Miami City Ballet Corps De Ballet dancers Rebecca King and Michael Sean Breeden have always know that engaging with their audience is vital to providing a captivating, memorable performance. With Miami City Ballet, the dancers had participated in intimate pre-show discussions to provide audience members with a deeper understanding of what they were about to see. Inspired by these activities, the two dancers knew there had to be a way to bring similar conversations to a larger audience base – and their podcast, “Conversations on Dance,” was born.
Ballet in the City (one of the podcasts financial sponsors) sat down with Rebecca and Michael earlier this month to talk about the podcast, the thoughts behind it, and what exciting things are on the horizon.
Ballet in the City: For starters, let’s talk about your backgrounds in social media and other electronic sharing platforms. What have each of your experiences been online prior to starting your podcast?
Rebecca King: I have a blog, which I started in 2010 and started to grow using just social media. I really have seen in that how effective it is in starting a business and growing it just using free online tools. It was wonderful to really connect with people who really love ballet, who are interested in learning more about what happens behind the scenes. It’s something I’ve felt very passionate about, especially in the ballet world, and something I can keep working with in the future.
Michael: I’ve been a late adopter of every form of social media. I was probably still on MySpace in, like, 2012. Rebecca was really the link here for me. I’ve seen her use social media in a way to get her points out. She’s obviously someone very connected to that world and does so well with it. I’ve just learned it from her.
Tell me about how you guys came up with the idea for “Conversations on Dance,” what your motivation was in launching the podcast, and who you are really trying to reach with this podcast.
Michael: I think the idea came, partially, at least, from the fact that Rebecca and I had been doing these pre-performance talks with Miami City Ballet, where we’d get in front of 100 or so audience members who show up an hour before the show; we take them through the history of the ballet that we’re dancing, maybe the process of rehearsing them, particularly if they’re a new work, and the work behind the scenes. We really both found these talks to be inspiring. Rebecca had this idea that we don’t need to be limited to just when we’re in season with Miami City Ballet, that we can share this information on a more regular basis.
Rebecca: In terms of the reach, our content appeals to all different groups. We really want students and parents to understand a little bit more – maybe they have a daughter or son who wants to be a professional dancer, and this can help them understand what that journey will be and what that means. We do hope that this is something that professional dancers will find interesting, as well, and our contemporaries. So there are some things that will be a little more technical, but we try to make sure that we add things in there that speak to all possible audience members so that we can reach out to as many people as possible.
Speaking of the content, tell me about some of the topics that you guys have touched on so far and what made you choose these and how you go about deciding what you’re going to talk about in each podcast.
Michael: We brainstorm together as we’re trying to come up with topics. Rebecca had this idea that I loved, and it’s so timely, to talk about summer programs because the podcast debuted right as kids were about to go into their summer programs. I feel like it’s such an important thing – you’re 15 and thinking about what this experience will be like and how to navigate this, how to go into your first summer program, without maybe much direction. I think we both feel like, if we had known then what we know now, it could have been beneficial. We were trying to get across the information we have and our experiences and how that helped us in our professional careers.
Rebecca: We also had content on the Balanchine technique recently, which is something Michael and I are very passionate about. For us, not only was that an opportunity to learn more or explore his world more, we also hopefully can spread the good word. Maybe we can also bring up more understanding over the summer, as we’re talking about how some people don’t really know the difference between different parts of the Balanchine technique; there’s a reason you turn from a straight-backed leg or turn the body front or what have you. There’s a thought process behind it, there’s part of this technique that prepares you for something else. [The content is] things that we’re experiencing or seeing and that we’re hoping that we can bring up and share.
Tell me about how Ballet in the City has gotten involved in your podcast for our Ballet in the City readers.
Rebecca: They’ve been amazing; Ballet in the City is so wonderful and we’re so thrilled to have them as a sponsor. They’ve already helped us so much; this didn’t have a budget. As ballet dancers, we don’t really have extra spending money, so thanks to them, we’ve been able to invest in two microphones so that our sound quality will continue to improve, and we’ve invested in better software so that we can record phone calls, since some people we’re going to be working with aren’t here. We’re using Skype calls and we want to make sure we can deliver the best sound quality possible at this time, so that’s been really helpful.
Michael: Ballet in the City being a sponsor for us has helped make things happen that literally could not have happened in the beginning stages. For instance, we have an episode coming up with the Delgado sisters (they produced two episodes with the Delgado sisters, which aired on August 15th and August 22nd), who are both principals at Miami City Ballet, and we literally could not have recorded a four-person episode if we didn’t have the mics and the technology for it. Without [Ballet in the City’s] sponsorship, some of the content we’re about to bring you might not have been possible.
Rebecca: Yeah, we actually had to wait until we had [the new technology] until we could do the interview with the Delgado sisters a couple weeks ago. It’s really, really helped, so we’re really, really thankful.
With social media and looking into the ballet world, you kind of mentioned how it can break down some barriers and break down that illusive nature that has long been part of ballet. How do you think things like the podcast and, Rebecca, your blog, really do help break down that wall and make ballet more accessible?
Rebecca: I think it’s really important. I think there’s a longing for audience members to understand more about what they’re seeing. We talked about this a little in our early episodes, how you can watch a performance and just enjoy it and go home and be happy about it, but if you are provided with context before and read a little bit about it, you understand more and what you’re seeing has so much more meaning to you, and it makes you more interested, makes you more educated in what’s happening, and it makes you more interested in coming back. Ballet – a lot of people see it as old fashioned, or whatever, and it’s so important to share with the world that there are so many cool things happening in ballet right now. There’s so many new works that are great and there are old works that are still timeless and wonderful. I think it’s really beneficial in that way. I think that hopefully we’ll help keep audiences interested in ballet and make them want to keep going.
Michael: I think, obviously, with millennials, the easiest way to reach them is through social media, and that’s the target demographic for ballet right now. We want to keep them and engage them and keep them interested in our art form, because that’s how it’s going to survive. If we can’t captivate them through that outlet, who knows what will, because there’s all these different things competing for the attention and money, honestly, of younger people. Ballet is very fragile, so we need to get the word out as effectively as possible.
Rebecca: And it is about money, too – educating either donors or people who want to be involved in our art form.
Are there any ways you guys would want to explore reaching out to your fans and such in the future, beyond the podcast? Is there anything in the works or, right now, is this your main focus?
Michael: We’d love to do some live Q&As, some master classes, but nothing is super-confirmed yet. But we are exploring different options.
Rebecca: Yeah, we’re focused on really getting this right and growing it, but we do hope that there will be opportunities that come from it where we can reach more people – maybe even in person, too. We’re excited to see where this journey takes us.
I know you mentioned an upcoming interview with the Delgado sisters, but what are some other upcoming topics that our readers today can look forward to listening to?
Michael : We have, in the pipeline, a couple of pretty different exciting some people who are big figures in the ballet world – Justin Peck (which aired August 29th) and Liam Scarlett, as well. I think people are fascinated by what these young, super-talented choreographers have to say.
Rebecca: We do have a great big wish list, so we hope that as we establish ourselves more and more, that will help when we reach out to people. But we’re very lucky with what we do with ballet, and we get to work with the best of the best. We have those connections, and we’re really lucky, and, hopefully, we’ll be able to share our friendship with these people and our work with them with our audience.
For more info:
About Conversations on Dance: http://tendusunderapalmtree.com/about-conversations-on-dance/