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Ballerinas and Information Asymmetry

We’ve written quite a bit about various information asymmetries — i.e., when one party in a transaction has a lot more information than another — and how the Internet is very good at correcting that asymmetry. Among the examples we used were the cost of term-life insurance, the price of coffins, and real-estate listings.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting piece about how the Internet is attacking another sort of information asymmetry: ballet instruction. From the article, by Emily Steel:

Web videos are shaking loose the rigid hierarchy of the ballet world. Aspiring ballerinas are recording videos of themselves dancing and posting the results for people to look at and critique on the Internet. Young hopefuls put video cameras on their kitchen or bathroom floor, then do simple exercises in pointe shoes. The videos, which generally aren’t more than a minute long, attract viewer chat pointing out mistakes and offering tips. “I just wanted to see what I looked like en pointe. I’m blown away by how many comments there are, and how many people looked at it,” says 18-year-old Nicole DeHelian, who recently quit taking dancing lessons at New Horizons Dance Alliance in East Greenville, Pa.

I don’t know much about ballet, but it’s hard for me to believe that the availability of online critiques will seriously damage a craft as hand-made as ballet.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe if online ballet critiquing had been around in the early 1940’s, my mother wouldn’t have converted from Judaism to Catholicism. She was a serious young ballerina in New York, studying intensively with a teacher who wound up also becoming her spiritual guide, and inspiring her conversion.

I tried to take advantage of some online video instruction recently. I really wanted to learn how to do a flip turn in a swimming pool, and found some terrific videos on YouTube. I studied them carefully and then went straight to the pool to try to replicate, and failed miserably. I guess I need to get a real swimming instructor to show me how — or maybe an out-of-work ballet teacher.