I met Brooklyn and Sophia and the moms, Kristen and Christina, by chance. American Ballet Theatre was in town to perform at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion and I was there to photograph the performance. I arrived early to scope out the location, and saw the moms taking pictures of the girls. They were so enthusiastic and adorable, I thought I'd offer to take a quick photo for them with my professional equipment. I walked over and introduced myself, and with the parents permission, took a quick photo of the girls.
We chit chatted a little bit and I found out they were in town for Joffrey Academy's Summer Intensive program, and I mentioned I'm a professional dance photographer, and showed them my Instagram account. And surprisingly, Kristen has seen my work, and had thought about reaching out. We couldn't believe the coincidence...what's the chance of meeting someone in a city of millions! We agreed to set up a shoot and the rest is history. Here are some of the images and my thoughts.
Dancers' Own Take
What I loved about shooting both dancers at the same time, was seeing the girls express their own interpretation of the same pose. That's what makes dance, and art, in general, so exciting. It's never the same twice. Depending on the artist, their experiences , and their reality, the results represent who they are, and they are uniquely their own.
Brooklyn and Sophia were both incredible to work with, even at their young age. I assured both dancers, that my philosophy for our shoot is a collaboration. I welcome and value their input. They can freely speak up if something is not to their liking. And I explained that if I see something that's not to my standards, I will also point them out. I've seen too many dance photos that does not honor the hard work these dancers put into perfecting their art, by photographers who's either ignorant of dance or has too much pride to consult with the dancers.
Perfect example of what each dancers choose to express at the same location. Where one has a softer line, the other shows a strong stance. And from interacting with both dancers, it made sense. Sophia was a little bit more reserved, while Brooklyn was more extroverted.
Something not apparent in just viewing the photographs, is how much adjustment we made. With Sophia's softer pose, I wanted to capture the elongated line. While with Brooklyn's strong pose, I wanted to make sure her lines are symmetrical.
Even within each pose, you can sense the quiet strength in Sophia, and the calmness in Brooklyn's expression. The girls did a great job!
Buck The Trend
This advice goes out to both dancers and aspiring dance photographers. Don't be afraid to showcase your own vision. While the trend in dance photography is to bend and twist these dancers into crazy shapes to get more likes on social media...that's not my vision. I photograph dancers. Dancing is more than just being flexible.
I emphasis to both dancers during our shoot to focus on their expression. It will make or break an image. While there is nothing wrong with flashing a big smile for grandma, there is a time and a place for that. Pay attention to the girls' faces. They are in their own world. The city could be crumbling around them and they wouldn't notice it. You can't help but being drawn in by their aura, and the dancers' ability to convey that emotion through expression is critical. They are both naturals!
Tutu Is Tussential
Ok, I made up tussential, but the point is, if there aren't any photographers that focus mainly on dance, they might not know to remind you to bring some essentials particular to dancers to the shoot. If your dancer does ballet, I believe bringing a tutu is a must. It adds elegance, visual interest, and story to the images. Extra pair of pointes, extra leotards, and a big towel if they photographer doesn't have a changing tent for outdoor shoots.
The contrast between the greenery, the leos and the bright tutu really makes the images pop. One thing I would suggest is to store the tutu flat. When the tutu is folded up in a bag, it sometimes doesn't hold its flat shape, which makes certain poses difficult or impossible.
The girls, once again, added their own twist at this beautiful little oasis in the middle of Chicago's skyscrapers.
Cherish The Experience
Whether it's attending a summer intensive, or going to a photoshoot, the journey, the experience is just valuable. For example, while your goal of attending a summer intensive is to improve as a dancer, creating new bonds with new likeminded people, or strengthening your connection with someone you already know, is priceless.
This is one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about dance photography. It's more than just a picture to look at. It reminds you where you are, and, in the future, how far you've come. It reminds you the time you spent in new city, new adventures, and the people you've met. It reminds you why you do what you do. It helps dancers build confidence, when they nail a pose they don't have complete confidence in, or seeing themselves in a way they don't see everyday.
Family Bonding Is Fun!
I wanted to say tussential again, but I do have a little bit of self restraint. At my shoots, the parents are never in a corner somewhere. They are actively part of the experience. Fixing hair, reapplying make up, changing outfits, taking behind the scenes photos...I put them to work. I want them to be participants, rather than spectators. As the dancers get older, quality alone time seems to come around less and less. Take advantage now. I grew up with 5 younger sisters...one day we were talking about our favorite baseball players, and next day they are all about make up and boys.
I'd like to thank Christina and Sophia, Kristen and Brooklyn, for trusting me to capture these moments, and the girls for being so talented, and mature during the shoot. I can't wait to witness your journey as dancers!