Filming Dance in the Past
Up until about a hundred years ago, dance was considered an art form that was impossible to record. This is why we have so little evidence about ancient forms of dance, apart from some pictures, statues and literary descriptions.
In the last century, some forms of dance notation were also invented, such as Labanotation, but if you are not able to read them you cannot have any idea of what the dance is like.
In the last century though, technology has progressed so much that we can now film dance digitally with many different types of devices.
When filming dance there is always the issue that the video only portrays one point of view of the dance, the one chosen by whoever recorded the dance. In any case, the technology we have available today is certainly a great help to record dance, thus opening up many possibilities.
You, as a dancer, may want to film dance for a variety of reasons, but this article, in particular, is aimed at those of you who want to film their own dance, being it for promotion, for teaching students, for self-improvement or just to keep a record of your performances or the choreographies you created.
Having filmed my own dance, I hope the information below gives you some ideas and advice which can be helpful for filming.
Technology for Filming Dance
There are countless devices today to film dance, but I had at my disposal an HD video camera (mid-range, not professional but good enough quality), a GoPro camera (I had a GoPro Hero3+ Black edition) and an iPad. Below I list the positive aspects and limits of each.
This is a new type of technology, which has not been used much for dance so far, but perhaps for a reason. GoPro cameras are great for filming outdoor activities or extreme sports.
They are tiny cameras, that are used inside a hard transparent case which makes them resistant to impact and waterproof. They can then be strapped to the body of a person (on the head or the chest for example) with specially designed harnesses.
In this way, for example, a skier can film while skiing down a slope at high speed the view that him/herself experiences while going down. For this purpose GoPro cameras are great. I thus wondered if there was any benefit in filming dance with a GoPro.
Perhaps one would be able to film dance from different new perspectives or strap the camera on the body of the dancer to see the movement from the mover’s point of view.
To be honest, I did not try strapping the camera on me, but my husband filmed me by placing the GoPro on a specially designed pole for the GoPro camera to be fitted on.
The camera became thus very maneuverable, enabling us to film my performance from different angles, but the result did not add much to the usual results you would achieve by using a normal video camera.
In terms of drawbacks, the sound was very poor and the music could hardly be heard in the video. To be fair though, it was maybe because we used the type of case that covers the camera entirely, which is recommended for use in wet environments, to make the camera waterproof.
We then realized that there was another case, with holes at the back, that would have allowed more sound in. Another issue with the GoPro is that it has no viewfinder, nor any screen on which you can see what you are filming. This is a bit awkward when filming dance.
This obstacle can be overcome by connecting the camera while you are filming to an iPad via WiFi, so you can see what is going on, on the iPad screen. Overall though it is not worth the hassle as you might as well use a normal video camera.
This is always a good choice as the quality of the video and the sound is good (although the microphone is maybe even too sensitive as, in addition to the music even if the music is loud, you can hear other noises such as the dancers breathing if they breathe a little bit more heavily than normal). Another good thing is that this type of camera usually has a good optical zoom.
This was, to my surprise, the best option for what I wanted to achieve. The picture of videos taken with the iPad is of good quality and so is the sound, provided that you keep the iPad near the source of the sound while filming (for my video the operator stood underneath one of the loudspeakers).
It may not be suitable for professional filmmakers, but it is good enough for a decent video to be posted on YouTube or to be shown to your students.
Update – I have actually now started using an iPhone (version 12 at the time of writing) and it takes surprisingly good quality video.
Smartphones are getting better so quickly and you really might want to save money and just use your iPhone.
Dance Venue Choice
It may not always be easy to find a suitable venue as dance studios are often quite expensive to hire. There are a few things you need to keep in mind though.
Type of Floor
The floor needs to be smooth, without tripping hazards, and clean or at least without splinters or pieces of glass.
This may happen if the venue is also used for parties and it is not nice if you are doing floor-work or dancing without shoes.
There must be enough space to allow you to move and the camera operator to stand at a big enough distance, so there is enough space between you and the camera to capture your whole body.
Obviously, the minimum space needed would depend on the type of dance (a belly dance drum solo, for example, requires less space than a ballet piece with leaps and jumps) and on the number of the dancers.
In the video on this page, I was in a quite big studio and could finally enjoy moving around as I pleased since the area at home where I practice is rather small.
Lighting in the Dance Studio
The more the better. As many people trying to film dance in dark theatres know, you need quite sophisticated equipment to film people that move fast in poor light conditions.
In a purpose-built dance studio, this is not an issue. Otherwise, make sure that the background is tidy and pleasing to the eyes rather than cluttered.
Filming in front of mirrors can be a clever idea, as long as you cannot see the camera reflected in the mirror.
Extra Items and Props
When filming dance, you will or may need certain items such as:
A tripod is necessary if there is no one available to film you while dancing. You can also have more than one, in case you have more than one camera and want to film the dance from different angles.
The venue may or may not have a sound system. Something that now I can no longer do without is an iPod.
It can store hundreds of music tracks and playlists and most of the time it can be connected to the sound system that the venue has.
If not, there are many portable iPod decks on the market that produce decent enough sound.
Dance Costumes and Props
Depending on the type of dance you perform, you will obviously use different costumes and may use props.
If you are filming for promotion and props are appropriate to your genre, they are a good addition to the video as they make the movements stand out more.
A prop I particularly like, as a belly dancer, is the veil. In the video I posted on this page, I am dancing to Mahasin Essodaf, a song by Egyptian composer Hossam Ramzy.
Quite often, with classical Egyptian songs, belly dancers make an entrance with a veil, as the start of this type of song is usually quite lyrical and romantic.
As the music changes and the beat picks up, the dancer then discards the veil. A veil entrance is always pleasing to the eye and a good way to introduce a performance and impress the audience.
Hi – I’m Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.