Can dance reach young audiences?

I've seen the future of dance, and it's in the streets

Flash mob in the London Underground: What better tonic for a hassled urban commuter?
Flash mob in the London Underground: What better tonic for a hassled urban commuter?

Across the country, dance companies, ensembles and college dance departments share one common concern: How to reach younger audiences. They realize that in order for dance to survive, younger audiences are going to have to take ownership of it. After all, most of today's major dance supporters fell in love with the art form as children or teenagers.

But today fewer and fewer children, teens and young adults are being exposed to live dance. It seems as if they are being fed Rihanna, Justin Beiber and "Dancing With The Stars" for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Concert dance just doesn't appear on their entertainment menu. If they're not exposed to dance, who will carry the torch in the future?

To reach younger audiences for dance, I submit, artists and administrators must develop new promotional materials. In today's technology-based world, dance enjoys the unique opportunity to engage younger audiences in innovative and exciting ways that go beyond the traditional direct-mail piece. Here are my five suggestions:

1. Promotional reels

The professional dance community could learn a trick or two about promoting from the entertainment industry. The music and movie industries have no problem reaching younger audiences. When a new album or movie is ready for release, producers rely on state-of-the-art commercials and previews to push their products to the young masses. It's time we in the dance field started doing the same thing, featuring live-action movement, music, and personalities, instead of sending out direct-mail promotional brochures.

2. Social media posts

Young people relate to the world through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus, and more. It follows that every astute dance company, studio, organization or artist should have at least one active social media page, not to engage in blatant self-promotion— leave that to the website— but simply to post short social messages in a conversational tone.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Facebook page is an excellent example of how a short, conversational post can garner a lot of attention. A recent post about a coming Ailey II performance on MTV received more than 600 "likes" within its first six hours. The post simply read:

"Watch Ailey II perform in MTV's "'The Backstory,' an interactive series of dance videos that show how women can be trafficked into prostitution and immigrants into forced labor. What if someone you knew ended up in modern-day slavery? Ailey II recently joined forces with MTV for 'The Backstory,' an interactive series of dance videos that shows how women can be trafficked into prostitution and immigrants into forced labor."

Beneath the copy lies a silhouette image of a male and female dancer in a balanced pose. This Ailey II Facebook post demonstrates how a simple photo and short blurb can attract attention.

This post succeeded thanks to its short text, a colorful image, and an actual call to action. The post politely asks people to watch the coming Ailey television appearance. No one had to guess how to engage with the company. The post told the audience to engage by watching the show. Short. Sweet. Simple. The three "s's" go a long way in the world of social media.

3. Flash mobs

Flash mobs are a great way to pleasantly surprise people, raise awareness for a cause, and bring the community together in a positive way through dance. If more dance groups organized flash mobs in their own cities, they'd attract and retain younger audiences for their work. They may even invite this desired audience to participate in the flash mob.

Consider the NYC Dance Arts Flash Mob, which is (according to its website, "a group of people who meet together in a public place to perform a dance routine for a specific amount of time and disperse back into general population in the NYC area." Everyone from beginners to advanced dancers is invited to join these performances.

(For a sense of the infectious nature of a flash mob, check out this video of a flash mob that NYC Dance Arts assembled earlier this year at a Hilton Hotel in New Jersey for Virgin America Airlines.)

Or consider the new global flashmob: "Dance the Dream," scheduled for August 28th, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. For this event, local choreographers will organize flash mobs in cities around the world. These flash mobs will be streamed live on YouTube; some will be shown live on major electronic billboards.

4. Street teams

Where flash mobs rely on performance, street teams are more informative in nature: Young volunteers hit the streets en masse, talking with passersby. Their presence alone helps spread the message that young people do support dance. The street team promotional model has worked very well for radio stations. It's cost-effective. Why not try it?

5. Action-packed ads

Not many U.S. dance groups have the marketing budget needed to pay for a professional advertising firm. But anyone with a working knowledge of graphic design or photo editing software can create some beautiful, affecting advertisements on a relatively small budget. As a graphic designer/ choreographer/ producer I've learned that the key to "successful" advertisements is to use action shots of dancers, because younger audiences gravitate to action. What could be more exciting to a child or an adolescent than the sight of a dancer suspended in mid-air? Even Justin Beiber's posed pics can't compete with a dancer in action.

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