Ezra Hurwitz, Courtesy Delgado

Everything You Need to Know About Dancing for the Camera

For dancers with a strictly concert background, making the transition into TV and film can feel like stepping into the unknown. The heightened speed of the rehearsals, ever-changing structure of the sets and somewhat alien nature of the cameras is enough to make even the most seasoned professional a little apprehensive. But dancers can apply the savvy they've learned on concert stages to on-camera opportunities.

Adjust to the Space

Unlike company work where you can depend on sprung marley floors and space to move, sets for TV and film are unpredictable and, more often than not, less than ideal. When choreographer Mandy Moore shot the famed traffic scene from La La Land, her dancers had to perform 45 takes in 104-degree weather, alternating between the roofs of cars and the asphalt. And when Broadway dancer and former Parsons Dance Company member Ahmad Simmons appeared in ABC's Dirty Dancing, he had to transfer the choreography he'd learned in the studio to a bunkhouse cramped with lights, set pieces, makeup artists and crew members. The best way to adjust? See the limitations as puzzles to be solved. "You'll be surprised by what your body can do," says Simmons.

A busy LA highway, with dancers middair jumping on top of the cars.

La La Land.

Dale Robinette, Courtesy Lionsgate Publicity

Conquer Crunch Time

One of the most challenging aspects of film is the accelerated time for learning choreography. "For something like 'Dancing with the Stars,' you can get a half hour of rehearsal, and then immediately turn it around for dress rehearsal, camera block and live shows," says Moore. "There's not time to let the work marinate." The more you work this way, the better you'll get at it. In the meantime, Shaping Sound dancer Chantel Aguirre recommends staying present. "Everyone is doing so many different jobs around you," she says, "but you need to focus on the choreography, what the changes are and what is expected of you."

Take Care of Your Body

When former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado danced in The National's music video "Dark Side of the Gym," she learned to be intentional about caring for her body on set. "Get there early to warm up before your call time, and then stay warm throughout the day," she says. "Drink a lot of water and bring snacks to keep your body fueled. I ate whenever I had the chance so that I didn't crash."

Pace yourself. "When you dance onstage you can let your adrenaline carry you through the two-hour performance," says Delgado. "You can't do that on set. You have to do the choreography too many times." Simmons likens shooting for film to alternating between running a marathon and doing sprints. "The pieces are learned in their entirety, yet often filmed in 30-second spurts that you repeat over and over."

To ration stamina, Moore encourages her dancers to temper the intensity of their warm-ups, and to only dance full-out the moment the cameras are rolling or when directors, producers or the network are watching. Find elements of the choreography that lend themselves to subtlety rather than maximum energy, says Delgado.

Two dancers embracing in an empty gym full of balloons.

Justin Peck and Patricia Delgado in "Dark Side of the Gym."

Ezra Hurwitz, Courtesy Delgado

Manage Multiple Camera Angles

The most obvious difference between dancing for film and stage is the camera. When Aguirre performed at the Oscars for the first time, she had to learn where the cameras were to know when she was in the shot, where her gaze should be and at what level she should project.

On many sets, Steadicams (mobile cameras that are connected to crew members as they move around performers) are an obstacle dancers need to manage. "At any moment dancers will need to get out of the way, and then immediately jump back on their mark because they're in the shot again," says Moore. "It becomes a heady, analytical, ninja way of dancing."

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.


Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

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