Videotaping dances

A friend recently forwarded comments from the English country dance listserv; people were talking about videotaping dances so that others could see how dances work. I passed along these comments:

I want to emphasize what most people on this list already know, that it’s much more fun to dance than it is to stand behind a tripod. That said, it’s helpful to maintain perspective; taking occasional time away from dancing to create a good record to share with others–both now and for the future–is a useful service to the dance community.

I certainly agree with many of the comments expressed by others in this thread. We’ve all seen the way that dance gets mangled by television crews, for example, who edit audio and video with no sense of how the two fit together.

When we started recording footage specifically for the Square Dance History Project, we tried to follow guidelines put forward by Mike Seeger, one of the producers of Talking Feet, a documentary about Southern solo dance styles. Seeger urged videographers to create documentation of dancing, rather than about dancing. For shots of individual dancers, he recommended full length body shots; for figure dancing, showing the set.

Audio: One of the common sayings of videography is that the video tells the story, the audio conveys the emotion. I find the most effective results, if you’re willing to take the time to set up with the necessary equipment, is to record the musicians– and maybe the caller– direct from the mixing board and also to have an external mic to record ambient sound from the hall. That input needn’t be turned upĀ  a lot, but just a bit adds so much of the feeling, the occasional footfall, laughter, the sound of the room breathing, all the human qualities. Without that, with just audio from the board, it’s like watching the dancers through a one-way mirror.

Interested readers can see 100 dances recorded at the 2011 Dare To Be Square event at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. We specifically asked our videographer to position the camera on a tripod and to stick with one set whenever possible. In addition to being a skilled videographer, he was also a dancer so when he saw a set having difficulty, he’d instantly move his camera to another to better show how the dance was supposed to work.Here’s one example, filmed from on stage.

Sometimes it’s not possible to film from the stage, but focusing the camera on one group makes it a lot easier to see the action.

Again, repeating Seeger’s words, don’t let the quest for perfect equipment stop you from getting started. Practice, and look at your footage critically to improve.

I think the main takeaway is to film with intention.