As a dancer, you may want to film yourself dancing for a variety of reasons, such as to create teaching materials for your students, to promote or document your dance progress or even just so that you can show your family the videos. I filmed some videos of myself dancing and I experimented with various types of technology, so I thought I would share my experiences with you and share some tips.
Ideally, the venue should have very good lighting and it should be spacious enough, so you can move freely and also so that the person filming has the possibility to move around you, if needed, to get the dance from different angles.
Finding a venue is not always easy and certainly not cheap, with prices ranging in the UK (at the time of writing) at about £30 per hour to hire a dance studio. If you look hard enough though, you may be able to find some leisure centres or community centres with a good hall that they rent for affordable prices. The points to remember are:
For optimum results it is better to use your best costumes, especially if you want to use the video for promotion. Also, dancing with props can make a dance look more spectacular. For some of my videos I chose to use veils because they are eye catching and they give fluidity and lightness to dance. In the video I added to this post, I chose to improvise with a veil to Enta Omri by Mohammed Abdel Wahab, not only because I love this classic song, but also because I thought that being so fluid and lyrical it would go well with the veil.
An item you may need is a tripod for the camera, unless somebody can be your camera operator. My very patient husband was kind enough to help me and his input was invaluable for me. If I had not had anyone to help me, I would have used a tripod. Even if someone can film you though, an idea could be to have an additional recording device on a tripod, in order to film the dance from more than one angle at the same time.
For the music, I found that the iPod is a great device. You can carry hundreds of songs in a tiny object and create different playlists, with the songs in the order you want. Using an iPod will eliminate the need for you to carry plies of CDs with you. Most venues have sound systems that you can connect to the iPod. Otherwise, there are various portable iPod decks on the market that you can transport easily.
There are many different technologies on the market that you can use to film dance. You do not necessarily need anything extremely professional or expensive to get good enough videos. In fact, some of the best videos I recorded were filmed with an iPad. I also used an HD video camera and a GoPro camera. Below I go through the pros and cons of each.
This is a very good choice, with clear picture and sound and it also has an optical zoom, which can be quite useful. The only issue I found is that the microphone is very sensitive, so you can hear every small sound in addition to the music. For example, in videos taken with the HD video camera, I can hear the beads on my costumes when they move and sometimes even my breathing. While this sensitivity is great most of the times, for dance videos it depends on the effect you want to achieve . If you want a very realistic video it may be interesting to hear things such as the dancers breathing or the sound of the feet on the floor. Other times, you may want to hear just the music.
This is a new technology that was designed for sports, especially extreme sports. The camera is tiny (about the size of a small match box) and is used inside a transparent plexiglas case. This makes the camera resistant to shocks and waterproof. GoPro cameras do not have to be kept still or move slowly when used. These characteristics (being tiny, strong, waterproof and good with fast and jerky movements), make it possible for the camera to be strapped (using apposite harnesses that are sold separately) to the body of the person in movement.
Hence, it is possible to film, for example, the aerial view from the point of view of a person parachuting from a plane or the road as seen by a motorcyclist.
The GoPro can also be attached to the end of an especially designed stick, that the operator can dangle around the objects being filmed. For dance, this means that it is possible to film the dancer easily from any perspective. Also, in theory the camera may be harnessed to the body of the dancer showing the movement form the point of view of the dancer. In addition, the camera has a WiFi system, which makes it possible for the images to be projected onto a screen in real time.
All these features seem very promising for dance. However, after experimenting with a GoPro to film dance, I noticed some drawbacks. There are various models and I used a GoPro Hero3+ Black edition. One problem is to do with sound. In the videos we filmed, the sound of the music was very hard to hear. It may be because, as we only realised later, we used the wrong type of case while filming (GoPros have to be used inside a case by the way, as without one they cannot be attached to any support and the camera is too small to handle properly). The type of case we used is all enclosing, which makes the camera completely waterproof. The other type, which we probably should have used, has an opening at the back, which lets more sound in, and it is recommended when using the camera in a dry environment. Hence, had we used the correct case, the sound might have been better.
Another issue is that a GoPro does not have a viewfinder nor a screen on which one can see what is being filmed. For the original purpose of the camera, this is not needed because, if you strap the camera on your chest and film while driving a motorbike, for example, you do not also want to look at a viewfinder. However, for someone who is filming dance, it is useful to see what is being filmed. The solution is to connect the camera via WiFi to an iPad, on which you can then see the image but this can be a bit awkward.
One last drawback is that you need to have a powerful computer to see the video properly. On a normal laptop, the videos stutters when you play it back. When we first played the videos on our computers, we thought it was a problem with the video. However, after a few days, my husband happened to buy a new laptop, with a more powerful memory and he could watch the videos without any problems on the new computer. If you have to do with an older laptop, like I do, the stutter goes away if you convert the video to a format with lower resolution. Overall, after watching the videos we took with the GoPro, the result was that a GoPro does not bring any extra benefits to filming dance and it is not really needed.
Everything considered, the best system we found to film videos for the purpose we needed the videos for, was the humble iPad. As you can see from the video of my veil improvisation, the quality of the picture is good enough and so is the sound (as long as you remember to stand with the iPad near the source of the music).
I am not writing this article to promote Apple, but I found the iPad to be a very good solution to film dance on the go. It may not be enough if you are a professional film maker, but if you are someone who wants to make promotional videos of your own dance, record dance videos as teaching tools for your class, or if you like dance and want to take videos of performances during your trips, the iPad is a good tool. Especially if you consider that it is a multipurpose tool, so you only need to carry one object with you, to access videos and reading material, surf the internet and more.
The drawbacks of the present editions of the iPad as a video recording device, are that it does not have an optical zoom and perhaps the fact that the quality of the picture would not be great in low light conditions. Overall though, unless you want highly professionally recorded videos, the iPad is a great little machine.
I hope that this article was useful and please feel free to comment below if you have anything to add or questions to ask!