NYCB Wants To Monitor Its Dancers’ Social Media Posts

The dance twittersphere is currently aflutter over this Wall Street Journal article. It seems to have started with some tweets by NYCB corps dancer, Devin Alberda, gently poking fun at NYCB benefactor David Koch, at A.D. Peter Martins’ recent drunk driving arrest, and mock-criticizing one of the yellow-face characters in Martins’ Magic Flute for its racial connotations. I’ve seen some of Alberda’s blog and twitter posts and have often found him to be clever and funny but have also sometimes wondered, hmmm, is that going too far? Actually, I’ve seen blog posts (other than Alberda’s) and thought, wow, I wonder what such and such artistic director would think if he saw that. But then I don’t think any less of the company, maybe just the dancer. And since I don’t want to know more, I don’t return to that blog. So, really, no harm done there.

Anyway, NYCB is now in negotiations with the dancers’ union to attain the ability to monitor the dancers’ tweets and Facebook and other social media posts. If the union gives them the right to do so, according to the article, they’ll be one of the first performing arts organizations to have that power.

It’s an interesting issue because, on one hand, it’s never smart to publicly criticize your boss of course, but what about when arguing that a certain stereotype in a certain ballet carries racist connotations is tantamount to such a criticism? In part, it’s a free speech issue, which somehow makes the issue seem especially problematic for an arts organization. I mean, in interviews artists will sometimes speak openly about something deemed offensive in a piece they perform (opera, a play, a ballet, etc.), though usually not as snidely as Alberda. But some on Twitter are also saying companies have the right to control their “brand”  and many companies do such monitoring.

Others are saying Twitter and blogs are good for ballet because it’s such a rarefied, insular art form, it can only help for the public to have greater access to dancers’ daily lives via these popular platforms. But if the blogs and tweets are monitored, then it seems like they’re controlled, and not authentic. I’ve read dancer blogs before where it’s obvious a dancer is just a PR spokesperson for the company, and I don’t take them seriously at all. I usually read once or twice then never return. And it also makes me think the company’s using the dancer. So, maybe, if the posts are going to be heavily monitored, it would have the same effect on the public as not allowing them at all.

And what about dancers attacking critics? And what about the whole system of patronage, which ballet largely operates under? What if a dancer says something that has the potential to anger a patron?

Very complicated issue. Any thoughts? It’s a good article.


  1. Tonya,

    Frankly, I don’t know where to begin. First, there is the problem that N.Y.C.B. management, when faced with a legitimate complaint of racism, responded not unlike the Romanovs of Imperial Russia. With high handed threats. But, look at who is paying their salary.

    Then there is the issue of the New York State Theatre being “bought” essentially, and renamed after the most virulently anti-union, and anti worker’s rights big bigness poo-bah in the country, David Koch. He and his brother are alledgedly the driving force behind the Tea Party movement, a movement, by the way, that wants to take your reproductive rights away, Tonya. According to more than one news source, These two brothers are major contributors to almost every republican polititian, like the governor in Michigan that wants to be able to declare a town govt. null and void and put a corporate “director” in charge, at whim. Not to mention strip every worker’s advance in rights away that we have fought for in the past 70 years.

    I myself, was part of that struggle when I marched in solidarity with the pro A.B.T. dancers in 1980, when they were on strike. A friend of mine I danced with in Europe quite her soloist job at the Harkness Ballet in New York when she found out she made no more than a dishwasher at a restaurant.

    I know that all arts organizations need money, but dayemmm!

    Maybe it’s time to take a real look at who we’re in bed with financially, at these big arts organizations, and try for some real balance. Where are all the big time democratic donors? Aren’t there any left?

    Cheers, (I need a drink after reading that article!)

  2. Sorry, it’s “Big Business”, not big bigness, or is it? And, “allegedly”. I really should edit when I get on my soapbox!

  3. I’m just wondering if this is the best way for NYCB to address this problem. Monitoring their employees’ Twitter accounts just seems so big brother. Why not just ask the employees to put the disclaimer on their profile “views are not that of my employer.” I think Devin Alberda is brave for tweeting what he does. Sometimes it may come off as mean-spirited, but I haven’t seen him mis-represent anything. Dancers are smart people…why shouldn’t they be able to share their opinions? Also, I don’t like the effect this will have on other dancers who tweet in the company. I’m thinking of Ashley Bouder and Kathryn Morgan. Sometimes their tweets give you a great inside look at NYCB…that can’t be bad publicity for the company?!

  4. It’s free speech and frankly it makes me mad that any organization that tries to control it, is way to big brother and needs to be put into its place. It’d be one thing if the comments being made by members were slander or libel but they’re not.

