In case you haven’t noticed, social networks are all the rage. Since 2002, when MySpace emerged as one of the Internet’s earliest leaders in social networking, interaction online has been focused upon building communities within this vast realm.
One such community focused entirely on dance is Danceregister.com. Though you may not have heard of it yet, the site has been around since 2007. According to Anthony LoCascio, the master teacher and Tap Dogs alum who helms the community, “Danceregister seeks to unify the dance world and to increase the strength of present dance-related entities for a more prolific future of dance in the physical, mental, and digital world.” Based in the Silicon Valley, Danceregister is in an excellent geographic position to investigate, explore, and test online technologies and ideas before they are widely exposed to the public. Therefore, Danceregister is ever-evolving, making use of these new technologies to further their mission, which is to create a positive legacy that represents and makes available, all aspects of the dance studio community in one safe, helpful, user-friendly, positive, like-minded network.
Anthony took some time to talk with me about social networks, Danceregister, and the online dance community.
Dance Advantage: In 2007 you launched Danceregister.com, a “gated social networking community.” Who is Danceregister for?
Anthony LoCascio: Though it was originally created for the safety of dancers, Danceregister ultimately became useful to each individual demographic of the dance industry. Our community is utilized by studio owners, teachers, students, parents, merchants, services, and even other dance-related web sites. It is exclusively ours, exclusively dance!
DA: I understand that parents are notified when their child applies to join Danceregister. That’s a great way to keep parents in the loop about their child’s activity online.
AL: We do send an email to the parent, as well as verification letters to dance studios. We monitor the site personally and have a volunteer “crew” to report anything suspicious in the community. In two years we have had a perfect record when it comes to the safety of our members.
DA: A gated community implies that there are additional security measures that ensure student safety. Are there ways you make certain that only members of the dance community are gathering at Danceregister?
AL: Because nothing in the world is perfect, we use a few methods which act as a checks and balances system. Some we make public and others we keep private. All of this is because of our main goal – safety. No other dance website can claim they are as safe as us.
DA: You are extremely passionate about the subject of online safety and I know that Danceregister was born in part from your concerns about students’ security on MySpace and other networks. What are some of the dangers related to the use of social networking sites?
AL: The idea is not to scare anyone but to educate them on the facts, both good and bad. In addition to personal safety concerns on Myspace and Facebook, there are issues that may result in damage to your computer, the spread of viruses, unauthorized access to accounts, and spam.
Teachers are also quickly learning that by using social networks they expose themselves to a “business mixing with personal life” scenario. Just because they don’t think to search out students online, doesn’t mean students are not searching for them. Plus assistant teachers may not be mature enough to see the damage one posted photo or video can do to a business. Look at Vanessa Hugeness (Disney), past American Idol contestants (Fox) or previous pageant winners (Trump Enterprises). Ask them what one mistake on the net can do to a person or how it can hurt a product or business. Also, studios are their own living, evolving worlds that can contain drama. Danceregister deters drama where a site like Bebo, Myspace, Youtube, or Facebook can easily fuel drama.
DA: So, in your opinion, should dance studios stay away from these larger networks altogether?
AL: When used properly, these sites can be useful. It would be wise to have a studio profile on all Facebook and Linkedin-type sites. These profiles should be used as marketing tools. They should include limited but clear contact info or links to your own studio web site. They should be seen as a way to direct traffic to your own web pages, not to “friend” students and parents. Studios should use these sites primarily for marketing and directing business. Danceregister, with its security measures, is better suited for personal networking and in-studio communication.
DA: Danceregister is free to join, will this always be the case?
AL: With the community currently small enough to control, we will continue to be free of charge. However, with provision of safety, technology, time and exposure comes growth and additional costs. In the future we may charge a nominal fee for a lifetime membership. This is to guarantee each and every parent has knowledge of their younger dancer’s presence in our network. As membership requests become more dense, this fee will help support the site and provide a faster even more efficient verification process. We can project the fee won’t be applied until late 2009 to mid 2010 and that it will be a minimum of $8.95 and not exceed $14.95 plus tax. The goal is to have the least expensive fee for a lifetime so there is no hassle associated with reoccurring fees.
