Lights, Camera, Action!

While the majority of dance studios now have websites, the idea of adding video footage to showcase their facility, teaching style, faculty and students is just catching on. When Tude Della Maggiore O’Connell, the owner of Tude’s School of Dance in Santa Clara, California, was approached by two of her students with the idea of adding video to the studio’s website, she figured, “Why not?” The website now has a link to the school’s YouTube channel, where more than 60 dances recorded from past recitals are posted, along with a history of the school and a brief bio of the founder. And she couldn’t be more pleased with the response. “People call to ask about classes and I tell them they can check out videos on the website, and they tell me that they already have!” says Della Maggiore O’Connell. But before you hit the record button, there are several artistic decisions to make. Read on to see how these studio owners have used this tech trend to their business advantage.

Earlier this year Merce Cunningham Dance Company began posting a series of free webcasts, titled “Mondays with Merce,” to provide a behind-the-scenes look at classes and company rehearsals, as well as interviews with Cunningham on his teaching methods. Nancy Dalva, producer and writer of the webcasts, advises interested teachers to first define their main audience and purpose of the video to get the right material. If you want to entice new students, for instance, a brief clip of a class might be the way to go. “You have to decide if you want to show it from the teacher’s or the students’ point of view,” says Dalva. “Or try for more than one point of view to make it more interesting. Have a side view of the teachers and students together, and maybe a close-up of a teacher demonstrating a phrase. You want to have some control over the look of the finished project and still have it be spontaneous.”

Gina DeBenedetto-Forcella, owner of Dance Stop studio, located in Parlin and Monroe, New Jersey, found a way to provide online viewers with a well-rounded look at her business. One year ago, she hired a professional video production company to create content for her website’s home page, after being encouraged by her marketing firm, Marketing Plus One. The company created a two-and-a-half-minute commercial that gives a dynamic look at the studio, its teachers and students, and it put together a seamless montage of recital footage. DeBenedetto-Forcella was amazed by the results: “By using video, I was really able to express what my studio is all about,” she says. “It’s a personal way to reach out to people. It’s like they’ve already met us before they even make a phone call.” The cost for this kind of videography ranges between $2,000 and $4,000, according to Kenny Baroff, owner of Marketing Plus One.

Whether you choose to hire someone, shoot the footage yourself or use pre-existing recital and performance videos, it’s easy to post directly online to sites like www.dancemedia.com and www.YouTube.com. You can then post a link on your personal website, Facebook page, MySpace profile or in newsletters and other mailings. While some dance professionals are concerned that posting video online might encourage less imaginative onlookers to steal ideas and choreography, Della Maggiore O’Connell believes the benefits outweigh the risks. “I don’t want someone to take a whole routine and take credit for it. That’s not right,” she says. “But we all learn from each other, and sometimes you want to see what other people are doing. It’s enriching and enlightening.”

Regardless of your approach, there are many benefits to promoting your business with online dance videos. Prospective students can easily check out your studio, class offerings and teaching approach while surfing the web—and what better way to pique their interest in finding a studio to call home? DT

Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

Photo courtesy of Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Starting from Scratch

As web editor for Dance Teacher, I knew I’d be learning the ins and outs of the internet. What wasn’t in my original job description—but soon took up the majority of my time—was shooting and editing videos for www.dance-teacher.com and www.dancemedia.com.

I had taken a media production course in college, but the information I learned then was hardly fresh. With a new camera (a very basic, user-friendly and affordable Canon miniDV) in hand and instructions to “go out and shoot dance videos,” I was ready to relearn the basics. Here are a few tips for first-time videographers.

Lighting: When you’re looking through the viewing screen on your camera, the lighting may seem fine. But you’re likely to see a very different picture when the footage is tranferred to your computer. The camera screen’s lighting is almost always brighter than it will be on your computer or TV. Do various test shots with different lighting to see how things look on camera and on your computer monitor.

Filming Angle: Avoid shooting in front of windows—the light coming in from behind those dancing will make them appear as dark silhouettes. (Not ideal for dance videos—you want to see definitive movements.) Watch out when shooting in front of mirrors; seeing the dancers’ reflections can be confusing. You also want to make sure that whoever is filming doesn’t get into the shot. And with instructional videos in particular, consider shooting demonstrators from behind, to mimic the way a student would learn in class.

Sound: On most handheld video cameras, the built-in, internal microphone will pick up a lot of background noise. So if you’re videotaping a teacher in class and want to be able to hear what he or she is saying, make sure students aren’t talking, fidgeting or time-stepping nearby.

Editing Software: Some of the most professionally made videos aren’t put together in high-tech editing suites. A simple program like iMovie (which comes preinstalled on all Apple computers) makes adding titles, photos and background music a cinch. —Alison Feller

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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