and you had talks about how you're supposed to act and what you're supposed to wear and there were rules (not social media because it wasn't relevant). But you had these talks. I think that's at a competitive level, but there is room for that conversation at a recreational level too. Conversation is very important. The other thing that I strive to do and I really like to challenge people to do is to:

Use social media to create more than you consume.

There's a stat that out of all the teens on social media, only 3% of their time is spent in creation mode versus consumption mode. When you're creating, you're focusing on doing your best, you're focused on your performance, you're focused on something artistic and an expression. When you're consuming you are more than likely in that comparison trap,  you're thinking why can’t I do that, why don't we do that, can I do that, can I try that? Which isn't always the best way to look at social media. I actually have challenged myself to this before that whenever I open my social media app on my phone I have to create something or interact with someone rather than consuming. I did a week challenge for myself, and every time I wanted to open social media I needed to have something to post or needed to message someone to have a relationship. I think that's one of the most powerful things that can come, is that creation and developing your voice and developing your artistic self, and then those relationships that you're going to develop with people who you might not know from your studio but you can start to engage with them.

Do you think the problem is consumption?

Kelly: It's so important to have balance and to limit our consumption of social media and be mindful of how much time we're spending on it. It's also important to remember that social media can be a highlight reel and people often only show the best parts of their lives, so it's not always an accurate representation of reality. It's important to focus on self-expression and not comparisons to others. Encouraging creativity, individuality, and self-care can help combat the negative effects of social media on dancers and dance educators. Try to focus on the positive aspects of social media and how it can benefit our lives, such as building relationships and finding a sense of community. By using social media in a purposeful way, we can take advantage of the opportunities it provides, while also avoiding its potential pitfalls, such as the comparison trap and exposure to inappropriate content. It's all about balancing our use of social media and using it in a way that enhances our lives, rather than detracting from it.

How do we as Studio owners and dance educators and parents stand up and help students understand the beautiful opportunity not the negative part of Social Media? How do we turn their focus and their perspective to the beautiful opportunities of Social Media?

Kelly: The American Child Psychiatric Academy says “all these teens are on social media they stay on upwards of nine hours a day, not including networking.” which is a crazy amount of time 

I think as parents we have to get in there with them. We have to see what they're interacting with, we have to engage with it, we have to know it.

I like this comparison: you wouldn't drop your kid off at a movie that you didn't know what it was about,  with people you didn't know.  

By putting the phone in their hand you're enabling them access to lots of movies you don't know and a lot of people you don't know. I think getting in there and engaging as parents and as dance educators it's the only way that we are going to start to figure out how to work with our dancers to drive and to steer them in the right directions. 

Apolla: What are some of the precautions that you think dance educators, parents, and studio owners can take to protect students on their own social media channels? How can they safeguard against like child predators, trolls and cyberbullies, all those

people that show up?

Kelly: The gut reaction is make the account private.Then you have to remember that social media as a dance studio owner, as a dance professional, is such beautiful opportunity. It's that marketing channel that you need to connect with potential clients, you also need to connect with collaborators and teachers and the families in your studio. So when you make it private you would be sending this message that like you don't want people to see what you're doing which is not the right message to put out there. I think the number one thing that you can do to protect your students and your dancers on your own social media pages is to be vigilant. When you get new followers if you don't know who they are, right off the bat click on their name. If they're private and they're not showing you anything or if they have no photos or they have no followers I would DM them, “Hey are you new to the area,” you can use it as a marketing opportunity.

If it seems really creepy, you can just block them. This just goes back to branding you're not for everybody and not everybody's for you. That's okay, that's great, that's beautiful. 

What are some examples of social media behaviors that we may not be aware are negatively impacting our dancers, and our youth, that we need to pay attention to?

What’s acceptable, what's not acceptable, what are things that we may think are innocent that maybe aren't so innocent? 

Kelly:  I have to say the number one thing that makes me cringe when I see it posted, is when studio owners or teachers post personal information about someone else. If I see a birthday post on that dancer's birthday with their first name and last name telling me how old they are,

I've got their personal information. I love celebrating the dancers' birthdays but I think you should do it in a monthly post and put all their first names on there, and nobody's ages, and let's celebrate everybody at one time! Or put it in the newsletter that doesn't go on social media.

When you're posting dancers whereabouts, and what I mean by that is you are sharing live videos from class on a Tuesday because it's taught Tuesday and I can tell by where the sun is that it's probably around three o'clock and now I know that these four-year-olds are in class at this dance studio at this time and parents aren't allowed in and that just makes me super nervous as a parent and very uncomfortable as an educator. 

I think that goes for when you're going away to competition and you've got a picture of a competition team and you're tagging all these dancers and saying that they're not at home right now they're in this hotel with their parents, not at their houses, and I hate again you hate to think that anyone's sitting there looking at it like that but I always have that in the back of my mind. You have to think that way, once you put it out there it's out there.

