YouTube is incredibly democratic in the sense that it offers all users equal opportunities to be seen, heard, and become viral sensations. Mirror to the communities that have formed in our society lives, naturally, certain virtual groups have also emerged in the YouTube community. I would like to examine the dance community on YouTube, focusing on hip hop. This interest spurs from my dance roots and the correlations between the YouTube dance community and the non-virtual dance community in all respects – from choreography to the relationships it has fostered.
Some YouTube statistics to put its prominence into perspective: its viewership “nearly double the prime-time audience of all 3 major U.S. broadcast networks combined” and there are 24 hours of video being uploaded every minute. Today, the world is crawling with users. It is not surprising that it has been incorporated into our lives beyond purely entertainment purposes, as with hip hop dancers.
While I personally have never uploaded by own dance videos (although I have team videos), many dancers have utilized YouTube as a tool in broadcasting their dance endeavors. I began my explorations of this phenomenon with the notion that there would be unified perceptions of what is considered the YouTube dance community and its effect on the dance world. That generally, it inspires, is a platform for exchange, expands a dancer’s vocabulary, is a supplement to one’s resume, fosters a supporting community, has made dance and dancers more visible, and connects dancers virtually (leading to face-to-face interaction) on a global level. While my qualitative survey elicited responses I expected and ones I did not; dancers expressed their nuanced feelings towards YouTube and its impact on dance beyond my initial observations and thoughts as a dancer who frequently visits YouTube for dance-related content.
Some of the most involved dancers I questioned were surprisingly also some of the least involved with the dance community within YouTube. I have not yet organized the responses in an orderly manner or make distinctive generalizations on usage patterns. But here are the bulk of the interview results:
- Shoey is one of the artistic directors of Epic Motion Dance Company who has experience in just about every style, but has found her niche in hip hop, does not engage in YouTube dance beyond watching posted videos. She has “a YouTube account that is used to favorite videos [she] finds inspirational but never to upload [her] own videos.” This is the main purpose of her activities on YouTube because to her, “watching the classes these choreographers teach” encourages her “to go out and meet them and take classes from them. It’s always nice to see a sample of someone’s work…” Additionally, she would rather take an actual class not only for the choreography, but for “what the teacher can offer you IN that class…”
- Alan agrees. He teaches breaking classes at New York City’s local studio, PMT and considers himself a freestyler and choreography dancer within the realm of hip hop, there are 3 general categories or “types” of dancers: industry (professional choreography), competing (choreography), and freestyle (bboys, wacking, vogueing etc.). Although these boundaries are often blurred and elements of one can, and often are, incorporated into another. While he uses YouTube for passion and inspiration, relies more on actual classes and sessions to improve. Alan watches videos to increase the breadth of knowledge he has on styles he specializes in because they give him “the opportunity to see internationally renowned names in [his] style.” However, YouTube plays a large role in his auditions as he is always asked for his channel during auditions.
- Ben claims YouTube has not attributed much to his own style or perceptions of dance, rather what you do on the dance floor is what determines the quality of your dance at the end of the day. It has been a great professional tool in the sense that YouTube videos have given him opportunities to teach classes outside of NYC. “YouTube provides some exposure to people who would otherwise not see your class. It’s a good tool to help generate awareness and to put yourself out there and make yourself marketable.”
- The same goes for Ruben, a bboy, who only focuses on dancers and dance in only his style. He and all the other dancers interviewed agree that the media’s portrayal of dancers is unrealistic and relies on tricks and theatrics. Ruben says that “bboying is a freestyle dance where the beat is everything,” something often underplayed in mainstream media but is offered through YouTube. “To really understand bboying culture you have to experience it in its rawest form like at a jam in a cypher where you have to participate.”
- Shoey, Alan, Ben, and Ruben, generally more experienced dancers in hip hop agree that YouTube is not an answer, but rather a tool for self-promotion or a place to seek inspiration. They believe that although YouTube is advantageous for dancers in the sense that it gathers information, it also contributes to and points out the lack of creativity in the dance community. More people are just copying moves without knowing the history or meaning behind them. A deficiency in YouTube is that successful choreography seen is often recycled and reused. This fuels dancers to be more creative, and as Jennifer puts it, more competitive.
- Justin, a director of Hiptop Dance Company and has had 4 years of experience in hip hop relies heavily on YouTube for his dance endeavors. He finds new music through YouTube, takes YouTube classes, and often contacts dancers he find on the site.
- Jennifer like Justin, watches styles across the gamut including tutting and breaking, which she does not participate in. She thinks that YouTube is exposing styles such as freestyle but highlights that “many of these dances are also interpreted in different ways by different choreographers that sometimes takes the dance away.”
- Justin, Shoey, Alan, and Ben agree that YouTube encourages dancers to see dance differently, leading to self and team improvement in the sense that it allows you to see things you would not of had. Justin, Shoey, Alan, and Ben all have YouTube footage of their teams posted and use them for self-critique. Cinematography and the use of angles captured also helps Shoey notice things in the piece that may not gone unnoticed otherwise.
I am still awaiting feedback from a couple of people – ones who are heavier users in the community.