Begin Again: The Real Deal With Creating a Dance Reel
If you ask experts in the performance industry, they’ll tell you that one of the best ways to book work in 2022 is to post content online for casting directors and agencies to see. Even better? A dance reel that demonstrates your skill in a variety of genres.
Unfortunately for me, the last legit video I have of myself dancing was taken 10 years ago at JUMP Dance Convention. (Did I still use the footage? Obviously. Seventeen-year-old Haley was on fire that day! Was it enough to fill an entire reel? Absolutely not.)
So I recently took on a humongous task: I rehearsed, filmed and edited five different individual pieces that I combined into a single dance reel. Then, I went through a similar process for my acting and vocal reels.
Whew—it was a lot!
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Haley, we talked about this: You can’t do too much or your health will regress.” Don’t worry—I spread my projects out, I scheduled shoots at mostly reasonable hours (when I couldn’t be reasonable, I went to bed super early), and I accepted help from a bunch of wonderful people.
And it was worth it: I was really happy with the result! Here’s how I made personal promotional content that I’m proud of, using tips from industry experts.
When I began ruminating on this project in September, I interviewed talent consultant Leesa Csolak, CEO of lbctalent.com and director of Launch Talent, on crucial dos and don’ts for creating reels. First, she let me know that any assets I send to agencies need to be concise. “Your reel should be roughly one minute long, and even then, they likely won’t watch more than 10 seconds of it,” Csolak says. She recommended including clips from a variety of genres so that agencies and casting directors can see my range, then separately share full videos of each piece on social media or through Dropbox/Google Drive folders in case agents or casting directors want to explore my work further.
I started with a contemporary piece I choreographed titled “I Lived,” which is about my experience living with chronic illness. It’s personal, and important to me, and I am so grateful I was able to capture it. I also did a jazz piece titled “Oh Darling,” choreographed by Sabrina Phillip, a musical-theater combo titled “Call Me Irresponsible,” choreographed by Scott Fowler, a “jazz-plus” combo titled “Kokomo,” by Dana Wilson, and a jazz-funk combo by Bobby Newberry to “Good For You.” (The last three combinations came from virtual CLI classes.)
For the most part I prepped these numbers on my own in an affordable rehearsal space, but as the shoot dates loomed closer, I rehearsed with my friend and Broadway performer Libby Lloyd at Ripley-Grier Studios to get feedback on my dancing and clean things up a bit.
For acting and voice, Csolak recommended including two or three juxtaposing monologues and songs that fit my casting type. Once again, she said they should be short, and that I should get some expert advice on choosing material. I worked with my acting coach, Andrew Dolan from the Freeman Studio, to choose a comedic monologue from the film He’s Just Not That Into You and a dramatic monologue from the play Mary Jane, by Amy Herzog. Then I worked with a rep coach (someone who can listen to my voice and send over material they think would be a good fit) named Abby Middleton, and my voice coach, Rebecca Soelberg, to prepare a pop song, a golden-age ballad and an upbeat contemporary song.
I started my shoots with “I Lived,” at sunrise on a rooftop with the Manhattan skyline in the background. The videographer I worked with, Jacob Hiss, shoots for Steps on Broadway. I had been following his work on social media for a while and decided to shoot my shot by direct-messaging him on Instagram. I let him know the details of my project (how long the shoot would last, how long the finished video would be, how many cuts of the video I wanted) and asked what his rates were for something like this. He responded with a ballpark estimate, and graciously accepted the opportunity to work together. Then, I reached out to a friend who lives in a building with rooftop access and asked if she would let us use it. I brought along my husband and my dear friend Hannah Nixon to assist with lights and music. The shoot began at 5:45 am (hello, 4 am wakeup call!) and lasted 45 minutes in the freezing cold. (Barefoot dancing on a windy rooftop in the middle of November is not for the faint of heart.) I cannot wait to show you the results!
For the second video, “Oh Darling,” I worked with Broadway Dance Center videographer Jeremy Davidson. Once again, I reached out through social media, and he took me up on working together. Jeremy is an incredibly talented dance videographer, and a warm and encouraging human being. This shoot was so good for my soul! We filmed in a beautiful studio at Gibney (a little pricey, but worth it for the final footage). I brought another friend along to assist with the 90-minute shoot.
The next two videos, “Call Me Irresponsible” and “Kokomo,” were filmed by two of my photographer/videographer friends, Katie Gallardo and McKall Dodd, and they absolutely crushed the assignment. We filmed in a beautiful studio at Arts On Site in the East Village at 8 am on a Saturday morning. The price was reasonable and the space was perfect for what I needed. The fifth video, “Good For You,” was once again filmed by my friend Katie, this time in Central Park at the Naumburg Bandshell on a Thursday afternoon. (It’s always fun to put on a little show for the tourists walking by!)
For my acting and vocal reels, I borrowed a backdrop structure from a photographer friend and hung my sheets over it for a solid background. I set it in front of my bright windows at home and filmed over three consecutive days. (I probably could have gone faster, but the trouble with self-taping is you can always film again to try to make it better!) My vocal coach joined me for one of the shoot days and helped me set up my framing and work my microphone.
Let me tell you—I have mad respect for all the creators who edit footage for a living! Thankfully, “I Lived” and “Oh Darling” were edited by the videographers. I edited the other three videos, as well as my reel, with help and feedback from friends and loved ones. I went down a YouTube rabbit hole to see what kinds of music most people use for reels and found that electronic songs seem to be a favorite. So, I decided on Paradise, by MEDUZA, featuring Dermot Kennedy.
The Portfolio of Work
And voilà! I have a portfolio of work that I am prepared to send to agencies. This was a true labor of love made possible by kind people who shared their time and talents with me.
I am bleary-eyed and exhausted and ready for the week-and-a-half break I am giving myself after this.