Imagine posting on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and getting thousands of “likes” and dozens of comments—in minutes. For Sophia Lucia, Hayden Hopkins, Mia Diaz and Ashi Ross, that’s what using social media is like every day. These four dancers have become internet sensations, thanks to their exceptional technique, winning personalities and eagerness to interact with their fans online. But is being “internet famous” really all it’s cracked up to be? Dance Spirit spoke to Sophia, Hayden, Mia and Ashi to get the scoop.
The biggest benefit to online fame is definitely visibility. Having a devoted fan base and lots of easily accessible photos and videos online can lead to an array of opportunities, including professional jobs.
“People can Google my name and learn all about me,” says 12-year-old Mia, a Miami native who trains at Stars Dance Studio. At press time, Mia had more than 312,200 followers on Instagram, 29,900 followers on Twitter and 6,400 Facebook fans. “I’ve gotten job opportunities when people found me online and emailed to see if I was available—film and TV auditions, assisting jobs with choreographers, appearances at charity events.”
Similarly, 11-year-old Sophia got the opportunity to perform on “So You Think You Can Dance Ukraine” after being spotted on YouTube. An alum of “Dance Moms” who trains primarily at San Diego Dance Centre, Sophia also uses her social media following—more than 433,800 Instagram followers, 54,800 Twitter followers and 58,900 Facebook fans—as a platform to promote her touring appearances and her California Kisses clothing line.
For 14-year-old Ashi, an Australian who has appeared in professional productions of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, on the TV show “Dance Academy” and as a backup dancer on “Australia’s Got Talent,” social media fame has led to photo shoot opportunities, a Details Dancewear Australia sponsorship and an offer to attend International Ballet of Houston on scholarship next summer. Ashi currently has more than 148,600 followers on Instagram, 2,300 followers on Twitter and 6,100 Facebook fans.
Social media is also a great place to network with fellow dancers. Sixteen-year-old Hayden learned the power of her network firsthand when she won Dance Spirit’s annual Cover Model Search in 2013 after using social media to get the word out about the competition. But beyond her CMS win and the other perks from her online fame—including dancewear sponsorships and teaching and travel opportunities—Hayden genuinely enjoys using social media as a social outlet. “I love that social media has allowed me to meet so many other dancers,” says Hayden, who has more than 99,600 Instagram followers, 8,600 Twitter followers and 11,900 Facebook fans. “People will come up to me at conventions and introduce themselves, which is really cool.”
If the upside to putting yourself out there online is increased visibility, the downside is…increased visibility. Sharing pictures, videos and thoughts with thousands of people inevitably leads to a few negative responses. “People can be cruel,” Hayden acknowledges. “They’ll write things they’d never say to my face—comments about my body, about my costumes and about me.” How does she deal? “I try not to let it mean anything. Those people don’t actually know me.”
“Kids can hide behind a computer screen and bully others, and it makes me sad,” Sophia says. “When people do that on my photos, it hurts, and it makes my family hurt, too. I tell myself, Haters are gonna hate, and you have to deal with it—but I also want to prevent more bullying from happening.” To do her part, Sophia has started using her social media accounts to speak out against cyber-bullying.
“When you’re in the public eye, you have to have a thick skin,” Mia says. “If there are rude comments on my pages, I delete them. I’d rather focus on the positive than on the negative.” Ashi agrees: “Sometimes people are mean and critical, but if I see a bad comment, I just delete it. If someone continuously writes rude things, I block him or her. What keeps me inspired and motivated is that I have so many followers who are supportive.”
The Bottom Line
It may be fun to be an internet celebrity, but it also takes work. Hayden, Sophia, Ashi and Mia all share new photos, videos and written posts at least once a day, every day. They do their social media postings themselves, or with a little help from their moms—especially Sophia and Mia, who, because they’re under 13, are required by the social networks to have parent-supervised accounts.
They have to consider what fans want to see and be thoughtful about how much of their private lives they share. “Some pictures don’t make the cut to go online,” Mia says. “You have to be careful about what you post because you don’t know who’s out there looking at it.” Sophia is vigilant about not sharing pictures with bad technique—“If my foot isn’t pointed, someone will comment on it,” she says—while Hayden tries not to post pictures where she looks too thin, also to avoid negative feedback.
What gets the most “likes”? Dance pictures and videos are at the top of the list, but fans also want to see life outside the studio. “I share a lot of things going on in my life,” Sophia says. “Pictures of my family, my dogs, me hanging out with my friends—I’m a normal girl, and people like to see that.”
Interacting with fans is a big part of the job. Mia, Sophia, Hayden and Ashi take the time to reply to comments and share fan-made videos and images with the rest of their followers. They run contests, too. “I’ve done contests on Instagram to give away California Kisses outfits and autographed pictures,” Sophia says. “For my birthday, we asked fans to make an edit of me, and I picked my favorite to win a prize.” And, of course, there are the face-to-face interactions, from meeting followers casually at dance conventions (or while out shopping, which has happened to Ashi) to running workshops, appearing at events and video-chatting with fans.
In the end, Sophia, Hayden, Mia and Ashi aren’t on social media to be famous—they’re on it because they enjoy it. “I love seeing other dancers’ pictures and sharing my own,” Hayden says.
Sophia agrees: “It’s fun to interact with my fans and my friends online, and it’s great to have a way both to give back—like trying to stop cyber-bullying—and to inspire other dancers to go for what they want in life,” she says. Mia also sees social media as a way to reach out: “I want to be known as a positive role model,” she says.
“I never thought I’d get as many followers as I have now,” Ashi says. “I’m really grateful for everyone who follows me.”
FROM SELFIE TO SUPERSTAR
No one starts out with 100,000 social media followers—and very few people make it that far. So how did these four dancers become online sensations? While dedicated posting and quality content are important, it also takes a little luck to stand out from the crowd.
“I started my Instagram when I was 14,” Hayden says. “At the time, I already had dance videos on YouTube and had maxed out my friends on Facebook, so Instagram was another way for people to follow me.” She did a lot of in-person networking at conventions that year, meeting as many other dancers as she could. “I won a couple Nationals and started putting dance pictures online. I gained followers pretty quickly!”
Ashi’s turning point came when she reached 10,000 followers. That was when Instagram started featuring her on its “Popular” page, putting her in front of even more avid dance fans. Her numbers went through the roof, bringing her to almost 140,000 followers for her year-old account.
TV helped launch Sophia into the internet stratosphere. “I was so happy to hit 10,000 followers in October 2012,” she says. “Then I did ‘Dance Moms,’ and my numbers just blew up.” More media appearances—including a performance on “Dancing with the Stars” in May 2013 following her Guinness World Record–breaking 55 pirouettes in March 2013—helped her online popularity continue to grow.
When Mia launched her Instagram account, she was already very popular on YouTube. After she won first overall Junior lyrical solo at Hall of Fame’s Boca Raton regionals in 2011, the competition posted a video of her winning routine, “Ave Maria,” on its site. The same video was shared on YouTube, where it became wildly successful and led to more videos and more fans. Joining Instagram was a natural next step, and it only took Mia a year to get to 100,000 followers.
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