I was recently asked to speak on another panel about dance blogging later this spring, and after last week’s conversation regarding Alastair Macaulay’s power trip of a review of NYCB, I got to thinking more and more about the blogger vs. critic theme.
As a culture, the internet has given literally anybody with an internet connection and a few fingers to type the ability to produce – whether it’s homemade videos on youTube, Photoshopped party pictures on Facebook, or snarky opinions on a blog. But just because everybody CAN have the means to create (and distribute) doesn’t necessarily allow them to stand their own in the online media ecosystem.
Speaking of dance criticism in particular, one critic noted that the internet has allowed almost any ballet fan to become a critic. Here’s where the fun part comes: what’s your definition of a critic?
I like food. I mean, I REALLY like food. I eat out in Manhattan way more than my budget tells me I should, and I grew up in a big, healthy Italian family where eating is the primary task of the day. I know next to nothing about food preparation or high cuisine, but I definitely have opinions about food. In fact I’m a very picky eater and only want the good stuff. So if I ramble on about how good or bad a particular restaurant was just from a single meal experience, does that make me a food critic? I have an opinion, I write it, I’m critical. A critic am I?
In reality, nobody would care to read why I didn’t like Famiglia’s pizza. And I certainly wouldn’t have any influence on their chef at hand.
My point is, one cannot simply “become” a critic just because they have the password to a Wordpress account.
A critic has an audience, a duty, a context within their field, a unique insight to offer, a reason to be writing, an INFORMED opinion, a respect from their readership. It doesn’t happen over night. One critic last summer at the DCA conference argued that it takes 20 years before you see enough to become a critic.
In the dance world, there are many many many balletomanes with vastly varying opinions about the different companies, dancers, and issues today. Some of them sound off on message boards or in everyday conversation, and no doubt word of mouth matters. But few – very few – are critics.
For the purposes of conversation, let’s just focus on the New York dance scene and critics. Of the relatively few dance blogs out there (I count maybe 8 worth reading) I’d say only two post performance reviews as regularly as a print publication would (ie. The NY Times, maybe the only one left with regular print coverage). Neither of these bloggers are compensated for their writing, so you might not term them “professional critics.” But I’d argue that they know what they’re talking about.
Those that have been successful have started from scratch, built their audiences on terms of honestly and intrigue, marketed themselves smartly, and spent probably more uncompensated time (and money on tickets) than they should have. Yes, they (we) do it because they enjoy it, but blogging is not for everybody who simply loves dance. It’s an unpaid career where gratification comes not from the check or the byline in black and white, but from sparking conversation amongst readers, a thank you note from an artist, or a quote or link from other respected websites.
Following a lead by Cedar Lake Dance in early 2008, dance companies have begun to include bloggers on their press lists, seeking reviews from a new source that is most certainly the future of dance writing. We can beg and hope the economy and the publishing industry will turn around (God knows I do, after just finishing my master’s degree in the seemingly obsolete field) but the truth is most of those fabulous print critics are critics no more. If they don’t cross that jagged line to blogger and send their thoughts to cyberspace readers, what more impact can they have on the arts?
I tumble somewhere between the two poles. I became a blogger and a paid print freelancer writer just about simultaneously, but by no means do I compare with the experts in either medium. I’ve been paid for online reviews, and I’ve been paid by a print publication for a review. I’ve written features for quite a few of the dance magazines, and I’ve established my own online readership (all for which I am extremely grateful).
It’s not really the fight for the title “critic” that bloggers are looking for, I don’t think. It’s more the acknowledgement of their writing and it’s importance to today’s evolving landscape of criticism – acknowledgement from dance companies and fellow dance writers. Their readers, no doubt, already value that.
I’m not saying we should lose all professional criticism, by any means. I have enormous respect for the great dance critics, the depth of their knowledge, and their admirable writing abilities. But there’s no need to ignore the new voices broadcasting their love of dance online.