If you’ve watched our dance videos on YouTube or Instagram, you have probably noticed that some dancers seem to have an innate ability to perform on camera. In an era where building a following on social media has become its own lane to success as a dancer, being able to shine on camera has never been as important as it is today.
Director and cinematographer Tim Milgram is here with some tips on dancing for the camera:
#1: Make Eye Contact
When we communicate with one another, we do a lot of our speaking with our eyes. This is also true for dance. Although glaring into the camera doesn’t work for every situation, being able to connect with the camera (and thus your audience) by simply looking at it is probably the most important thing you can get good at. This is also the hardest thing for a lot of people, especially those taking class and wanting to confidently perform choreography they just learned, with a camera being shoved in their face.
A simple, free way to practice: Grab a friend and have them film you freestyling with their phone. Look at the lens as if the camera is someone you’re trying to communicate directly to, and no matter what you do, do not break eye contact. This is going to feel super awkward at first, but that just means you’re learning. This is not how you should freestyle all the time, but it will get you more comfortable with eye contact in general.
#2: Break up with the Mirror
If you’ve ever taken a dance class, or learned choreography in a rehearsal, you might have experienced the feeling of absolutely killing it when practicing in front of the mirror, and then going down in flames when the camera comes out. You are not alone. The mirror is both a great learning tool, and your worst enemy if you get too comfortable. If you’re always right in front of the mirror, you tend to rely on it for information about your body placement and facial expressions. Knowing what you look like without seeing it in the mirror, creates a level of confidence that can then be applied to being on camera.
When you know it’s almost time to film, practice the choreography away from the mirror and in different spots in the room. Forcing yourself to be uncomfortable a few times before the camera comes out gets some of that awkwardness out of the way so it doesn’t come as a shock when you’re actually filming.
When practicing your freestyle, make sure that you have a good balance of freestyling with and without the mirror. Many people only freestyle in front of a mirror, and this makes it hard for them to be “as good” when that mirror is removed.
#3: Be Aware of the Frame
When freestyling for a moving camera, having an educated guess at what is in the frame at any given moment can be your superpower. The best dancers are able to adapt their movement to the position of the camera, thus helping create more interesting cinematic moments. The only way to learn this is to spend a lot of time practicing with a camera moving around you.
Try this exercise: Grab that friend from earlier, and have them film you, slowly moving back and forth, from a closeup to a wide, and back. When they are closer to you, focus on upper body movements, smaller hand gestures, and facial expressions. When they are farther away from you, focus on full body movements, big shapes & lines, footwork, and level changes. In between takes, review the footage and study the framing of each moment. Are your hands in frame? Are you doing something that’s not being seen? With every take, you’ll become more and more aware of what the framing looks like at all times, and it will make your videos that much better.