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Good Dance vs. Good Photo

Let me start right off the bat and tell you that I cannot dance. I’m half Italian/half Polish and was blessed with 6 left feet and no sense of rhythm. At all. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So what I know about dance is through observation only. Oh, and the joy of photographing it.

I do know, however, that on occasion what constitutes good dance does not always make good photographs. Even if those photographs are intended to be used to evaluate someone for dance. This is a situation difficult for both photographer and dancer.

For example, dancers often need photographs to submit for admission to advanced instruction, for competitions, or for auditions. The photographs have to do 2 things: they have to identify the dancer (obviously in an appealing manner), and they have to demonstrate competency. They have to do both, in a single image, and do so instantaneously. And they often have to do it when these 2 goals are at odds with each other.

Take an image of a dance jump:


This is how a dancer would normally view a jump, and the resulting image. However, even an experienced, knowledgeable dance judge or admissions committee member would have a problem with this image. It’s a great jump, it does show ability, grace, and power, but it doesn’t¬†show the dancer’s face. Often, evaluations are made with an audition performance. In reviewing a submission at a later time, how is the judge able to visually tie this image back to the performance? Especially if you get 100 images like this?

Worse, if all the judge has to go on is the image, how can an evaluation be fully made? Dance is a performance art. A dancer’s appearance is important. Yes, the judge can view the technical merits of the jump, but if other contextual elements of a dancer’s appearance are important (and believe me, they are), how is the judge able to evaluate these are well?

A photographer’s normal instinct is to tell the dancer to drop that arm, revealing the face. But this would compromise the aesthetics of the jump.

A better solution may be the approach taken in this image:

The dancer has done 2 things which greatly improve the ability of the image to convey the necessary information.

First and most obvious is the face is visible.

Secondly, the way this was achieved was to open the body slightly to camera, rotating both the arm and the leg. While this may be a compromise as far as the jump is concerned, in addition to showing the face, it places tension on the arm and the leg, showing muscle development and giving a good indication of both the dancer’s physique as well as her ability to control her body.

It is an image that in the end is acceptable to both photographer and dancer. And gives that dancer a better chance of being identified and properly evaluated in a competitive environment.

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