Vinnie’s Tips for Creating Online Dance Works

This is a strange time to be an artist. Many of us have spent a lifetime developing the skills to create and learn art in a certain way and are suddenly finding ourselves unable to use those skills. It is natural to lament the loss of large studio spaces and dancing in groups.

Fortunately, modern technology allows us to turn these restrictions into new and innovative practices. With a little bit of courage and curiosity we can use this time to connect to new collaborators and new audiences all over the world.

I have already had the opportunity to complete a few projects that were rehearsed and created online. It is certainly an adjustment initially, but with a few tricks it can yield some really great work. Here are some basic tips I have for creating and rehearsing work on the internet.

1. Be clear

Vinnie Jones, captured by Whitney Justesen Photography

When we’re all in the same space a dancer can pick up a lot of details without them being explicitly stated. This is not possible when each person is alone in their space. Be clear about directions, which body part you’re using, and where you’re moving. Say “Step with the Right foot to the back and face stage Left” etc.

You can also help a specific dancer by telling them an object of the room to use as reference. For example you could say “Turn and face that staircase, then pique towards that photograph”.

Be clear about what kind of work you are creating whether this is something that will be performed in a group, filmed individually or filmed online together. Make sure your dancers have a clear understanding of where they need to stand and what they will be expected to do in the end result.

2. Change standards

We are often used to the choreographer dancing in front while the dancers stand behind and learn. This is often not possible online as the dancers need to stand close to the camera to learn and far from the camera to dance. They might need to sit and squint, or even watch you dance once or twice before being able to attempt themselves. Often they have to ask a few questions and run through a few more times than usual to get it in their bodies.

They will also all have different space situations so be aware of that while you choreograph. Be prepared to offer different options for dancers who may not be able to turn or jump or travel in their spaces. I would also keep direction changes and turning to a minimum. These things tend to take longer to explain to dancers when they are in different spaces and they may not be as visually interesting or impactful on the internet.

3. Let go of perfect timing

Photo by Anthony Goodman

Because everyone’s internet speeds are different it is almost impossible to have dancers that look completely together. If you share music directly from the computer then it is more likely that the dancers will be hitting the counts as they hear it but it is also likely that from your perspective they will look a little delayed.

If you’re going to record your piece directly on the online service then you’ll see the dancers more synched with the music once you look at the recording.

It is also helpful to record a video of yourself dancing to the music and sending it to your dancers so that they can see the counts as they are supposed to be. This will require some homework out of your dancers but it will make things a lot easier in the actual rehearsal.

4. Be patient and open

This process involves lots of learning and compromise. Remind yourself not to place the same standards on yourself or your dancers as you did when you were in the studio. You might have bad internet connections, you might have dancers who barely fit in their space, you might never see it looking together. Remind yourself to be adaptable and patient with yourself and your dancers. Breathe through the difficulties and take it one step at a time.

Zoom rehearsals look and feel a little different than what we’re used to.

Also be open to how things look. Moments that wouldn’t be seen or appreciated on the stage can be very impactful on video, and vise versa. Notice as you work what is working and what isn’t so you can be sure that you create something best to suited to this current medium.

Overall, this is a time when it is a challenge to make art, particularly performance based art. This is a time when our minds and bodies are feeling threatened, stressed, and unsure about the future. You may feel more tired and less able to handle the challenges of life.

This is also a time when people search for art more than ever to escape the lives they are in, to interpret their feelings and to be inspired. No matter the challenge, artists are up to it. We have been trained in being flexible and strong, resilient and creative. There is no better time to be an artist. We have so much technology at our finger tips and now no better option than to use it. With a little patience and applied creativity you can create still create important and valid works of art. Your community is behind you and the world will be happy to have your voice. 

Photo by Anthony Goodman

Catch Vinnie’s new dance work The Thing with Feathers in our digital media screening Intersections, September 4th-6th. Visit our Event page for tickets and more information.

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