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Leigh Witchel

About the transition

31 posts in this topic

Change need not be just change; it can be an opportunity. One point Alexandra was insistent on in discussions leading to this transition was that the change be used to assess what we’re doing and what the community wants. The moderators have been discussing the focus and slant of the board and we’d like to open the discussion up to the community at this point.

Some issues brought up:

Should the level of moderation be relaxed? This is a double-edged sword. Less moderation might free up discussion and prompt some more inhibited potential posters to delurk. It also can raise the signal-to-noise ratio and drive substantive posters away. Less active moderation of unsubstantiated personal information (injuries and casting, for instance) might perform a service to the audience that can't get information otherwise. It also could prohibit professionals from posting because of conflicts of interest.

Experts and newbies. Ballet Talk has posters of every level of interest and association from neophyte to balletomane to pro. Sometimes the differences in experience can be inhibiting or frustrating.

Please feel free to add your thoughts, but our questions to the community can be boiled down to two simple questions.

What do you wish would change?

What do you wish would stay the same?

Let us know. If you don’t wish to talk publicly, PM or email myself or another moderator. We’re not looking for compliments; we’re looking for useful information. Tell us what you think.

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The moderation issue... I almost wish there was one forum on Ballet Talk called "Unsubstantiated Gossip" with an official disclaimer at the top. Why? In the old alt.art.ballet forum days, a lot of news was passed around that would never be passed around otherwise, and I'm not sure all of that was a bad thing. I'm thinking in particular of the Joffrey moving to Chicago from New York... there were dancers desperate for any kind of clues (I believe they were the last to be informed of the company's move). And as tiresome as "flame" posts could be, some of them started interesting discussions. Of course, it's been wonderful not to have the site full of spam. As far as professionals not posting because of conflict of interest issues, I believe professionals on alt.arts.ballet simply posted with pseudonyms.

In terms of structure, the split between Ballet Talk and Ballet Talk for Dancers... I wish some of the forums on Ballet Talk for Dancers could be moved to Ballet Talk... in particular the Arts Administration and The Pro Shop... I'd like to see the Ballet Talk for Dancers be more involved with what goes on in the studio. Administration and production seem more related to the discussions that go on at Ballet Talk than the pointe shoe and summer intensives discussions that go on at Ballet Talk for Dancers.

It's wonderful to be able to track the most recent posts across the board rather than having to go on a click-safari through each forum. This is what draws me to Ballet Talk rather to a forum like Critical Dance where this sort of overview doesn't seem possible.

None of the above are major issues, but since we're trying to bring up discussion, I thought I'd air them.

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I think the level of moderation is just right; I don't feel stifled by it at all. In fact, I think that if it is relaxed too much, things might have the potential to get ugly. I'm not saying anyone on this board would start a flame war, but the current level of moderation keeps us all on our best behavior, and is what allows us to discuss controversial topics respectfully, which IMHO is a valuable skill to have. :D

As for the differing levels of knowledge and experience, that could be addressed by having a forum for newbies to ask questions about what may be for others basic concepts ("What is the plot of La Sylphide?" or "How are ballets passed down?"). As I recall, there was a forum like that for a while, and I thought it was a good idea. If that isn't possible, Gentle Reminders that everyone is at a different level would work, too.

I also like the idea of having an Unsubstantiated Gossip area, with a disclaimer, of course.

Otherwise, I like the format of this board very much. :D

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Thanks for being brave and starting the comments.

The idea of a "corner" for unsubstantiated information is certainly provocative, and one we never considered. I'd be interested in what others think. My first thoughts regarding it are very cautious; I worry that it's a Pandora's Box.

Re: pseudonyms, especially in the context of posting insider information. The potential for abuse is enormous. Say director Y wouldn't give dancer X a role and dancer X decides to get even. I'd rather more people used their real names rather than fewer.

Ballet Nut, we are working on reviving a forum for those new to ballet. It's the special project of Treefrog - I'm excited about that.

I hope more people will speak. I'd also like to emphasize that I'm giving my opinions here as a board member, not the arbiter. I'm part of a transition, not the absolute power here. What the community wants will determine where the board goes. One word of caution about that. It's not enough to want more intelligent discussion, or news on topics that interest you, or talk on this subject or that. If you want it, you need to participate. You get out of BalletTalk what you put in.

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I would like to be able to post on the video site, but can't because I don't have enough posts. I don't want to buy/trade/sell videos, I just want to be able to ask a question or add a comment on a video.

