|Khalil Gibran wasn't ever a dancer... but apparently he knew all about trolls!|
Every profession has its pitfalls, and the world of dance is no different. But the arts and the entertainment industry -dance in particular-definitely has it’s own set of rules. There have always more performers than jobs, and it’s probably been that way since cave people built the very first prehistoric stage. Every community built around a certain profession has its stars… and it’s problems, but with dance, there are always critics ready to pounce, or an underling whose just waiting for their own personal All About Eve moment. In the world of dance, perhaps more than any other profession except maybe acting or modeling, there will always be someone stepping forward to judge you on everything from your technique to your looks. There are those who’ll delight in taking you down a few pegs…or taking your place. Unlike other artistic communities, where the naysaying and unwanted reviews often come from an outside source, for dancers,our worst critics are usually our peers, colleagues, students or a disgruntled friend.
The undermining, snide comments and offhand compliments are meant to sting, and outright hate can take many forms: face-to-face, behind your back, and more often for the past few years, online. Perhaps the online trolling and bullshit – yes, I said that- is probably the worst, because even though many social media sites have an anti-bullying policy and options for blocking “hate speech”, often it’s still pretty damn hard to get those ugly comments taken down.
Usually, when anyone- even a sister dancer- acts like this, it’s because they’re operating from a base of fear. Often they have self-esteem issues and feel bad about themselves…so they take it out on you, hoping to ease their own pain. These hate campaigns can be outright and overt or very subtle, but they still do the damage they’re intended to do!
And sometimes online, the people-or should I say subhumans masquerading as people- lurking can actually be dangerous and need to be reported.
Here are examples of a few of these bullies and their hurtful, trolling behaviors- and some tips on what to do about them if you’re the target.
We all know about the concept of frenemies- the dance pals who’re all tight with you… until the green-eyed monster of jealously strikes. They believe you’re getting the opportunities that they deserve, or you’re more getting more attention than they are. In reality, they could be envious of anything: an unintentional slight you made, that expensive costume that looks great on you, or maybe you got an audition they wanted. It could even something you have no control over whatsoever- like the fact that your spouse or partner is supportive of your dance career and theirs isn’t. No matter what the reason, suddenly they turn on you.
Society has conditioned us all to be nice and not to make waves…so frenemies try to “kill you with kindness”, meaning they’ll use an indirect-and seemingly innocent- way of ruining your self worth. Don’t be fooled: this is straight up passive/aggressive behavior. If someone says something to you that seems patronizing, makes you feel inferior about anything, or just doesn’t sit right, you’re dealing with a frenemy. The comment could possibly be unintentional, so let the first time slide. But if this behavior continues, it’ll only escalate. Trust your gut instinct: if your stomach knots up when someone says something- even if they wonder why you’re making “a big deal about it”, you have a few choices:
Let it roll off: for whatever reason, your very existence is alarming to your frenemy. You make her feel small and unimportant. Look at your frenemy with empathy and compassion, and just let the comment go. Take the high road and be the bigger person!
Detach and refuse to engage: She’s throwin’ some shade out like a fishing line, hoping you’ll bite- so don’t join in and try to one-up her, cause that’ll only spread more toxic vibes. Your reputation is waaay more important than getting back at someone, whether you're a professional performer, an instructor, or just in the same dance class.
Try speaking with the frenemy privately: Again, be as compassionate as possible, but don’t be a damn doormat. Be open, honest and don’t blame, cause that will put your frenemy on the defensive. Use “I” language, such as “I felt hurt” or “I have been wondering why…” At best, this will open up a dialogue, and it can also be healing. But you might have to…
Disengage: If any of the tactics above didn’t work, you may ultimately have to cut this person out of your life, or at least be around them as little as you possibly can. You don’t need someone that negative around you… especially if they’re making you feel like crap about something you love- dancing!
But make sure to say it silently, inside your own head…and don’t ever even consider diminishing your own success- or even ceasing to lightly brag about your accomplishments! You worked damn hard for what you’ve got- celebrate what you’ve achieved. If your frenemy put as much effort into her dance practice as she did with trying to make you feel insignificant, she’d be probably celebrating, too.
Underminers have many faces, and they’ll use similar tactics as frenemies, but the difference is, often the people who are undermining you are also in a position to help you, so you need to be very savvy about the way you treat them!
A professional underminer can be an instructor, a show or event producer, or even a dancer you don’t know very well, who is a bit “above” you career-wise. These underminers are often well-respected dance community members, but again, for some reason (like your frenemy peers) they feel threatened by you. The reasons are many- and often crazy. Could be that they’re feeling their age and are jealous of your youth -and the entire lifetime of opportunities you have in front of you. Perhaps they’re offended by something non-dance oriented, something that’s ridiculous and commonplace… like the blue streaks in your hair or your tattoos. More likely, your talent, technique and skills- intimidate them and they see you as an “upstart”. In order to put you in your place, an underminer will make damaging remarks to you or to people your know, verbally or in print on the internet, that could potentially tarnish your reputation- or interfere with your entire career!
