For Dancers: Having a Successful Shoot

There have been some new ideas cropping up in my studio lately, new ways of coaching dancers into their best lines, new makeup and styling ideas…summer is the time for play!

Dancer: Sarah Tryon

I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the things that I have found helpful to my dancers as you might be preparing to shoot this summer too.

‘If you walk, you’ve lost it’.  This is a new phrase that I heard come out of my mouth on a shoot about 2 months ago and I yelled out to my assistant ‘write that down, I have to tell dancers that one!’.

Imagine you are in a shoot and have set yourself up for a really great shot on two feet, something like a sous-sous or a crossed/open fourth.  You’ve decided on your arms, you have decided on your head and eye line, and you are about to do it for your photographer.  Your get ready, you go, but you find your legs are not exactly right and transfer your weight back and forth a little bit either turning out more, adjusting your foot angle or line.

Dancer: Alexandra Lope

But here’s what happens when you ‘walk’ in a shot.. your knees soften just a little bit, you loose the connection with the ground/floor, and often your feet are not as completely stretched as they could be.  You have to push off of something to transfer your weight so at least one joint has had to shift (but more often it’s 2 or 3 joints, a knee and ankle, maybe two ankles etc).  Nothing you can do about it, it’s the nature of a moving body.   This is one of several reasons why “posers” tend to shoot more easily than ‘movers’.

Dancer: Mary Hansohn

So in my shoots, I coach dancers to know that when they ‘walk’ in a pose, they’ve really lost the pose and it’s better to reset.  Sometimes this happens when you are on uneven ground, sometimes you are having a crappy balancing day, sometimes your turnout muscles won’t co-operate or you wore too soft shoes…  whatever the reason, it’s much better to not waste your energy on a shot you won’t use.  Take a moment, go through your checklist of what the shot should feel like, set your self up for it and then go.

Dancer: Maria Cutaia wearing Eleve

(Quick tip:  If your photographer doesn’t have an assistant you can use, grab a friend or stranger off the street to help create a makeshift “barre” aka their hand, so that you can set your legs and feet where you want them. Then, when you are ready, let go and hit the upper body portion of the shot. Of course you will have to have the helper run out of the way.)

Eye lines are never where you think they should be.  Yes, just to complicate things after you’ve organized your legs and feet, upper body, and headline, eye lines for the camera are often different.

We are often trained to take our gaze up towards the 3rd balcony, to give a sense of lift and forward momentum.  But in photography, that often translates to shooting up your nose or not.

Lola Crist - Rachel Neville Photography
Dancer: Lola Crist

I get asked why we have so many blue painters tape marks all over our walls. It’s one of my secrets to making sure we have your eye line in the right direction for each shot! Often we need to shift the eye line off of the hand you are following a little bit more toward the camera, which feels weird when you are dancing.  ‘strike marks’ on the walls for your eyes are super helpful!

A couple of quick tips:

– It’s most common for dancers to bring their chin and eye line lower down than they are used to.  Try looking at a couple of different points and look at the difference in a shot!

– When you are going for an arabesque with a high arm line, choose a point between your elbow and hand to look at rather than your hand.

– In dance we often use our eyes as guides but in photographer we need to make sure our eye’s follow the line of the nose.  It looks very odd to have a face in one direction but looking around the corner with your eyes.. all we see are the whites of your eyes!


Robyn Jutsum

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