Two Superb Contra Videographers

We’re seeing a proliferation of contra dance videos in recent years, spurred by the availability of equipment (some fine footage being captured on cameras as simple as cell phones) and sharing sites such as Vimeo and YouTube. Two individuals in particular are creating uniformly excellent films.

Doug Plummer is a professional photographer and an avid dancer; although he’s based in Seattle, he travels a lot for his work as a photographer and for years he’s been documenting the contra dance scene nationwide in still photos. Here’s a montage of his work, set to music by Perpetual eMotion. Another video gives a short version of Doug explaining “How to Take Dance Photos That Don’t Suck.” Highly recommended. Doug’s suggestions:

  • Look for the moment. Don’t shoot through a whole dance. Look for the compelling piece of a figure. It comes around every 32 bars, so you have lots of chances to keep whacking away at it.
  • Look for the pieces: the smiling face, the swirling skirt, the feet, the hands.
  • Watch the walk through. Plan what you’re going to shoot.
  • Get close. When you’re shooting the dance, you want to feel like you’re in it.
  • Move the camera. Follow your subject, and shoot during the movement.
  • And most importantly, be attuned. Sense what you’re feeling, and how that changes at different parts of the dance, and where you’re standing in relation to it. Sense what the people around you are feeling, and tap into that. Be a part of what you’re documenting, not an outsider.

More recently, Doug has developed into a skilled videographer and editor. He records video with a digital single lens reflex camera, the same camera he used for his still photographs so it’s like an extension of his body. You can find numerous examples of his work on his YouTube channel.

The other person creating fantastic contra videos is John-Michael Seng-Wheeler. John-Michael is a young dancer in Charlottesville; he has top-of-the-line video equipment, not just camera but lighting (and the skill to add a new circuit to the building’s circuit box to handle the demands of the lighting), a boom for taking aerial shots, a full range of audio gear… Beyond all the Toys for Boys, however, he knows how to use the equipment and he has a great eye; he’s also an enthusiastic and skilled dancer, so he knows the subject intimately. When we needed a videographer to document the Dare To Be Square dance weekend in 2011, he’s the guy we hired.

For many years, John-Michael created a video at the Great Bear Groove, a Memorial Day gathering in upstate New York produced by the Great Bear Trio and their extended family members. These extended videos really capture the excitement on today’s contra dance floor. Here are the links:


2012 (I was fortunate to be on staff this year, and had a great time. We did the same dance three times in the course of the weekend to give opportunities for filming from different angles.)