Professional dancers don’t just come out of nowhere. Every dancer you’ve ever seen is the product of years of hard work, dedication to perfecting their craft, and a bit of luck. But beyond mere luck, you also need to know how to get your name out there to the right people. One indispensable way to do that is to make a dance reel. But how do you do that? We’re going to walk you through the process and provide some common sense tips to help you out.
What Is A Dance Reel Video?
First things first, let’s define our terms. A dance reel is a concise video that showcases your artistic abilities, unique style, and strengths as a dancer. It is most often a compilation of your best filmed performances and dance clips. These clips should ideally serve to represent who you are as a person, dancer, and performer. Essentially, a reel is a multimedia curation of your dance expression designed to capture the attention of the right people: Producers, directors, agents, and choreographers.
In that sense, a reel is like an advertisement for your dance career, and like a commercial advertisement; it should be clear in its intention and execution. The point is to show off the very best that you can do—your style, versatility, and your credits if you’ve booked previous professional work. You want to get to the point quickly, with very little preamble. Think of it like an actor’s filmed audition, but you play the part of both actor and casting director. Let’s get started.
Briefer Is Better
If you’re currently thinking that you don’t have enough professional film to work with, don’t worry! What’s most important is that you are clearly visible in the videos. For example, if you have footage from an ensemble performance, make sure that you are very clearly identified and that your best part is what’s on display. Above all, you’re looking for brevity and power in a dance reel, so it’s not going to be the number of videos you have, but the quality and cohesiveness of how they represent you as a dancer.
Or, you may have a lot of material to work with in your repertoire, from class videos to live performances, improvisations and dance films. This is a good thing, but it can also make the job of picking the right pieces for your dance reel difficult. Try to focus on work that showcases your range as efficiently as possible. Agents and choreographers watch a lot of dance reels, so avoid submitting something that is drawn out or that takes a while to deliver the goods. Pick only the best moments! A good running time to aim for is a minute and a half—do not exceed three minutes.
Remember: You want to play the hits, and you want to get to them quickly.
Sound And Vision
It’s important to run through the basics of good filmwork when making your reel. If you’re uncomfortable with the technical aspect of it, seek help from a friend or consider hiring a professional. If you’re doing everything yourself, make sure that you make your life easier and focus on getting the simple things right first.
If you are filming content specifically to include in your reel, make sure to choose an appropriately-sized space to dance in. The lighting should be complimentary to your performance, and don’t be afraid to customize your set-up. Center yourself in the frame but don’t be so far away that the intricacy of your movement can’t be seen. Once you have your setup, now you need yo make sure that the aspect ratio is correct. You’re going for a wider border than portrait-mode on your camera phone, typically a 16×9. Think a panoramic frame with you in the center of the shot.
When saving and transferring files, make sure that the medium you transfer your reel onto is clear. If it’s a digital file, make sure that it’s large enough to avoid glitching and lags. Consider using a few different platforms, and make sure to back everything up onto a cloud or YouTube account.
Being prepared to share your reel on a moment’s notice is the kind of technical versatility you want to pursue. The best ways to do this are with a YouTube link or attachment—for higher resolution videos, you can export your video through services like GoogleDrive, WeTransfer or Dropbox—even a small flash drive is great to keep with you. We are living in the golden age of online digital media, use that to your advantage!
Make It Clear, Keep It Fresh
As we mentioned before, hiring a pro for the technical side of shooting the reel can be worth the investment, but make sure that all your bases are covered in your final product!
First, you are going to want all of your contact information in a very prominent place in the reel. A clear title card without any cluttered or cheesy effects is the best way to do this. The title card should state your name and contact information—typically a business email address. Stating your name and other basic information about yourself at the beginning of the shoot is also a good idea.
Make sure that any editing done to the reel is for the purpose of clarity: Don’t try to cover up mistakes or add some post-production flash. You want to show-off your dance abilities, not the editing software on a professional photographer’s computer. If you find someone who you like to work with for the actual video recording, make sure that they are available to help you finish the project quickly, and can be around for any reshoots.
It’s a good idea to update your dance reels regularly with your recent work and jobs that you’ve booked to continue building out your portfolio. Remember: You are advertising yourself right here, right now. A performance from several years (or even months) ago should only be used if you don’t have enough recent work to include.
Customize And Collaborate
Ask your friends, dance partners, instructors and choreographers who you have worked with to help you out! Whether that means finding the right group or partner to perform in a particular piece that you want to create for your reel, or getting feedback about which performances and styles you should include, it’s always a good idea to check with your cohorts. The more exposure you get, the more chances you have of getting that dream gig. A broader and more collaborative collection of reels will allow you to customize your material for future presentations.
Consider having different types of reels for different types of jobs, just as you would headshots. A dance reel meant for a music video shoot will ideally have a different focus than one aimed at securing a spot in a stage production or dance company. As long as you are the centerpiece of the action, it’s always good to have a collection of reels which really display your versatility and range, both solo and collaboratively.
Seek Other Examples
With the internet at your fingertips, you have an advantage that dancers in previous generations simply did not. The world of YouTube and social media is full of dance reels and cutting edge performances by amateurs and professionals alike. If you have a few favorite dancers, there is a very good chance that you can find early examples of their successful dance reels. Do a little research and try to find some reels that appeal to your taste and talents. Don’t be afraid to look around for inspirationit’s healthy to get outside of your sphere of knowledge and seek out new ideas.