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On Ballet TikTok, a Place for Young Dancers to Be Real

“TikTok is so carefree, why not have a little fun with it?” Watters said. “Highlighting these comments also exerts a little pressure: Talking to dancers this way is not OK, and perhaps you could be exposed for that kind of behavior, too.”

One of the reasons Watters feels comfortable letting it all hang out on TikTok is because he doesn’t have to worry about his boss scrolling by. “I’d be hard pressed to find an artistic director who really knew what TikTok was,” he said. But that “mom and dad aren’t home” atmosphere might not last.

Professional ballet is starting to make inroads. American Ballet Theater, one of the country’s leading companies, had its dancers take a TikTok course last spring. The company has been posting exploratory videos to @americanballettheatre since August, and is set to become the first major ballet company to officially launch a TikTok account. Where Ballet Theater goes, other troupes are sure to follow, a change that could alter the app’s ballet ecosystem.

Or maybe not. The current inhabitants of ballet TikTok might simply ignore corporate offerings, especially if company accounts end up as technique showcases. “When I’m scrolling through TikTok, I don’t really want to watch Isabella Boylston do six pirouettes,” McCloskey said, referring to a principal dancer at Ballet Theater. “She’s obviously incredibly talented, but it’s kind of boring. It’s not the creative content I go to TikTok for.”

Akamine also noted that some of the young stars of ballet TikTok don’t feel the urge to seek institutional approval. “In this day and age, on this platform, we have just as much power and value as large companies,” she said.

Connor Holloway, 26, the gender-nonconforming corps de ballet member who runs Ballet Theater’s TikTok account, said the company wants to present a version of itself that feels true to ballet TikTok’s culture. Last year, Holloway lobbied successfully for Ballet Theater to remove the gender-restrictive labels from its company classes. Content that challenges the ballet gender binary will “absolutely” be part of Ballet Theater’s TikTok presence, Holloway said, mentioning the possibility of the company’s account facilitating a crowdsourced ballet, with choreography and design contributed by young creators, like “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical.”