One goal, which is firmly in place and will continue to be a focus, is to charge no fees for studio owners/teachers. However, to keep the site at certain standards, there will be fees for merchants & services in the future. I do not want Danceregister to become inundated with advertisements. We are not a vehicle which plans to rely on advertising. Danceregister has a personal, friendly, positive relationship with its users and represents itself and not other corporations. Any adverts will be limited in quantity and location.
DA: What are some of the things a parent, for instance, might do at Danceregister?
AL: There’s so much to do there. They could check out our forums, get or give advice, write reviews of conventions or competitions, post video, photos, quizzes, polls, and more all in a safe environment. They could consult with master teachers, visit my live chat (which occurs Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 4:30 PST), post questions to adjudicators of competitions, share or obtain knowledge of the dance world by reading live news and updates, and develop personal relationships within the global dance community. They could also look up their home studio’s information (each studio is divided into “mini-communities” or subsets), chat live via IM or audio/video with other parents, or have a meeting with a teacher — fewer trips into the studio!
And all of this applies for everyone, not just parents!
DA: In addition to running Danceregister, you are also a teacher. Do you think technology is changing the way we teach or the way students learn?
AL: Dance websites and exposure to individuals and ideas has been excellent for the dance community, as has accessibility and the ability to download instructional videos. I have a Dance4teachers subscriber who takes my tap DVD’s, uploads them to her Mac, and puts them on her ipod touch. Now she can reference them during class right in the palm of her hand. That is a big leap (pun intended) from less than 10 years ago when I was still sending people VHS tapes!
DA: What are some of your favorite resources for dancers and dance educators online?
AL: Early in 1999, when I started my first web site, just4tap.com, dance had a very limited online presence – mostly on forums. Therefore, there is great history on a forum site like dance.net. With blogs gaining recognition over the past few years, they have become the personal voices of the dance community. Tapdanceman, and Danceadvantage are blogs I personally frequent. Danceregister even has a public blog for people who are not part of the private community.
For investigating or developing professional dance gigs, there are sites like sceneinteractive, exploretalent, and many others. For music editing or cutting songs for a performance, there is www.musiceditingonline.com. Plus every dance media outlet now has web representation.
DA: Dance has certainly exploded online recently. How have you seen the Danceregister community grow and change since it began?
AL: When I started Danceregister, I had about 125 members and they were all from my local classes. The major focus of Danceregister was safety and due to the safety issues on MySpace, I chose not to advertise Danceregister directly to the public. Year one was all about working on the best ways to cost effectively provide an environment where it was safe to post videos and photos and chat about dance in a like-minded positive setting. I only used word of mouth to expose the community. That said, we had just over 350 members by the end of the first year.
Now confident in the verification system we had implemented since day one, year two’s focus has included content and exposure. We hit over 1000 members just before our two-year mark and have a great deal of content now on the site. It is time to let people know about Danceregister. Students are having fun, parents have peace of mind, and studios are starting to catch on to the communication benefits of the network. After all this hard work I am determined to get the word out!
DA: Well, I love to point my readers to dance resources online so, I’m happy to help with that part. Can you tell us more about what’s on the horizon for Danceregister?
AL: I am planning a video blog on Danceregister in September. These videos will follow me on an upcoming tour as I return to the stage with Tap Dogs. We are planning a contest also for September. Just a few of the prizes are iPods, Danceregister swag, iTunes®/Napster/Rhapsody gift cards valued from $25 to $50, DVD classes provided by Dance4students, and more. The top prize will be a gift certificate for two concert tickets of your choice. I personally will be present at the Rhee Gold Teacher conference this summer. If you are at the event please feel free to stop by and say hello. Danceregister will have a table in the Exhibit Hall.