The underminer M.O is a bit different than the tactics a frenemy uses. Sometimes they’ll make catty comments to you, with no constructive value whatsoever. But even worse, under the guise of “professionalism”, an underminer will be nice- and often extremely flattering- to your face, but will gossip to others about you behind your back OR show their dissatisfaction by denying you opportunities.
There are two basic ways to deal with underminers. They’ll both involve eating a little crow, but once you know that you’re making a wise career decision, you’ll be able to swallow that crow up and ask for seconds!
The first tactic is to have a private conversation, exactly the same way I suggested for frenemies. Do this in person or write a heartfelt email- or even a handwritten note- and begin that note with a few sincere sentences bout how much you respect the underminer, and admire their accomplishments. Only then can you bring up the fact that you’re wondering what you did to upset them.
The second idea- and the one that’s usually way more effective- is to seek that person out, look them straight in the eye, and ask for their advice. Even if you don’t want or need it, think up something- anything- to ask them about. Psychologically, this immediately puts the underminer in a position of authority, which is exactly what they need to feel good about them, especially where you are concerned. It also implies that you respect them and hold their opinion in high esteem, which’ll give them oodles of warm fuzzies towards you. Everyone wants to feel needed and admired! It’ll even make some underminers feel protective over you. At the very worst, they’ll feel all puffed up and proud, and might back off a little. And at best, who knows? Maybe you’ll actually become friends, or get a for-reals mentor.
RANDOM INTERNET TROLLS
These days, with social media rockin’ everyone’s world 24/7, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter an Internet troll… they’re all over the place! These are the killjoys-often total strangers- who post negative comments on Facebook or Twitter feed, or write stupid, mean stuff (usually misspelled!) on your YouTube channel. If it’s only a comment or two, just delete it… that person is probably sitting in their office cubicle at a boring job – or in their mom’s basement- feeling small and insignificant and gets their jollies by posting crap about people who are actually having fun and being productive.
But if the comments continue and/or grow aggressive, block and report that person! And do not in any way, shape or form take to heart anything that idiot said, OK?
OVER-ZEALOUS, NEEDY FANS
These are people that you don’t know at all, or maybe you barely know them- but they simply adore you. In fact, they’re probably living through you! These are true fans, and often about as nerdy as it gets. They’ll post effusive, positive comments on your social media sites, and if you see them in real life, they’ll often talk your ear off, sometimes even bring you a little gift or flowers. These people are truly well-meaning- they really are true fans- but they can also get to be a little much.
Be nice to these people if you see them - do say hi at shows, but keep a little distance. Chat for a moment but excuse yourself quickly- tell them you need to get backstage and get ready, or pack up your stuff. On the internet, you can occasionally “like” their comments or type a brief answer back, but don’t do it too often, or they’ll barrage you with comments non-stop.
Notice I used the word “needy”, and not obsessive. If someone is obsessed with you, the situation can quickly turn dangerous, which leads us to…
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with a stalker; I speak from my own experience- stalkers can be really scary, and many of them are also potentially violent. Several dancers have had a stalker at some point in their lives- I know one person whose had a stalker for over twenty years. He’s really annoying but relatively harmless; however, her situation is probably an anomaly. Stalkers can be male or female… but if they’re crazy, and prone to violence, the stalker’s sex doesn’t really matter that much- anyone can own a gun!
Do not mess around with a stalker; do not engage in any way, shape or form, even if it’s an ex of yours. Go directly to the authorities; make a police report, and get a restraining order. Once you have one, make copies and always keep a copy with you. Keep a log of any incidents with the date, place and time, and also note if there were any witnesses.
Make sure you are accompanied at all times, change the locks on your doors if you need to and secure your house. Vary the patterns of your day-to-day routine. Change your phone number if you need to, and use a Google Voice number or something similar on your business cards and promotional material.
Of course, we all know it’s not smart to post the address of your residence on the Internet or anywhere public; but we dancers often post the addresses of our studios, or the places we perform… and that are where your stalker will be waiting! Make sure you leave these places with a large group always- and with a male accompanying you whenever possible. If you sense-or know- that someone is following you on foot or by car do not go home! If you’re driving, go directly to a police station; if you’re walking, hotfoot it to a well lit, public place as fast as you can, and in either situation, dial 911, or whatever the emergency code is in your country.
I know the past few paragraphs about stalkers are somewhat unnerving…in fact, it makes your frenemies look like angels! But no matter what-or who- you’re dealing with, the whole point is to keep yourself as physically, mentally and emotionally protected as possible… so you can concentrate on doing what you love, to the best of your ability.
I’d LOVE to connect with you!