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Mrs. Stahlbaum, the restriction was made to stop issues with bad transactions. Given we've known you a while I did an individual fix. Would you see if you can post there now?

However, I would remind you you're only 11 posts away from all member privileges anyway. Please join in the discussions - we'd love for you to do so.

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Well right off the bat I'd say that I think the rules regarding gossip are good the way they are. We all do it privately but the potential for harm in such a forum would be much greater than warranted by any entertainment value, in my opinion.

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And how would you put a warning on such a forum?

"WARNING! 99% of everything on this forum is crap!"?

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Thank you, Leigh, for allowing me to post on the ballet videos site. Of course, now I feel all tongue-tied (and I'm not quite awake yet), and can't think of a thing to post, but I'll watch for an opening.

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I feel the level of moderation on the Board is just right. I post on one other board which is devoted to an entirely different art form, one which is much more ubiquitous (ap?) on the internet than ballet and yet I am drawn to the one board that is quite strongly moderated. I feel that this raises the level of discussion and enables intelligent yet considerate debate. Of course, it also inhibits b/c you have to think carefully about what you write and as I am often slow in translating my thoughts and feelings into words, I don't post as often as I would if I didn't feel my posts should be 'worthy'. IMHO that trade-off is fine.

Re a 'gossip forum', if I were involved in ballet on an occupational or professional level, I'd probably be in favour AS LONG AS the rules for courteous discourse - esp. in critiquing dancers - are observed there too

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Mostly I like things the way they are.

As one who has sometimes been "snipped" for gossip, I might be tempted to say that gossip has it's place but maybe, as Alexandra told me, "not here!" However, not all gossip is created equal - apparently - since I once posted an innocuous story of a chat I had with Ben Millepied which was accepted but later when I had a similar chat with Wendy Whelan it was "snipped" even though there was nothing the least bit controversial or "revealing" in my message.

It seems one of the main topics of gossip is injuries or dancers suddenly leaving the company they dance with. This recently came up when Lindy Mandradjiefff - lamentably - left NYCB. When a name suddenly vanishes from the roster it is bound to create interest among the fans of that company. Maybe there is some way to address these questions by personal messaging replies to one another rather than posting any speculation. Some of us already do that.

Also, a bit more clarification about what can or cannot be said about a given dancer might be needed. It seems to be OK to comment if a ballerina is too thin or bony, but not if she is carrying a few extra pounds. Since weight is often a deciding factor in casting, it sometimes explains why certain popular dancers are

not seen in certain roles - or rarely seen at all.

The dancers do read what we write here and they are well aware of their weight problems, shortcomings, declining abilities, etc.

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Just to explain how things currently stand, so there's a basis for comparison:

Comments on details of a dancer's personal life (ie, X and Y are going out, Z has been living with A) are not permitted except if this information has previously appeared in print or is confirmed by the company. If we are not sure they want this information public, we do not want it in a post.

Unsubstantiated casting or injury information (X is rehearsing this role because Y is out with an ankle injury that happened in class) is not permitted. The reasoning is that this information can harm a situation if we don't know it's public. Maybe the company director might not yet *know* that X is rehearsing a role. Maybe s/he learned it on his or her own and has not yet shown it to the director.

Personnel information (X has been fired) is not permitted, until an announcement has been made by the company or in print. It's a great way to flare up an already bad situation.

We frown on using the dancers as sources. Do they know they're being quoted? If we haven't been consistent on this, it could be that we caught one instance and missed the other, or there may have been another reason.

Comments on a dancer's physical appearance *are* permitted. Ad hominem attacks on a dancer are not. "She is overweight" is permitted. "My God, she's a pig!" is not. "She is too thin" is permitted. "She looks like a Qtip in pointe shoes" is crossing the line. When commenting on a dancer's appearance, I'd suggest informally that you realize that they will hear it and it will inevitably hurt their feelings. It's left to the poster to decide if they should take the effort to phrase things more diplomatically, however, we will intervene if the comment is personal.

These are how the rules have evolved to the present time. Alexandra and I have judged things as they arisen; there are possibilities of inconsistency as you have two different eyes depending on who read the post first. These policies can be changed, that is why we're having this discussion. They were put there to primarily protect companies and dancers from complications of misinformation or rumor, and to protect our professional reputations as well. You may decide that information is worth those complications. But those changes will have their consequences, and that should be discussed.

