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."

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Ballet BC dancers Tara Williamson, left, and Darren Devaney in RITE by Emily Molnar. Photo by Chris Randle, Courtesy Ballet BC

Why Do Mixed-Rep Companies Still Rely on Ballet for Company Class?

In a single performance by a mixed-rep company, you might see its shape-shifting dancers performing barefoot, in sneakers and in heels. While such a group may have "ballet" in its name and even a rack of tutus in storage, its current relationship to the art form can be tenuous at best. That disconnect grows wider every year as contemporary choreographers look beyond ballet—if not beyond white Western forms entirely—in search of new inspiration and foundational techniques.

Yet dancers at almost all of the world's leading mixed-rep ensembles take ballet classes before rehearsals and shows. Most companies rarely depart from ballet more than twice a week and some never offer alternative classes.

"The question, 'Why do you take ballet class to prepare you for repertory which is not strictly classical?' has been in the air since Diaghilev's time," says Peter Lewton-Brain, Monaco-based president of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. "What you're doing onstage is often not what you're doing in class."