Dance Photography…and why your mum has a mantlepiece full of dance photos
I confess – my mum still has a shelf full of photos of me in my younger years, kitted out in various costumes from my time doing the dance festival rounds. Sadly, (or not!) I have none of those to share here, but I can tell you that there is definitely one of me in full Polish regalia, and more than a couple of me in a variety of leotards (one that is dubiously see-through), full stage make-up and in a somewhat strange selection of poses. It was the thing back then you see, you danced at your competition, and, if you did well, your parents treated you to a professional photo. The extent of our photoshoots in the mid-eighties were a man with a roll-down back-drop, the big photo umbrella (there’s probably a technical term for that, but not my area of expertise, sorry), and about five goes at getting a good shot, WITHOUT BLINKING.
Things are a bit different these days. The digital age has revolutionised the area of dance photography, and Boomf!, there is a huge plethora of beautiful, beautiful things to see out there in the dance world. Our Instagram feeds are awash with stunningly created artistic dance shots, ranging from abstract to cultural, from moody to showy, and so on. Our eyes have been opened to not only the sheer numbers of dancers out there doing their thing, but also to the astonishing amount of hugely talented dancers there are, too. I very rarely see a posed, still, dance photo these days – our photographers are now in the auditorium amongst it with us…capturing our dances move by move. These days you are hard-pushed to have a performance photographed WITHOUT getting at least one amazing shot out of it.
It’s big business. With more great shots, there are certainly more sales to be had…who can let that perfectly-timed photo of a grand jeté slip through their fingers? How will my friends see that brilliant penché I pulled out the bag, or that magnificent aerial I landed, unless I have a shot to prove it?! And of course, Nan and Grandad will want a copy, too. My friends have to take my word for it that I was half decent at dancing – well, unless they want to dig out that VHS recording I had done in my latter competing years. And play it on their …video-recorder?…remember those?
The digital element of it all now means that not only professional photos are shared and spread like wildfire across the internet, but inspiringly I see younger dancers taking and sharing many photos of their studio time, evidencing the hours of hard work it takes to excel in their art. Before and after shots of improved arabesques and splits, a “Here’s me looking dead after a 5 hour practice” shot and a “look how battered my feet are after pointe class” shot. Yes, I like seeing the ugly side of dance, too, because I think it’s important to not only see the glory of the competition, but to document the sheer hard work it takes to get there.
You can go whole hog these days and book to have a professional shoot – shoots outdoors, shoots in exotic locations, shoots in water, shoots chucking flour about (yes, it’s a thing). There’s no doubt that these are stunning and a fabulous showcase of the talents of both the dancers and the photographers. Many youngsters are latching onto this, and they in turn are getting experimental with their own photos – on a trampoline, in the garden, against a mirror…and yes, sometimes a slightly misguided photo down the local park on a cold British Spring day - after all their friend has the latest iPhone and can ‘Boomerang’ a mean tilt. I can imagine many parents looking with horror at the ruined pointe shoes from a misjudged and muddy attempt at a ballet shoot in the woods.
Mind you, your mum would have a story to tell about that one “I spent £60 on those ballet shoes, and look at the state of them!” And I think that’s the whole point still – the photos tell a story, capture a memory, keep a moment in time forever. She’s proud despite the expense, she loves that you love what you do. My old photos at home all have their own story which my mum and I often recall with fondness. The beads on the Polish outfit had to be sewn down to the blouse because the first time I performed it they nearly strangled me, AND the boots always slipped dangerously off my heels on the pivot turns. The poses I’m pulling in the others were carefully thought through with my duet and trio partners, who incidentally were some of my best friends for life, and there is always a story or two to be remembered there. And the see-through leotard was just a complete misjudgement. But it’s even good to have a giggle about that in hindsight.