The last one in in that category is when dancers are graduating they're going to school they're choosing a major, we don't need to give all that information out, you don't need to tell anybody where this 18 year old girl or boy is going to college to live by themselves for the first time and what building they're going to be going into all the time because they're studying X Y or Z. 

Should studio directors and educators be unfollowing people as an example for their students?

Kelly: This is a very complicated one, because social media does become personal, when it is a personal account that you also use as your professional account. A dance teacher who isn't a studio owner, I think that's a more complicated situation which gets into the whole should teachers follow their students, should students follow their teachers?

Should we mix personal activity with the business page? The short answer is no, because it is your business, but it is also your livelihood, and it is also your teachers' livelihoods. I do think it's much more complicated than that. I think you have to take a really clear look at what you're sharing and say, am I too far to one side or the other here, that I am going to turn people away? 

Having a private personal account definitely helps. I think you have to be really mindful of who you let follow you.

Apolla: The line between ethics and politics can be quite blurry on social media, and it's important to be aware of this distinction. People should be encouraged to express their beliefs and values in a responsible and ethical manner, while also being mindful of the potential political implications of their words and actions. The goal should be to foster open and respectful dialogue and avoid promoting hatred, intolerance, or discrimination. By doing so, we can help to create a positive and inclusive online environment for all.

Kelly: Knowing your values and serving your audience is key to successful social media strategy. Being clear and consistent in your message can help attract people who align with your values and mission, while avoiding conflict and confusion. Staying true to your principles and purpose will help you make informed decisions on what content to post and what to avoid.

Apolla: The safety and well-being of children should always be the top priority. This includes protecting them from inappropriate content on social media and also making sure that their personal information is not being shared without their or their parents' consent. As educators and caretakers, it's our duty to provide a safe and secure environment for children and ensure that they are not being exposed to any harm, both online and offline

Kelly: it's important for dance studios, teachers and anyone working with children to have a clear and comprehensive social media code of conduct in place. This helps to ensure that they are representing the studio and its values in a professional and ethical manner and protecting the children they work with. Having a clear set of guidelines helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them, especially in regards to how they present themselves on social media. Additionally, it is important to hold teachers and anyone representing the studio accountable for their actions on social media, as it reflects on the studio and the children they work with.

It's important for educators to maintain professional boundaries on social media and not blur the line between their personal and professional lives, especially when working with minors. Keeping separate professional accounts for communicating with students and sharing dance-related information is a good practice. Social media can have a significant impact on a child's perception of the world and it's crucial to be mindful of this while using social media.

Apolla: The educator should be mindful of what they post and ensure that it is not inappropriate or offensive, given that students of all ages have access to their content. Would it be appropriate for a dance educator to have a personal page that students can follow, but for the educator to avoid following the students back? 

Kelly: Is it reasonable to say that if you are a dance educator and you have a personal social media account that students may follow, it is important to be mindful of what you post? This includes avoiding inappropriate content and language, as you are allowing individuals of all ages to follow you. While you can still post pictures of personal interests such as your dog, bathroom renovation, hobbies, or food, it's crucial to consider the impact it may have on your career and your role in the students' lives.

Apolla: It is challenging for dancers, who are their own business, to navigate the use of social media, especially for dance educators who often travel to teach at different studios. Social media is crucial for promoting oneself, and dance educators may feel the need to use it to advance their careers. However, this requires balancing the promotion of their business with the need to filter their content to be appropriate for their audience. It is an unspoken responsibility to ensure that they don't post inappropriate or offensive material while still using social media to promote themselves.

Kelly: I would agree that filtering the content is important. Consider the purpose of your profile, whether it is to connect with dancers for career development and teaching purposes or to connect with friends from college, or a combination of both. However, if you are using it as a professional platform, it is crucial to focus on that specific goal.

Apolla: We are all about actionable items and education on the show; it's what we do so we like to give homework we like to give one thing that you want our our audience members the people that are going to watch this later one thing they can do now and work on now to make a small positive change in this realm in the next week. 

Kelly: One option is to go look at your followers and see if there's anyone in there who's suspicious or who you don't recognize, this might be a time consuming process if you have a lot of followers but I do think that it is one that's worthwhile I think that could be a really good use of time.

The second one; if you don't have both a social media consent form and a social media code of conduct or a contract for your dancers, I would suggest putting those in place! If you don't have those in place, it's hard to say what's okay and what's not .

Watch our full episode and interview here!


*Kelly McAuley is a fourth-generation dance professional, with a lineage that includes her mother, grandparents, great grandmother, and successful students, all of whom were successful studio owners. Her great uncle is the late Gene Kelly, so we have royalty in the house. Kelly has taught tap and jazz at Fenway Dance colleges since 2009. She is a graduate of Oklahoma City University and Boston University and has written professionally for over 15 years for clients including Dance Spirit, National Geographic Channel, JetBlue, Al Duncan, Adidas, and more. Today, Kelly combines her passions for communications and dance to help dance studio and company professionals with branding. 

Connect with Kelly;

@8countcontent on Instagram

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