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I think you and Alexandra have done a great job keeping the tone and level of discourse appropriate. But I do think you can lighten up a wee bit on the gossip issue. While totally unsubstantiated rumours probably have no place on this board, I think widely known information or questions about injuries etc. should be allowed to be posted. The trigger seems to be pulled a little too quick, in my opinion. And because I don't know any members of this board personally, I would hesitate to private message anyone about things.

On the other hand, I think the way you restrained flame wars is totally on target. I hope that continues. This board is blessedly free of flames -- quite an achievement -- while allowing people to express opinions.

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Test.

OK, at least this works.

What has happened is that we are, even as I write, in the middle of the changeover which began shortly after 3 PM EST yesterday. Some things work, some things don't yet. I'll keep you all posted as we get developments.

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The following posts were posted to the old board and did not make the move over here, so here they are:

by To the Pointe, Friday Jan. 14, 3:20 PM:

And how would you put a warning on such a forum? 

"WARNING!  99% of everything on this forum is crap!"?

:tomato:

I feel that the current level of moderation is correct and ethical.

With no disrespect to anyone intended (and no assumptions made that anyone would do this)...

The problem with "I spoke to X dancer and they said" is that first, how do we know that you really did speak to X dancer, second that X dancer is telling the truth and not interjecting their own speculations (or purposely causing a problem), and that X dancer really wanted this information spread on the internet. If X dancer truly wants their own information shared, let them log on and share it.

Unless it is in writing or confirmed by more than one credible source, as Mr. Johnson so eloquently put it "is crap."

I enjoy this board (and Ballet Talk for Dancers), because I can trust it.

I think that the reputation of this community is far more valuable than the need to have its curiosity peeked.

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by Oberon, Friday Jan. 14, 3:37 PM:

Once on an opera list, someone wrote a scathing review of Soprano X in a certain role and then a rebuttal appeared, signed by "Soprano X". But the rebuttal included a factual error that made us feel quite certain that the person calling herself "Soprano X" was not really her...and later this proved to be true. It was just one of her fans, defending her.

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by Bart, Friday Jan. 14, 4:08 PM:

RE the gossip issue. I agree with To the Pointe: " I enjoy this board because I can trust it. "

Each of us seems to have a much higher standard when evaluating -- and often condemning -- other people's gossip than when passing on our own own. That's what makes the slope so slippery. PLEASE keep things as they are.

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by carbro, Friday Jan. 14, 4:25 PM:

Each of us seems to have a much higher standard when evaluating -- and often condemning --  other people's gossip than when passing on our own own.

Thank you, bart, for that very sharp insight. Of course, I never deal in gossip, just in facts. :wink:

--Carley

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by sandik, Friday Jan. 14, 4:53 PM:

I would suggest that you leave the current rules of engagement alone for now, and see how things shake out. The gods know we all gossip, on many different levels, but I appreciate the fact-based nature of this site. It seems to encourage a more thought-provoking quality to the discussion that I enjoy.

Also, frankly, I think the logistics of the transition will be complex enough that you might not want to challenge yourself with a stylistic change simultaneously.

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by Leigh Witchel, Friday Jan. 14, 7:25 PM:

One other point about gossip we've learned from experience. It's competitive. We all try to top each other's stories, or scoop them. That's another reason to refrain from sourcing dancers - it looks like showing off. Then someone else has to obliquely hint at an even BETTER friendship or source, and off we go. That sort of competitiveness, along with "gotta-be-the-first-to-post-itis" has caused problems here before.

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by Victoria Leigh, Friday Jan. 14, 8:19 PM:

To the Pointe's statement about trust says it all. People can trust this board, and I think it should stay that way. If we open it up to gossip, that will no longer be the case.

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Ballet companies put on the works of Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham, and Paul Taylor. As I understand it, this is the kind of "crossover" dance that Ballet Alert! was formed to warn against. It's also what has raised concerns about John Rockwell as NY Times dance critic. Nevertheless, the rigid division on our board between ballet and other forms of dance has occasionally led to confusion and acrimony. We might not like it, but it only makes sense that if ABT, NYCB, POB, or any other ballet company puts on the work of a "modern" choreographer, it has to be talked about on our regular Ballet Talk forum and not relegated to the Modern subcategory.

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I guess the standard will remain that if the company is known as a ballet company (e.g., San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem), anything they perform is fair game in the main section of the board. But Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alvin Ailey, etc., would remain in their "special" forum.

