We caught up with dancing social media standouts who know how to self-promote, develop a presence, and share their experiences without letting the platforms take over their lives. Here's what they have to say about being wise social media mavens.
In 2013, Kaycee Rice's life changed forever when Katy Perry tweeted a video of her solo, "Werk." Overnight, the then–10-year-old became a viral sensation. Now, at 16, Kaycee has more than 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
Despite her huge fan base, Kaycee has remained grounded. "I don't feel like I'm a big star," she says. "I'm just a normal person who loves what she does, and loves sharing it with the world." She focuses on using her platform to spread positivity—including through her #Weirdo campaign. "I post things that let people know that it's OK to be weird and awkward and true to yourself."
For Kaycee, part of being true to herself is keeping her feed age-appropriate. "Everyone has their own path, but I want to stay young as long as I can," she says. "I always get uncomfortable when I see kids oversexualizing themselves online, because I know they're just responding to pressure from society."
Eighteen-year-old Timmy Blankenship's social media accounts are packed with polished photographs, impressive dance videos, and laugh-out-loud-funny captions. The Dance Awards 2017 Senior Male Best Dancer's presence feels authentic because he posts not for the sake of likes, but instead to connect with his 12 thousand followers. "I use Instagram to get inspired by other dancers and choreographers," Timmy says. "There's so much out there that can help you grow."
Timmy admits he still feels the pressure of Insta-fame sometimes. "I always have to make sure the edits are right," he says. "But at the same time, I know that I'm the only one who really cares about that stuff. My real friends love whatever I share."
He tries to make proactive choices to keep Instagram from taking over his life. "I like to live in the moment, and I can't do that if I'm constantly on my phone," he says.
Creative Arts Academy dancer Ella Horan's rise to Insta-fame may have skyrocketed just two years ago, when she began modeling for Five Dancewear, but when it comes to presenting herself online, she knows exactly what she's doing. Her feed maintains a consistent aesthetic, she posts high-quality photos, and she's engaged with her 61.4 thousand followers.
The 14-year-old's posts show the full range of her experiences. "I organize my life into different categories," she says. "That way people don't get annoyed, and I don't come off as obnoxious or overly self-promotional. It's about being kind, positive, and true to yourself."
Ella doesn't let the pressures of social media get in the way of her training, either. "I make time for social media in my routine, but the other stuff comes first," she says. And that means never using her phone during class. "It's disrespectful to have your phone with you at dance," she says. "It shows you think social media is more important than your teacher's time, and it's a distraction from your training."
Hip-hopper Nicole Laeno, who boasts more than 500 thousand Instagram followers, has turned social media success into real-world success. Earlier this year, she posted a class video set to a Chris Brown song, and tagged him in it. Brown reposted it—and then invited Nicole to dance in his music video for "Tempo."
Most of Nicole's posts are class videos. "The industry is different now," Nicole says. "I used to dance without a camera in sight. Now, I rarely take a class that isn't filmed. It can be stressful, but it's also made me a stronger performer."
Twelve-year-old Nicole wants her feed, which is managed by her mom, to be age-appropriate. Since choreographers don't always tailor their classes to the youngest student in the room, that sometimes requires improvisation. "If the choreographer is OK with it, I'll make the combo more kiddish," she says. She'll also edit the clean versions of songs over her videos, to keep curse words off of her feed. "Having a following comes with responsibility, and I recognize that," she says.
Despite boasting more than 10 thousand followers on Instagram, tapper Ryan Maw is cool as a cucumber about social media. Opportunities like winning The Dance Awards 2017 Teen Best Dancer and making it to the Top 20 on "SYTYCD: The Next Generation" have helped his following grow organically, without obsessive engagement on his side. While he understands the power of social media, "I believe that real life, working with choreographers in person and at auditions, is what counts," he says.
Ryan's posts are mostly class videos he's proud of, jobs he's promoting, and sponsored content for Capezio. (He's a Capezio Athlete.) Fake-feeling advertising is rampant on Instagram, but Ryan's found a solution: "What I love about my Capezio sponsorship is they're actually my favorite brand of tap shoe," he says. "It's coming from an honest place."
Last December, Madison Brown did a "10-minute photo challenge" with photographer Jordan Matter, and the video went viral. (It now has over 7 million views.) Suddenly, the two-time American Ballet Theatre National Training Scholar and two-time New York City Dance Alliance National Outstanding Dancer winner was on the social media map. Today—thanks, too, to her appearance on Season 2 of NBC's "World of Dance"—she boasts 28.5 thousand Instagram followers.
"I put in the effort to make my pictures and captions look good so I feel confident," Madison says. And she does so with help from her mom and dad, who monitor her Instagram account. "Don't hide what you're doing from your parents!" Madison's father, Redick Brown, recommends. "We aren't the coolest, but we can really help."
Thirteen-year-old Madison tries to keep things real on her account. "I like to show some of the imperfect things in my life," she says. "I posted a video of my solo back in February where I totally face-planted! I shared it because it was real and funny, and I got right back up. That happens, like, every day! I'm not perfect."
Tate McRae's otherworldly extensions first hit our feeds in 2013, when she won Mini Female Best Dancer at The Dance Awards. Since then, she's taken third place on "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation," racked up two more Dance Awards titles, and seen her Instagram fan base swell to more than 600 thousand followers. "My following has grown pretty organically," Tate says. "I stay active by posting every day, but it's not something I've tried to engineer."
While she didn't aim for Insta-fame, the 15-year-old isn't immune to its challenges. "I do struggle with comparison," she says. "The hardest thing is not to get caught up in what other people are posting. It's easy to get lost in their successes, but we should be grateful for the opportunities we have."
These days, keeping up with social media has become a significant time commitment for Tate: She posts weekly on YouTube and daily on Instagram. "It's like a full-time job on top of school and dance," she says. But she keeps it from taking over her life by ignoring "like" counts and comments. "I get the job done, post, and then turn off notifications so that I can focus on my training."
Taylor Sieve made it to the Top 3 on "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 14, danced with Shaping Sound, and won Senior Female Best Dancer at The Dance Awards in 2016. And her social media following—100 thousand strong on Instagram—matches her impressive resumé.
Despite all the attention, Sieve works to maintain her privacy. "I'm only going to give people a little glimpse of my life, especially when it comes to my relationship with Lex," she says. "Lex," of course, would be Sieve's boyfriend Lex Ishimoto, the Season 14 winner of "SYTYCD." "We don't need social media to validate us."
According to Sieve, social media influencers need thick skin. "Everyone has an opinion about everything on social media," she says. "But you have to remember that they're only seeing your snapshots, not the process behind them. You have to learn to be OK with the fact that you're always going to be judged—that's true when you're performing, too."
A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "8 Stars Doing Social Media Right."