What Happens Behind the Scenes of Those Addictive Pedestrian Wanderlust Videos
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
Though Shafi often films with pedestrians around, for his video in Times Square with Keigwin + Company dancer Kacie Boblitt, he was concerned about navigating the crowds."But once we started people really cleared away," Shafi says. "Everyone created a circle, and it turned into a little bit of a performance."
"I've had times where I have bumped into a person or walked backwards into a tree, and you'll see the camera shake for a second," Shafi adds. "I'll leave those in, because it's more important to me to capture the honesty and the truth of the moment than have this really perfect, cinematic video."
Shafi's approach to filming is also a form of improvisation. "I play with different elements, like proximity and level. All the same concepts that you would explore in a contact improv class, but just with a camera," he says.
"When I'm filming the dancers I think of it as a duet, and I really want the viewer to feel like they're almost a part of the dance by the way the camera is moving," Shafi says.
Shafi's goal of inspiring others to dance was embodied in a video of Keigwin + Company co-founder Nicole Wolcott, filmed in Washington Square Park. The video culminates with Wolcott dancing in the park's fountain, joined spontaneously by a group of girls.
"Nicole just has such a fantastic energy. I've never seen someone be able to get a group of people dancing so instantaneously like that," says Shafi. "To be on the other side of the camera while that was happening was just truly magical, and I thought more than any other video, it really encompasses what Pedestrian Wanderlust is all about."
"Ultimately I'd like to travel with this, and create more of a community around it where people are just making their own dance videos using the #PedestrianWanderlust hashtag and get moving," Shafi says. "I can only think a step or two ahead, because I never really know where it's going to go, and that keeps it exciting for me. I feel like the project as a whole is kind of improvised."
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.