Ballet Moods, the immensely popular, anonymous Instagram account, posted its first picture on Dec. 27, 2015. The inaugural photo (or “mood,” as they’re known) features a male dancer lying limp on a rehearsal floor, his body surrounded by white, blocky text spelling out the phrase: “When the teacher says do your own stretch.” And with that, a meme account — imbued with a deep sense of irony and clearly voiced by a ballet-world insider — was born.
The content that has since populated the page at a steady clip maintains this mix of relatable resignation and industry humor. But what sets Ballet Moods, which now claims 48,000 followers, apart from the slew of ballet and dance meme accounts is how its output does not satirize in order to tear others down or to gain a quick audience.
Rather, Ballet Moods uses its humor to build community through recognition and to provide subtle (and much-needed) commentary on the complicated relationship between ballet and Instagram.
We corresponded via email with the creator of Ballet Moods, who wishes to remain anonymous, about the impetus behind launching the account, the good and the bad of ballet’s unique relationship to Instagram and what they wish to see for the art form going forward.
Why did you decide to create Ballet Moods and how do you stay inspired?
A co-worker of mine walked by me one day and said in a very expressive and tired voice, “I DON’T WANNA DO IT!” right before the second act of a show. After they said it, we joked about some sort of app that had different expressions that just explain your ballet mood, and then we kind of both came across the idea of making a meme page. We thought what would set it apart is that it’s from the perspective of actual professional dancers, and we could all have a place to go to decompress and laugh at our lives a bit.
I stay inspired just by observing not only my circumstances, but others’. Also the love I have for this art form as a whole is really what drives the page. I know it doesn’t seem like that at times, but the reason I’m able to pick up on so much is because I love it to death.
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How did the account take off? Were you surprised by its success?
It took off because the memes were relatable and because there was nothing like it at the time. There were plenty of meme pages, but one dedicated strictly to how hilarious and frustrating ballet can be just made sense.
I wasn’t really surprised with how it took off, but I really enjoyed watching it grow and seeing how people reacted to it. It was doing exactly what I wanted it to do.
What response or feedback have you noticed from the ballet community or contemporaries?
Dance Magazine writing two little blurbs on us was really interesting — especially because they were trying to get me to identify myself.
The response is so great. I remember early on seeing people from Paris Opera Ballet commenting, and I thought, “Oh, this is really reaching people.” Also to see people like Maria Kochetkova, Lauren Cuthbertson and Marianela Núñez commenting and engaging is really awesome.
When I’m around friends, and they realize I run the page, the response is always really fun.
Your posts use humor to address a number of issues, from ballet world news to partnering dynamics and company culture. How do you approach social commentary?
I try to approach everything with honesty and sincerity. People relate to things that are real. If I see something that bothers me politically or socially I use humor and Ballet Moods to say what I feel.
As far as ballet world issues, it’s the same approach. There is a lot of sugar-coating and pandering that goes on, and sometimes I just like to offset that.
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Just want to take a moment to appreciate this Queen @alexandra_waterbury (who approved this post) who spoke out this week against the abuse she experienced in the ballet world. I realize this is a tough subject for many but I feel it’s important to make victims feel supported. We support you and we support everyone who is taking steps to change the toxic culture that at times plagues our wonderful art form. OKURRRT #balletmoods #metoo #thefutureisfemale #timesup #standwithwaterbury
Can you talk a little bit about Instagram culture and ballet?
That’s a loaded subject. Some of it is so bad — just an oversaturation of people doing steps out of context to make themselves look better than they actually are. Then there are the people that genuinely let you in on their fabulous life, and it’s really inspiring. You can learn a lot by just observing how other successful people do things. It’s important to know the difference between the people putting up facades and the people who are true examples.
I also want ballet companies to be more lenient with what we can post from performance so we can show ourselves in our element more.
You’ve hinted, in posts, at the pressure from companies on dancers to use social media for promotional purposes. How have you felt the responsibility of the dancer shift in this regard?
We basically become more part of the process and become ambassadors. This is great because the product is the dancers. They are the most interesting to watch and hear from, so having us involved is important.
How has social media changed the conversation around ballet? Have you noticed awareness of ballet grow or shift?
I’ve definitely noticed awareness grow. It’s great. I feel like ballet is really popular right now.
With that though, you get the “experts” in the comments talking crazy. That’s always funny and entertaining and ultimately good for the art, because it means people are interested and forming their own opinions because they care.
I think the overall interest and respect for ballet is growing and exciting to see.
On a related note, in an ideal world, what positive changes would you like to see happen in ballet (whether through the social sphere or professionally) as a result of social media?
In all seriousness, I think a lot of positivity surrounds dance for the most part. I think everyone’s ability to make it fun in different ways on social media is special. Dancers are truly special — even the ones whose profiles I find annoying. I don’t like a lot of the gimmicky profiles, but, at the end of the day, they are serving a positive purpose for someone out there. I really wouldn’t change much; you need the bad to be able to appreciate the good.
Outside of social media, what are your hopes for ballet going forward?
I would like to see more female choreographers, more choreographers and dancers of color, less stereotypical story lines in world premieres. I’d like to see more use of multi-media and different types of music in ballets. Finally, I want to see dancers make more money across the board everywhere.