Photos and Video

Put all your eggs in one basket and
WATCH THAT BASKET!

MARK TWAIN

Part of a dancerís résumé package is the required photos. Dancers are judged not only by their movement quality, but by their body type and line. Employers who hire based mainly on an employee's appearance skate onto leagal thin-ice, but even F. Lee Bailey wouldn't try and build this case against the director of a dance company.

A picture tells a thousand words. You need photos which speak of a vibrant, gifted dancer. At the very least they should display a dancer with a clean line, a sense of aesthetics, and a trim, fit body.

Make sure the photos are current. If they are too old they will not show the improvements you have made in the time since they were taken. If you are out of shape and are using old photos to deceive the director, you will only create disappointment come audition day. No one will be hired on photos alone—everyone must be seen by the director.

The Body Shot

The most important photo in a résumé package is an 8x10 full-body shot, in a flattering dance position. You must look your best from head to toe. Although it is impossible to lie to the camera, you can and must help it to create the best image of you. What is your best position? Probably your favorite position. However, you might ask a trusted teacher for their opinion.

Do not send a photo which in some way reveals a weakness or imperfect line. If you like how high your leg is in a photo, but wish you had straightened your other leg, then donít send it—try again. It doesnít help you if your legs look great but your hands look like lobster claws or your feet look like giant cashew nuts. Choose the shot with a lower leg and relaxed facial expression instead of the one with an amazing extension and an upper body in the throws of a seizure.

If you have two body photos in different positions which are equally good, then go ahead and send both, but sending more than two body shots is usually unnecessary. One exception is a seasoned professional putting together a self-marketing brochure. A colleague of mine does just that quite effectively. The cover page is his head shot which is followed by his résumé, a body shot, a page of reviews, another body shot, more reviews, an action stage shot, a list of featured roles, and finally an impressive photo of him as Apollo (Balanchine). He uses this to secure guesting contracts and he says it works quite well. However, in most cases, one or two body shots are sufficient.

The Head Shot

The head shot is an effective self-marketing tool because it begins to associate your name with your face. Consequently, many dancers send an 8x10 head shot with their résumé. This photo is a helpful but not a mandatory element of your audition package. After a month of auditioning, a director might forget your name but remember your face. If the face isnít clear on the body shot, then absolutely consider a separate head shot. Let down your hair and wear make-up if you choose. Itís not necessary to wear dance clothes for a head shot. A good photographer will have skills and techniques for making your head shot look better than you imagined.

The Photo Shoot

A photo shoot is like a performance; you should be warm, focused, centered, and determined to do your best. Try to have a shoot right after class, and avoid cold and damp locations.

Besides the photographer and you, a third person is necessary at the shoot. The third personís job is to scrutinize your positions for flaws, adjust your stance, and suggest new poses. The third person should be someone with extensive dance training and a good eye for detail. It also helps if he or she has an encouraging and positive attitude. You will be disappointed in the results of your photo shoot if you rely on a photographer, who has limited dance knowledge, to pose you. Let the photographer concentrate on the logistics of the shoot. Trust the photographer with his or her technical knowledge of cameras, not for an aesthetic opinion of dance poses. Your photo must convey a professional-level dancer, and this requires the trained eye of someone who is seasoned and mature in dance.

Wear something that is tight-fitting and exhibits your body nicely. This can either be a costume, which looks very professional, or some clean, unripped rehearsal clothes in which you feel comfortable. Do not forget that the purpose of the body shot is to show your line. Wearing leg warmers, baggy pants, or a loose-fitting sweatshirt will only raise questions about what youíre trying to hide.

Finding a Photographer

The best way to obtain exceptional photos is to have them professionally done in a studio. There the photographer can manipulate lighting and background to create a striking image of you—an image that will pay off in the long run. The objective is to acquire professional-looking shots because better print quality will enhance the overall appearance of your résumé package. However, there are ways to achieve these results without spending much money. Call the art department of a nearby university and ask them to recommend a student who might be interested in doing a small job for experience. Sometimes even a professional photographer will do it for free or only charge you the cost of film and developing for a chance to work with a dancer or in hopes of getting referrals. Donít be surprised if the photographer offers you four 8x10 prints in exchange for modeling in another project.

The photographer should take about one hundred shots to be sure of getting an acceptable photograph. Many of the shots will be unusable for different reasons. Black and white photos are fine, although professionally-done color shots can serve you well.

Motion Shots

Motion shots make phenomenal audition photos, but they are often difficult to capture on film. A motion photo comes to life. It is not posed and contrived, but, rather an expression of who you are as a dancer.

