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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Dancers Make at Photo Shoots
My first dance photo shoot was an epic fail. The photographer was professional and we had a great working relationship, but I made the rookie mistake of failing to thoroughly prepare. I didn't understand the purpose of the photos and how they should serve my career, so I ended up with images that were beautiful but that belonged on a model comp card, not in a dance portfolio.
Dancers need photos that allow viewers to get a sense of their style, abilities and professionalism, and help them gain more visibility. Yet, dance shots can be incredibly difficult to get right. Avoid these five common mistakes.
Mistake: Not researching the photographer
Explore a photographer's work before going into a shoot, suggests Andrew Eccles, award-winning photographer and longtime collaborator with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. See if they have experience working with dancers. If they don't, determine whether their work could translate into your vision. When you trust your photographer, you're more likely to be open and move freely in front of the camera.
Ailey's Linda Celeste Sims. PC Andrew Eccles
Mistake: Not preparing for the shoot
Bring ideas of images that inspire you. "Have a few poses that you think make you look good," says Quinn Wharton, photographer and former dancer. Instagram and Pinterest are great resources to search for inspiration.
Think about the angles and lines that look best on your body, and share your top choices with the photographer before you start shooting. Be wary of concepts that have already been done many times, which may make it hard for you to stand out. "Try to be as simple as possible," says dancer, choreographer and photographer Jacob Jonas. "Let the movement and structure of your body be the focus."
Mistake: Forgetting your body's needs
It's just as important to warm up for a photo shoot as it is for a performance. While the photographer should be mindful of the types of surfaces being used, it's your job to protect your body. It's perfectly acceptable to speak up for yourself in a shoot, especially if the photographer doesn't have much experience working with dancers.
Getting a great shot often requires you to repeat the same movement several times. Listen to your body: "If you've done a movement enough and would like to move on, just ask if you can try something else," says Paige Fraser, dancer with Visceral Dance Chicago.
Mistake: Going in with a closed mind
Taking photos is like any other creative process. It takes patience, flexibility and a willingness to try new things. Know that not everything you've planned will work, and the photographer may have ideas of their own.
Ailey dancers. PC Andrew Eccles, Courtesy Ailey
"Some movement may be exciting while dancing but doesn't translate to a two-dimensional photo," says Eccles. If your original ideas aren't working, use the photographer's direction to imagine new possibilities. Focus on what is working, and move forward with that.
Mistake: Not communicating post-shoot
Although you'll most likely pay a fee for your photos, the photographer still owns the rights to the images and might use them to promote their work. Review the final shots and decide which ones you're comfortable having shared. "What may be beautiful to the photographer is not always the best line or angle for a dancer," says Fraser. "Communicate with them before pictures are posted. Most photographers will respect that."
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.
Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.
Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.
"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."