If Taylor Swift Says Dance Is Cool, Dance Is Cool

Taylor Swift Ballerina?
Swift: pop superstar…and ballerina?

It was a normal day at the Ballet for me that started like any other. I got my coffee, opened my computer and before doing anything else immediately checked on the most recent news about Taylor Swift. You know, just a standard Tuesday — I am sure many of you do the same thing. Much to my glee and surprise, I saw that she released a new music video. Let the heavens be praised! After I took a moment to calm myself down from such momentous news, I noticed something and gasped. I was shocked to see that Swift, in the thumbnail of her video, was dressed as a ballerina. Taylor Swift? What dark magic is this? I immediately started watching “Shake It Off” and one overriding thought came to mind. Well, two thoughts, to be exact, but this article isn’t about how bad Swift is at ballet (although she is trying). It’s about how dance has officially been enveloped into the fabric of American pop culture.

Do we solely have Swift to thank for this? Most assuredly not. Even with all of her star power, Swift alone could not part the pop culture seas to allow dance to pass. Several factors have created a new love for dance among younger audiences, and have perfectly poised it to cater to the Millennial generation and those coming behind them.

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One factor is the onslaught of reality dance competition TV shows. Regardless of what anyone may personally think of these shows, they’re a very big deal. Dancing with the Stars first aired on ABC in 2005, and although it has never won an Emmy, it is currently in its 19th season — think about that — and has spawned a slew of other dance reality shows. DWTS has delivered dance into the homes of Americans, feeding off one of the things Americans love most: competition. Dance had been almost completely off mainstream TV since the days of Fred Astaire or Arthur Murray:

With DWTS, all of a sudden families were once again crowding the living room to watch their favorite stars “dance.”

Another factor that pushed dance, especially ballet, into the mainstream was the 2010 release of the movie Black Swan. This is one of the most critically acclaimed ballet movies in history — and it was received so well by the general public that it has grossed an estimated $329 million worldwide. What I loved most about Black Swan is that it attempted to tear down the general perception that everything in the ballet world is beautiful and graceful and thus alienated from the world that the rest of us call life. The best example of this is watching a ballet from the wings of a theater. When dancers come off stage, they carry their posture and poise past the edge of the curtain where, because they’re free from the audience’s eyes, they completely transform: shoulders drop, any pain they feel is now plain on their face. And if there were mistake, there are curse words. Ballerinas curse! Can you believe it?

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Natalie Portman as the Black Swan
Natalie Portman as the Black Swan

Black Swan showed the world that ballet dancers are just like anyone else — flying in the face of hundreds of years of tradition. While this inclusive mindset may not have worked for 17th century France, it is perfect for the Millennial generation.

By far, though, social media has had the most impact on dance. It is particularly suited for it — more than any of the performing arts. I may click on one, two videos a day on social media; perhaps I’ll also listen to a song. But I can easily see more than a hundred dance photos in a day.

Dance and photography are two incredible forms of art that combine together. It salutes the superhuman strength of the dancer — their ability to hold a kick or a leap for eternity. I remember being shocked by my first photo shoot with a dancer — how short a time they actually hold these poses. Yet less than a second is all you need to become eternal. Photographers have worked with dancers since the invention of the camera. Now there is a way to get those photos to the masses in a cheap and profoundly effective way.

Now it’s up to dance companies to take advantage of all this newfound popularity, to capitalize on it with the best marketing one can afford. After all, we can’t let Taylor Swift take all the credit.

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Shane Jewell
Shane Jewell is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma City Ballet. Previous to this, he was the Executive Director for the OK MOZART International Music Festival. Before his time at OK Mozart, Jewell worked at Celebrity Attractions in Tulsa presenting National Touring Broadway shows to 8 markets in the Midwest. During his tenure there he handled several roles such as: Company Manager, Technical Director and Advertising Director. He also was the Company Manager and Stage Manager for the national touring musical, The Rock & The Rabbi. Jewell currently serves on the Education and Programming Committee for Oklahoma Contemporary and is a member of the Oklahoma Presenters Network.