For jump shots, help the photographer by counting the rhythm of the preparation, and have him or her expose the film on the count on which you intend to strike your pose. This works very well because if the photographer waits to see you in the air, he or she will often catch only the descent and not the explosive part of the jump. In any case, have the photographer take at least twenty shots of each jump to guarantee a usable photo. A dancer arching across the photo in an off-center pull-off creates the image of motion, and these sort of moves can produce impressive images. Even ballet dancers can get away with these off-your-leg shots as long as the photo shows the complete line of the leg and is done in a neo-classical context. By implying motion, the photograph takes on life. Motion is exciting and interesting in a photo.

Stationary Shots

Showing off line in a stationary position also has its advantages. It is easier to obtain satisfactory results if there is time to correct the subtleties of the chosen position. A perfect arabesque is magical, but many arabesques have fallen short of casting their spell due to a misplaced hand or an incorrect focus. Take at least twenty shots of the positions you intend to use, but still be sure to have extra back-up shots of other positions just in case.

Look at a contact sheet and select the three best body shots and the three best face shots and have them blown up to 8x10 for the final selection. A shot that looks good on a contact sheet can be quite scary in 8x10. Ask people which photo is better and judge for yourself.

To reproduce the photos, try having them photocopied at a photocopy service. The technology today is amazing and can produce usable results in both color and black-and- white. Photocopies are inexpensive so consider them if you intend to audition in many places. There are copy services which specialize in quantity and can run off a hundred copies amazingly cheaply compared to having that many printed. With a state-of-the-art copy machine the difference in quality is small.

With a little imagination, the photocopy services can also help you introduce innovation to a résumé package. One dancer taped a color 4x5 dance photo to a piece of paper with his name, address, and phone number laser printed on it. He then had it photocopied, and ended up with an inexpensive, self-marketing flyer which gave his résumé package a unique, professional feel. He also put his name on his head shot by using the same technique.

Video

Some dancers send a video in addition to photos. The video can be a valuable tool. If thereís time, instead of sending the video with the audition package, send the photos and mention in the cover letter that a video is available. This encourages the director to take an action towards the audition. Psychologists have found that it is easier to get someone to say yes to a difficult task after you have gotten them to say yes to an easier task. Salesmen know this as the foot-in-the-door technique and it works for them. Hiring a dancer is a big decision for some directors. Directors are weary of impulse hiring. It makes sense that a director who first says, "Yes, I want to see your video," and then says, "Yes, you can audition," will find it easier to say "Yes, we have a contract for you."

Have a fellow dancer or amateur camera person film you in a dress rehearsal or performance. Make sure you tell the camera person not to cut off your feet but to film your entire body. Often it is possible to get a copy of your companyís archival video. A video of an actual performance, where the director can see the finished product (you) and observe how delightful it looks on stage is a powerful marketing tool, especially if you danced well during the performance. Many directors like to see such a video if you have one. A director can sit in the comfort of his or her office and see how well you dance on stage—seeing is believing. But if you donít look good throughout the video, do not send it. The clip can be as short as thirty seconds for a beginner or at least five minutes for a upper-level professional. Donít expect a director to watch for more then ten minutes, and more likely he or she may stop watching after two minutes or less, so be sure the most impressive footage is at the beginning of the video.

Your image on the video must be clear. A video blob bouncing around what looks somewhat like a stage is unimpressive. As with a résumé, donít send a video which shows anything negative and donít send a video unless you look your best.

Furthermore, your identity in the video must be obvious. One director wrote of a dancer who sent the entire three acts of Sleeping Beauty and neglected to mention which role she danced. Not only was the director left guessing, it also confirmed his suspicions that the dancer was "a few bricks short of a full load." Ideally, you will be the only one dancing on the video. One exception to this rule is if youíre dancing with someone who is obviously of the opposite sex. Make it easy for the director by not making them search for you on the video. The dancer who sent the Sleeping Beauty video would have been wiser to send only her variation, at the beginning of the video, ready for the director to pop it in a machine. Learn from her mistake.

You can duplicate video tapes quickly and inexpensively using a professional video tape transfer service found in the Yellow Pages. They can also do the editing and add titles to give your video a professional feel.

Classroom Video

If no performance video is available, consider filming a short piece or variation in a dance studio. Rehearse the piece up to performance level, then rehearse it some more. Go over it one hundred times in your head the night before you film, and then get a good nightís sleep. If the first take doesnít look good enough, try again. Keep trying until you have something acceptable.

Instead of a variation, a dancer without professional experience can make a video of common classroom exercises. This works extremely well for getting a first job or auditioning for a good school. By mixing up the combinations, a dancer can feature the gamut of his or her talent. For example, one ballet dancer sent a video with an adagio, to show off her line and strength; a pirouette combination to show her coordination and movement; and a petit allegro combination to highlight her beats and jump. Her video was less then three minutes long and still thoroughly presented a sufficient sample of her work.

Be sure to label the video with your name, address, and phone number. Also include the name of the piece, choreographer, and date of performance if applicable. The most accepted format for video is VHS.

Have no fear of perfection—
Youíll never reach it.
SALVADORE DALI


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