We'll deal with it when Taylor's company remounts Petipa's Sleeping Beauty.

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For me, personally, not giving "modern" equal footing is one of Ballet Talk's biggest shortcomings... I understand the bias, but I still feel it to be a major shortcoming. Perhaps if Ballet Alert had not superceded alt.arts.ballet which discussed both on equal footing, I'd never consider it a shortcoming. If onyone could tell me what the "modern" equivalent of Ballet Alert is, I'd be happy to subscribe to it and leave drop the subject here. Because there is cross-over between the two worlds -- or rather from modern into ballet -- whether we approve of it or not, is it so wrong to be kept apprised of the goings on in Modern? Sure, we have that subcategory, but it's so clearly "sub" that not much discussion has been spawned there. Not all of what we find interesting is purely ballet but there are issues common to theatrical dance in general, and I'm sad that the thinking from the "modern" community isn't shared with us.

And I guess I'd like to amend my earlier suggestion about rearranging the "pro shop" over to the viewers side of the board... while I think the design issues are interesting to the viewers, perhaps the technical craft belongs with the "do-ers".

However, I still would like to see the administration on this board rather than on the "for dancers" board. Think of all the SPAC discussion.

And of course, I'm not encouraging malicious gossip. Sometimes "official" news is so censured that there is less to it. Is there another board someone wants to point me to where the bits that don't make the press releases are discussed?

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Amy, you've hit the modern nail on the head in that we have a modern dance section, but it doesn't get much action. So, my thinking is, why expand it much furthur? I like the ballet-central theme of the board. So much of what I read in mainstream dance magazines (if there is such a thing) is that "it's all good." And while it might be all good it is not all the same. I like that Ballet Talk is a safe haven for those of us who want to think about ballet as a separate art form. However, if we want to post about modern dance we have the separate forum.

There are other dance boards that combine the two and are easily found by a good search engine. However, most of the other boards I've come across have felt compelled to have gossip policies such as ours. Several people on the board have asked, "If I can't find out this bit of news here, where can I?" And while I understand that line of thinking, I think the cons of "gossip" outweigh the pros of it in the long run (see Leigh's post regarding the competitive nature of in-the-know posts and the post by To The Pointe).

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Perhaps I should make clear that I'm not in strong disagreement with the other posts, only that I wanted to see the issues "discussed out". I think many good points have been made, particularly about the vortex qualities of gossip, malicious or otherwise. Is "scuttlebut" as negative a word as gossip?

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OK, I'm going to be a flip-flopper and allow my position to twist in the wind according to the tide of popular opinion. :tiphat: After reading everyone's posts on the gossip issue, it is indeed a slippery slope, and I agree, it would degrade the credibility of this board; it'd be harder to tell what was substantiated or not. Besides, I was looking at an old Dance Mag, and there was a letter in Linda Hamilton's advice column from an NYCB dancer who was, shall we say, unhappy with what was being written about him/her on this board. I guess the point is, to the dancer being talked about, we're brutal enough even with the no-gossip rule. :clapping:

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Nobody asked me, but I think Ballet Talk lost something when Ballet Talk for Dancers was split off from it. I suppose it's too late to do anything about that now, since the Dancers board has developed a distinctive, chatty character of its own. But I used to love going from reading a lengthy, erudite account of the performance-of-the-year the night before at NYCB, to a heartrending plea for help about bunions.

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Farrell Fan, I'm with you. :clapping: I think there are many plusses to having the boards combined. It offered a more complete spectrum to dancers, students, balletomanes and the rest of us.

Periodically, I can't help myself and remind the BT for D readers to keep their eyes on Ballet Talk, as well. :yes:

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Is "scuttlebut" as negative a word as gossip?

"Scuttlebutt" is the naval equivalent of rumor or gossip. When translated in context, it is exactly the same as "water-cooler talk". The "butt" was the freshwater carrier for the old sailing ships, and sailors who needed a drink would congregate there. In the evening, when the rum ration was issued, then the entire crew would be there, as the Serjeants-at-Arms were to mix the potent potable with a bit of water to keep those with "no head for spirits" from becoming over-boisterous or ill. In the Royal Navy, they often squeezed their lime ration into the drink as well and added a little sugar, usually as molasses - the birth of "grog", as the practice was introduced by Adm. Edward Vernon, who was called "Old Grog" from the oiled silk grosgrain raincoat he continually wore as a service uniform. And of course, too much "grog" can make you "groggy"!

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