A Look Inside the Elite Instameet #CamerasandDancers

July 8, 2020

Shortly after starting Jacob Jonas The Company in 2014, Jacob Jonas, then 21, realized there was a major hole in the dance industry. “Not many companies were taking advantage of digital marketing,” he says.

He knew how much social media could get people to engage with art. So he created his own online empire called #CamerasandDancers, a monthly, location-specific Instameet with a hashtag that has been viewed millions of times. The project brings together top dancers, interesting architecture and elite movement photographers—the intersection of which results in truly exquisite dance photography.

Jacob Jonas and Nic Walton, shot by Minh Tran at the Getty Museum

“Most people don’t realize how much work goes into these photos,” says Jonas. He starts talking with the marketing teams of the companies he collaborates with three to six months in advance to ensure the safety of their dancers and their brand. “Whenever we travel somewhere new, I have to start from scratch, explaining what we’re doing.”

Gallim Dance’s Zoe McNeil, shot by Oveck Reyes at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“In this collaboration with Gallim Dance, artistic director Andrea Miller brought a costume designer with her. They had incredible fabric and clothing for us to play with. For this image, we were making the fabric go around and around, and the dancer was improvising with the concept. Oveck Reyes got the shot, and then in post, did some really beautiful edits.”

Brin Schoellkopf, Sereno Aguilar Izzo and Samuel Renaud, shot by Jacob Jonas

“All the spaces we’ve done this with have been closed to the public while we were there,” says Jonas, who took this image at Saint-Laurent Sports Complex in Montreal. “The dancers are part of The 7 Fingers, a circus company. It was so cold that day. I find that it’s nice to be in an uncomfortable environment because it keeps the dancers from thinking about their insecurities or what their body is doing.”

New York City Ballet’s Emily Kikta, shot by Aundre Larrow at the Whitney Museum of American Art

“As both a photographer and a choreographer,” says Jonas, “I know there are a lot of ways to communicate what you want. But you have to be patient. People might be only seeing one photo we liked and have selected, but there are at least 100 that weren’t good.”

The Stuttgart Ballet’s Alicia Garcia Torronteras and Vittoria Girelli, shot by Jacob Jonas at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

Each event starts with an even number of dancers and photographers. Jonas pairs everyone up one-on-one, and then every 20 minutes they rotate so that all subjects work with all photographers. “After about two hours of exploring the space, we encourage people to do group photos.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Hope Boykin, shot by Julian Thomas at the Kennedy Center

“I try to create moments that feel very raw,” says Jonas. “I tell dancers not to do a pose they know. If they must do an arabesque or a passé, they should make sure it’s initiated by something else. If people are working together, I tell them to feel like they are clay that’s being combined. I play with metaphors to get people into weird positions. When they focus on the task, they’re distracted and I’m just like a hunter, circling around them to find the best composition.”

More Than Just a Dance Photographer

Jacob Jonas is a true polymath: not only an artistic director, choreographer, teacher and dancer, but a photographer, filmmaker, producer and curator, as well.

He began dancing as a street performer on the Venice Beach boardwalk and the Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade at 13 years old, with particular interest in street dance and acrobatics. By 17 he was curious about concert and circus dance. He spent a year and a half at a competitive dance studio, teaching street dance and training on scholarship in various styles. “In the meantime I started choreographing my own pieces with friends and submitting them to competitions,” Jonas says. He ended up placing at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards in 2013, which led to a full-length show in New York City.

At 21, Jonas established Jacob Jonas The Company with his partner, Jill Wilson, and a small, committed group of dancers. “We learned about administration and how to run a company,” Jonas says. “It was all just problem solving—we figured it out ourselves.” The ensemble is made up of a diverse group ranging in styles and backgrounds from contemporary ballet to break dancing to acrobatic techniques. Jonas’ choreography combines those styles to tell narrative stories inspired by nature, science and social issues. “We are so visible on social media that people don’t always ask about our live works, but we have more than 20 and continue to create.”

It’s through his work promoting his company that Jonas developed his nondance skills. “We have a mission to foster a community,” Jonas says. “All the things I do exist underneath that umbrella.” His entrepreneurial spirit stems, in part, from his need to prove naysayers wrong. “When I said I wanted to be an artist, society looked at that career choice negatively,” he says. “That has been a huge motivator for me. I want to prove that art is important.”