    However, and this is were Gilbert Gottfried has a case… He was recently fired from Afflack (he’s the duck) because of his comments about the disaster in Japan. His comments were horrible and I think he should have been at very list disciplined, but is it right? Does he have the right to say those comments? In a sense Yes.

  5. Jeffrey Orling RA

    When Koch first bought the theater and they named it after him I wrote a rather scathing criticism of it including the Gala where Martins toasted Koch. I pointed out what a right winger Koch was and probably homophobic as well.

    You don’t mix politics with the arts and especially funding… and that post raised quite a ruckus and many suprizingly were not thrilled at the Koch NYCB ballet deal. I have boycotted NYCB since and will not step foot in their house nor support them in any manner.

    Everything IS political and Martins is a sell out.. or whomever was involved in that deal.

    But arts funding is really creepy and ABT is not without their own skeletons.

    • I was at the Gala. My friend and I did not know much about him at that time, but were not thrilled after we found out more about him later. The following are more information on the theater and him:

      The theater is owned by the City of New York and managed by the City Center of Music and Drama, Inc.

      He is a Vice Charman of the American Ballet Theatre Board of Governing Bodies.

      • Jeffrey Orling RA


        I may be not attending ABT either. Or perhaps the approach to to begin a protest and wake up the ballet world the the fascist in their house.

        Everything is political and the Kochs are a pair I don’t want in the arts.

        Thanks for the tip off.

  6. You know, something just occured to me during this disuccsion. The public face of the republican party is one of disdain for the media and specifically the performing arts.

    But privately, it seems they go out of their way to be the major donors and supporters of American art. So my question is, what is their agenda, exactly? Publicly the arts are derided, with calls to cut any and all govt. funding. But privately, it seems they are the very same people who are the biggest supporters of these very same organizations they say they hate so much.

    So, what gives? One idea I have is this is a pretty brilliant way to control the cultural conversation here in America without anyone really knowing what they’re up to.

    No, or very few black dancers, and absolutely NO on gay ballets, for heavan’s sake! And that’s also a big NO on women directors of major companies, or any Americans themselves ( with maybe one or two exceptions) running the show. They might not tow the company line, ya know!

    Anybody have any thoughts on this?

    • Jeffrey Orling RA

      YES they want to privatize, own and control art and exert editorial power over content. You betcha.

      The entire arts funding model is a disaster.

      The way it SHOULD work is that these high net worth individuals and corporate donors should pass their donations to a public arts foundation made up of arts managers from the arts community and THEY pass out the funds as THEY see fit. No private donations accepted directly. No theaters named, no rooms named, no plazas named no chairs named and so forth.

      Money as control ruins everything. Please get it out of the arts.

  7. Tonya, you’re strangely silent on this issue. What gives?

  8. David Koch’s largesse earned him an honorary award at last year’s ABT Gala. Michelle Obama was rumored to have snubbed Koch by her absence, which, if true, she had every right to do. (Tonya, I believe you wrote about this.) Last December’s Nutcracker at BAM may not have happened without Koch’s matching grants. ABT’s recovery from near financial collapse was in no small part a function of Koch’s generosity.

    While I would have preferred retaining the name, New York State Theater, I marvel at the great look of the Koch Theater, especially the plush seating.

    I am not a conservative, nor am I an apologist for a man whose politics seem mis-guided at the least. But I appreciate the example of someone who supports the arts, regardless of the “strings-attached”. The only way that ballet soloists will make more than dishwashers is if there are more individuals willing to make sustained substantial contributions to the arts. I am one of them in my much smaller way.

  9. Steven, you got it backwards.

    The last time soloists in major companies made as much as a dishwasher was in the mid to late seventies, ironically during the dance “boom” in America. I knew a soloist who danced for the Harkness Ballet who left for Europe when she found out indeed, she made as much as the average dishwasher working in N.Y.C.

    That situation changed, because dancers got fed up, organized, unionized, then went out on strike for fair and equitable pay. Not because of the largesse of the donors, who had just as much money then, if not more, than they do now.

    David Koch has made it clear that he is for abolishing every worker’s right that has been hard fought for over the past seventy years. And that includes the dancers who work so hard at the major companies in New York City. If he has his way, dancers, except for a few international stars, will go back to working for dishwasher salaries in the near future.

    I also find it interesting that our best choreographers are leaving for Europe, because they find the conservative atmosphere here in America stifling. Does that “strings attached” bother anyone now?

    But hey, enjoy your plush seating. I’m sure it’s fabulous!

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